“Servile World: How ‘The Big Business Government,’ ‘The Loathsome Thing Called Social Service,’ and Other Distrubutist Nightmares All Came True

by Allan Carlson on July 23, 2009 · 37 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire

In response to my posting on “‘A Distributist View of the Global Economic Crisis’: A Report,” several people asked for more specifics regarding the popssible shape of a contemporary Distributist public policy agenda. My address to the conference summarized such an approach, and follows:…..

 

“SERVILE WORLD:

HOW ‘THE BUSINESS GOVERNMENT,’

‘THE LOATHSOME THING CALLED SOCIAL SERVICE’ 

AND OTHER DISTRIBUTIST NIGHTMARES

ALL CAME TRUE”

A Lecture by

Allan Carlson

The Howard Center and Hillsdale College

For The Conference

“A Distributist View of the Global Economic Crisis”

St. Benet’s Hall

Oxford, England

11 July, 2009

  

 

              One of the more curious aspects of last Autumn’s global financial meltdown was the blame that was actually heaped on Distributist Theory.  The argument sounded like this:  efforts in America to extend property ownership in homes went too far; resulting in the issuance of “subprime” loans to unqualified buyers; resulting in turn in a liquidity crisis at the banks; bringing on a credit squeeze, panic, and global depression.  This explanation has proven wonderfully useful.  It has allowed inept bankers, market speculators, and the advocates of economic globalism to shift responsibility away from their own misdeeds and from the inherent instability of finance capitalism, and to place the blame instead on the slumping shoulders of G.K. Chesterton and a modest number of lower-income Americans.  This explanation has also spawned the argument that, looking forward, the working poor should not really aspire to home ownership; it would be better for them to rent their living space and to find their security in state programs of unemployment insurance, state pensions, and the like.

              This explanation is outrageous on any number of levels.  Yet it does rest on a kernel of truth:  instability in the American home mortgage market did apparently trigger the financial panic. However, I would respond that this development had nothing to do with good Distributist theory regarding home ownership.  The essential problem has been that the initial Distributist impulse – to gain the broadest possible private ownership by families of property in the form of homes, land, and productive capital – this long ago ceased to be the driving force in the American housing market.

              Let’s sort out historical truth from current fiction.  It is certainly true that G.K. Chesterton favored home ownership for those he called “the moderately poor.”  For them, the home was “the only place of liberty,” the realm of invigorating anarchy, a chamber of freedom that offered protection from the claims of both the great industrialists and the state.  However, not just any home would do.  Every true Englishmen, Chesterton argued in his 1910 volume What’s Wrong with the World, wants “a separate house; he does not want a semi-detached house.”  Nor did he want an apartment:  “a flat is not a house, because it is a house on stilts.”  Rather, “[a]n idea of earthly contact and foundation, as well as an idea of separation and independence, is a part of this instinctive human picture.”

              Delivery of such homes to families would be an important test of any nation.  Chesterton again:  “As every normal man desires a woman, and children born of a woman, every normal man desires a house of his own to put them into….  [H]e wants an objective and visible kingdom; a fire at which he can cook what food he likes, a door he can open to what friends he chooses….  To give nearly everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody; that is what I assert without apology.”[1]

              It is also true that Distributist ideas, filtered through American writers such as Ralph Borsodi, Herbert Agar, and the Vanderbilt – or Southern – Agrarians, had direct and indirect influences on the rehabilitation of American housing policy during the New Deal years of the 1930’s.  Distributism directly inspired the Subsistence Homestead program, part of the National Industrial Recovery Act.[2]  This Federal effort backed the building of new villages for displaced industrial workers, where families would be able to buy a house and about five acres of land for cultivation.  Nearly 400 Homestead projects were underway by 1940.

              The Distributist goal of transforming families from renters into independent homeowners also motivated the National Housing Act of 1934.  It “revolutionized” housing finance by creating the long-term, amortized mortgage; it established fairly uniform insurance and property standards for the national housing market; this act encouraged large-scale developers; and it created land-planning standards that “contributed greatly” to the development of new housing tracts out in the suburbs.[3]  The now infamous Federal National Mortgage Association (or “Fannie Mae”) came along in 1938, creating a mechanism for the mobilization of new capital behind home mortgages.  Special loans—initially from the new Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and also from the Veterans Administration (VA) after 1944—made it possible for young families to borrow money to purchase a home without even a down payment.  Tax reforms in 1944 and 1948 also made the interest paid on home mortgages fully deductible.

              These were all good Distributist ideas and – for about a third of a century – they worked splendidly.  Default rates were extremely low.  Between 1940 and 1960 alone, the number of owner-occupied homes in the USA doubled.  Where only 44 percent of Americans were in owner-occupied homes in that former year, 64 percent of American families owned homes by the 1960’s.  Importantly, virtually all of these state subsidies or encouragements to home ownership were focused – in practice – on young families.  For example, about 99 percent of federally guaranteed VA and FHA mortgages went to young married couples buying their first home.  Policymakers emphasized “that our homes are decisive influences in family life”[4] and young Americans responded:  between 1940 and the mid 1960’s, the marriage rate climbed; the divorce rate fell; and the marital fertility rate soared in the remarkable mid-century American episode called the “Baby Boom.”

              However, around 1970, things began to go sour in the American housing sector.  At the economic level, state subsidies for home construction and mortgages did arguably produce a growing “over-investment” in housing, as compared to other possible capital investments; this was true among both individual families and financial institutions.[5]  More problematically, the common purpose of a home purchase was shifting:  from a desire to provide decent shelter for one’s family in a stable community to a form of investment, where “resale-ability” replaced “livability” as the standard and where “buying up” a new house in another neighborhood every few years became the favored practice.  This indirectly contributed to neighborhood instability.[6]

              At a still more troubling level, there is evidence that shifts in federal housing policy were actually coming to favor family break-up.  In brief, by 1970 most married-couple American families with children were in their own homes.  To keep up housing demand, regulators subtly shifted mortgage subsidies away from intact traditional families toward “underserved,” “non-traditional,” “non-family” households:  single persons; sole-mother households; unmarried couples; the divorced.  In fact, two analysts showed that as early as 1980, the American population was “diffusing itself” into a still expanding housing supply; the number of housing units was growing at nearly twice the rate of population increase.  Put more bluntly, the new availability of subsidized mortgages for the non-married actually appears to have encouraged divorce and other forms of modern post-family living.[7]  In a manner that Chesterton would have deplored, lawmakers and regulators had stripped American housing policy of normative content.  No longer family-centric, with a special focus on the needs of children, it would now be “neutral” as to lifestyle.  In practice, these changes blended the U.S. mortgage market together with certain emerging social pathologies and unstable speculation to create a precarious system:  again, a problem already evident to some observers as early as 30 years ago.  The wonder is that the contradictions in this system took nearly three decades to work themselves out as part of the current crisis.

              Again, my point is that the fault for the economic panic of 2008 does not lie with the Distributist goal of widespread home ownership.  To the degree that home ownership was involved, the fault lies instead with policy corruptions, derived at least in part from a loss of normative vision, that pushed the American mortgage market onto troubled terrain as early as the 1970’s.

              The winner in all this, of course, will be the Servile State:  Hilaire Belloc’s label for a system where monopoly capitalists, financiers, and government bureaucrats merge into an entity practicing state capitalism.  Under its terms the capitalists and bankers gain order and protection of their wealth and property while property-less workers receive welfare benefits specifically tied to their wage labor, such as unemployment insurance, which provides security but also confirms their servile status.  Indeed, Belloc offered the odd warning that this system would tend toward a form of compulsory labor, a modern version of slavery.  For his part, Chesterton called this arrangement a “Business Government” which, he says, “will combine everything that is bad in all the plans for a better world….  There will be nothing left but a loathsome thing called Social Service.”[8]

              At one level, our current global financial crisis is merely an acceleration in the growth of the Servile State.  Since 1973 economic inequality in America – as measured by the GINI index – has grown steadily.  This gap between those of wealth and power and those dependent on a mix of wages and welfare can also be seen in the decline of the American middle class.  A few climb into the capitalist ranks while the majority sink toward minimum wage jobs at places like Walmart or to “service” jobs tied to the state welfare system.

              At another level, the Crisis has produced its own forms of servility.  The 2008 version of Fannie Mae and its cousin Freddie Mac – mortgage companies that privatized executive pay and profit while socializing risk and loss – are splendid examples of a Business Government at Work.  This same Business Government can be seen in the skillful way in which Goldman Sachs executives have alternated between “creating” and “solving” the financial crisis.  For example, it was then Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson who successfully lobbied a half decade ago to weaken the reserve obligations of private U.S. investment banks; then, as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, he wound up in charge of the 2008 bank bailout, which saved the great banks from their follies (although, for reasons we can only speculate about, he did let former arch-rival Lehmann Brothers go under).  The concept of Business Government also explains the preference these days by both American and European governments for so-called “public-private partnerships,” cozy arrangements for the relatively few “owners” and “leaders” who effortlessly move between both sides of the partnership, reaping rewards either way, while the majority of people struggles along.

              Back in the 1920’s, Chesterton already saw how owners of the great corporations had themselves abandoned liberal market economics.  Instead of believing that if men were left to bargain individually the public would automatically benefit, they now pleaded with workers not to strike “in the interests of the public.”  Chesterton commented:  “The only original case for capitalism collapses entirely, if we have to ask either party to go on for the good of the public.”  Instead, he said that “ordinary conservatives are falling back” on Communist arguments “without knowing it.”[9]  Over the last 12 months, the American government’s remarkable takeovers of the insurance giant A.I.G. and auto legend General Motors are a similar repudiation of capitalism, in favor of an arrangement not quite socialism either:  but a form of Business Government that serves the well-off and the well-connected.

              This is the Servile State.  The model of Business Government – not Capitalism nor Communism, nor Socialism, nor Fascism – this model won the great ideological contest of the 20th Century.  We also see this victorious system in contemporary Russia, where “Mafia capitalism” and state-favored oil and gas companies have grown among former KGB agents and their ilk, to create a class proudly self-labelled “the oligarchs.”  Meanwhile, a crude welfare state inherited from the Communist time keeps the Russian masses alive… and propertyless.

              Journey to China, and there you find still another iteration of the Servile State.  Western corporations have moved their production lines to the Peoples’ Republic, where an authoritarian regime – a reliable Business Government – keeps the laborers cheap, docile, and strike free.  Indeed, in 2002, the Communist Party of China actually invited capitalists to join its ranks, cementing another kind of partnership.  Neither Belloc nor Chesterton would have been surprised over this merger of Capitalism and Communism, finding it the predictable consequence of a common materialistic world-view.

              A less obvious, but more telling, sign of the modern Servile State is to be found in the new subjegation of women.  Feminist dreams of perfect social and economic equality have fallen prey to what the women now call “public patriarchy.”  In predictable fashion, feminist theorists blame men; but the real oppressor here – I assert – is the Servile State.

              Political scientist Frances Fox Piven explains how public patriarchy works.  Ever fewer women are in traditional families, she reports.  Men, for their part, “are increasingly ‘liberated’ from their obligations under the moral economy of domesticity.”  A few working women reach top positions as doctors, lawyers, professors, and corporate executives.  However, most wind up in the low-pay service sector.  Many single mothers in America, for example, now work via government mandate at minimum wage jobs tied to a basket of welfare benefits (the very form of coerced labor, I note as an aside, predicted by Belloc).  Indeed, Piven shows that “[w]omen have … developed a large and important relationship to the welfare state as the employees of [its] programs.”  In social welfare agencies, for example, the women commonly account for 80 percent of the workers.  Piven accepts this “public patriarchy” – where women do exercise some power through “their ‘dependent’ relationship with the state” – as the best option available.[10]

              However, another feminist theorist – Carole Pateman – argues that this interpretation distorts reality.  As she writes:  “The power and capriciousness of husbands is being replaced by the arbitrariness, bureaucracy, and power of the state.”[11]

              Evidence backing this latter view actually comes from Scandinavia, where the feminist ideology has been the most aggressively pursued.  Observers have noted, for example, the relative paucity of female CEO’s in Sweden; Swedish executive suites remain overwhelmingly male.[12]  Meanwhile, a 2006 study of “public patriarchy” by two Israeli sociologists used a so-called “Welfare State Intervention Index” to measure the status of women in 22 developed Western countries.  The researchers found that after 40 years of intense feminist activism, Scandinavian women are still doing so-called “women’s work,” only with this change:  rather than performing such tasks for their own families, they now do them for the state.  As the researchers explain:

…state activities, while facilitating women’s entrance into the labor market, do not facilitate their entry into high-authority and elite positions.  Rather, the very same characteristics – generous family policies and a large public service sector – seem to reproduce the gendered division of labor and, in effect, decrease women’s chances of joining desirable positions.

 

Instead, Scandinavian welfare states “channel women in disproportionate numbers into feminine occupational niches” such as child care, elder care, nursing and elementary education.  Among the 22 nations surveyed, the odds of a woman being employed in classically “female” occupations are actually highest in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom.[13]  And at least in Sweden and Denmark labor outside the home by mothers has become, in practice, compulsory.

              Again, while feminists blame a clever and adaptable “Patriarchy” for these results, [14] a much cleaner explanation is the operation of the Servile State.  The Business Government in Sweden and elsewhere has simply socialized traditional women’s tasks, so turning them into what Chesterton called the “loathsome thing called Social Service.”  Observers have noted as well how changes in Scandinavian law over the last several decades have been premised on a declining public interest in material property in favor of state pensions, annuities, and welfare claims.[15]  It is true that in terms of job loss, the current economic crisis has primarily hit men; about two-thirds of the newly unemployed are males, who find their servility in unemployment insurance (a measure that Belloc particularly loathed).  Women, for their part, find servility in their strange, new, functional marriage to the state.  Jointly surrendered by their mothers and fathers to the public crèches and to the state schools, children also quickly learn the posture and peculiar whine of a servile population.

              So, to borrow a question from Lenin:  What then should be done? 

              Critics of Distributism have long argued that this social-economic scheme lacks specific policy ideas.  The charge is unfair.  Both Belloc and Chesterton advanced clear ideas for building a property state, where giant economic institutions would be cut down to a human scale and where all responsible families would own a home, productive land or a small shop, and garden. Specifics included:

  • To greatly expand home ownership by families, mobilize “the credit of the community” through locally-controlled, cooperative credit unions to enable “private ownership of houses and small plots just outside our great urban centers.”
  • To break up monopoly corporations, legally support the extension of profit sharing and ownership to workers’ guilds.
  • To break up the financial trusts, mobilize prosecutors to enforce laws banning loan-sharking and fraud.  In addition, put would-be monopolists violating anti-trust laws in prison, because “private property ought to be protected against public crime.”
  • To restore the small shop, use differential taxation against chain stores (aiming at no more than a dozen shops per corporation) and against big department stores as well (here, Belloc specifically cited Harrods of London as the problem).
  • To redistribute land and other properties, tax real estate contracts “so as to discourage the sale of small property to big proprietors and encourage the breakup of big property among small proprietors.”  Their model legislation was Ireland’s Wyndham Act of 1903, which successfully transferred farms from absentee landlords to peasants.
  • To decentralize industry, cheapen electricity through, expanded access grids “which might lead to many little workshops.”
  • To encourage agrarian resettlement, the small family farm “must be privileged as against the diseased society around it.”
  • To restore craftsmen, subsidize “the small artisan at the expense of Big Business.”
  • To defend the poor against the great, provide the former free legal services.
  • “To protect new experiments in small property and micro-enterprise, employ tariffs, “even local tariffs.”
  • To decentralize transportation, end government monopolies of public transportation, discourage the railroads, and favor the automobile.
  • To encourage families, provide generous tax relief to parents according to number of children, while taxing the bachelor.
  • And to encourage urban home ownership, “there ought to be a simple rule:  every [rental] lease should automatically contain the power of purchase by installment.”

One may find these ideas misguided or wrong; yet they do offer specifics and add up to a comprehensive alternative to the servile state.

              How might this policy orientation be applied to our current financial and political situation?  Good Distributists would take the opportunity, I think:

  •  
    • To break up, prudently, the great, politically-favored banks;
    • To sharply restrict the revolving door between regulated banks and corporations and the regulatory agencies;
    • To focus mortgage lending on small, locally controlled savings banks (such as the pre-1981 American “Savings and Loans”) and Credit Unions;
    • To replace welfare benefits with opportunities for property ownership and the creation of “children’s trusts.”
    • To limit direct and indirect mortgage subsidies – including tax benefits – to only one residence per family (disallowing them on “second” or vacation homes and investment properties);
    • To let real bankruptcy courts divvy up failed, albeit politically favored dinosaurs like General Motors;
    • To move toward a modest, uniform protective tariff;
    • To fill the prisons with white-collar criminals who have violated the public trust through fraud;
    • To redirect farm subsidies ($20 Billion annually in the USA) away from vast agri-businesses toward the encouragement of small, general purpose farms (with the quid pro quo that families receiving assistance would open their properties to visiting school children, and so on)
    • To loosen zoning laws and other restrictive covenants so as to allow greater use of family homes as places of work and production for market (e.g., telecommuting, professional offices)
    • To make credit available, at favored rates, to new family businesses and other micro-enterprises.
    • To impose a progressive corporate income tax on retail giants;
    • To improve the highway system; and
    • To focus tax relief on families with dependent children.

              This policy platform rests on two pillars:  trust in widely distributed private property as the safeguard of liberty and democracy; and faith in the natural family economy as humane and just.  At another level, the Distributist order also requires that everyday tasks be reconnected with the Transcendent.  Only then do common acts bend toward the purposes of the Creator.  As the contemporary American agrarian Wendell Berry explains, “it may be that our marriages, kinships, friendships, neighborhoods, and all our forms and acts of homemaking are the rites by which we solemnize and enact our union with the universe.”  We find the economy of The Kingdom of God only as we experience a true homecoming.


[1]   G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World; in Collected Works, Volume IV:  Family, Society, Politics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 72-74

[2]   An influence noted in:  Russell Lord and Paul H. Johnstone, A Place on Earth:  A Critical Appraisal of Subsistence Homesteads (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, 1946), 12-17, 20.

[3]   James B. Mason, History of Housing in the U.S.1930-1980  (Houston, TX: Gulf, 1982), 13.

[4]   “Housing Get No. 1 Spot at Family Life Conference,” Journal of Housing (May 1948); 125.

[5]   Michelle J. White and Lawrence J. White, “The Tax Subsidy to Owner-Occupied Housing.  Who Benefits?” Journal of Public Economics 3 (1977): 123.

[6]   Gertrude Sipperly Fish, ed., The Story of Housing (New York:  MacMillan, 1979), 484-85.

[7]   George Sternlieb and James W. Hughes, America’s Housing:  Prospects and Problems (New Brunswick, NJ:  Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers Universities, 1980), 58-66.

[8]   G.K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity (Norfolk, VA:  IHS Press, 2001 [1910]), 173-74.

[9]   Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, 41-43.

[10]   Frances Fox Piven, “Ideology and the State:  Women, Power, and the Welfare State,” in Linda Gordon, editor, Women, the State, and Welfare (Madison:  The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 251-55.

[11]   Carole Pateman, “The Patriarchal Welfare State,” in Amy Gutmann, ed., Democracy and the Welfare State (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1988), 234.

[12]   See:  Steven Goldberg, Why Men Rule:  A Theory of Male Dominance (Chicago and LaSalle, IL:  Open Court Press, 1993), 24-25.

[13]   Hadas Mandel and Moshe Semgonov, “A Welfare State Paradox:  State Interventions and Women’s Employment Opportunities in 22 Countries,” American Journal of Sociology 111 (May 2006), 1913, 1916, 1933.

[14]   Sylvia Walby, Theorizing Patriarchy (Oxford, UK:  Basil Blackwell, 1990), 197.

[15]   D. Bradley, “Marriage, Family, Property and Inheritance in Swedish Law,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly 39 (April 1990), 378-81.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Médaille July 23, 2009 at 7:02 am

Many of the “explanations” of the current crises do indeed blame the victim and cite sub-prime lending to the poor. But simple mathematics proves that this cannot be the case. The sub-prime market totals $1.4T. Even if the failure rate was 50% (which it is not) and even if the banks recovered only 50% from the resale of the properties (and they recover much more), the total losses would only be $350B spread over several years. A large number, to be sure, but hardly enough to have caused the trillions in financial losses that brought down the banks and the “shadow banks.”

The home ceased to be a center of production and became an investment vehicle, not loved for itself and far removed from any center of production. Inflation in home values came to be viewed as a positive thing, even though inflation is normally regarded as a bad thing.

Further, while home ownership is a good thing, it is only a relative good. Not everybody needs a home in the suburbs, nor is it true (pacé Gilbert) that a flat is not a home. You can add to the list alternate forms of tenure which strengthen the rights of tenants and lengthen the term of leases. As a city-boy, born and bred, I appreciate the flat and the townhome as a good form of housing, given the right conditions and the right forms of ownership.

avatar Russell Arben Fox July 23, 2009 at 7:22 am

Allan, thanks very much for sharing your presentation with us. You give us a wise, theoretically grounded yet eminently practical guide to our thinking about one of the primary Distributist goals–homeownership–in this time of financial crisis and transformation; thanks very much for it. Like John, I would take issue with parts of it (he focuses–very rightly, I think–on the need for Distributist and other interested thinkers to acknowledge the legitimacy of certain forms of urban dwelling as equal or superior to suburban ones; I would also add that Chesterton’s affection for the automobile and the highway needs to be rethought, and the concept of mass transit needs to be rehabilitated), but overall, I learned much from reading it. I particularly appreciated your consideration of the arguments by Piven and Pateman about “public patriarchy,” which is a looming problem that anyone who–like myself–strives to balance egalitarianism with tradition needs to deal with. Again, thanks for sharing it with us all.

avatar Marchmaine July 23, 2009 at 8:11 am

A suggestion for your rhetorical approach: move away from Home-ownership as the central narrative and focus on Proprietorship.

While everything you say is true about the virtues of being a home-owner; the driving and sustaining force of distributism is proprietorship… distributing the productive capital and resources.

You mention this quite clearly in the essay, but to new students of distributism, it is buried under the rhetoric of home-ownership.

If you wish to challenge the accepted narrative of the failure of the government Housing experiment, then you need far more data (as John above notes) and need to focus on dispelling that myth.

If you wish to outline a more sane economy, then Proprietorship is a much more intuitive and fruitful line of reasoning; subordinate the Housing issue to it.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 23, 2009 at 8:56 am

Dr. Carlson, excellent address, much appreciated and a great help-historically, economically, and governmentally- in understanding the current dilemma and distributism as the corrective.
Why then, do I wince when you use the words “To impose a progressive corporate income tax..” or “To move toward a modest, uniform protective tariff,” or “subsidize “the small artisan at the expense of Big Business,”” ect.?
Aren’t we engaged here in a way that the nasty “Servile State” boys were, with finiglin’ gummint to their/our benefit? And, what’s to stop one of our “good” guys-those who wish to implement distributism-from sinning? I mean we’ll always have the libido dominandi!
And, where does good, old fashioned, American republicanism fit into the picture? Does distributism fit the socialist model or the republican model? Or is it applicable in both?
The fact is there’s much here I do like…a lot! But, as you see there’s questions re: the implementation of the methods to achieve your goals.

avatar John Médaille July 23, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Actually, the process of establishing the distributive state is more about removing subsidies rather than redirecting them. The problem is that we don’t even see the subsidies as such anymore. For example, the so-called “freeway” system is a subsidy for remote producers against local ones; for suburbs at the expense of central cities. If the freeways were funded by weight and distance tolls, then the whole WalMart distribution model collapses.

The small farmer doesn’t need subsidies, but the large “factory farms” can’t survive without them. Remove those subsidies and the industry collapses. And once again, the “free-way” system subsidies remote produce against the local farmer.

Tax subsidies to attract businesses should be outlawed, indeed should already be illegal as a simply violation of the equal protection clause. For some Wal Mart stores, the tax rebates are their entire profit margin. In other words, the local gov’t pays WalMart to destroy local businesses.

One useful area for taxation is in accounting for externalities. Businesses like to externalize as many costs as possible, and big businesses are adept at this. But where a cost does not show up in the price (as in pollution, for example) it should be charged back to the producer as a tax or a fine. 3/4ths of social justice is simply a matter of cost accounting, or assuring that all the costs and charged to the cost-causer, and therefore a part of the price.

avatar D.W. Sabin July 23, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Ditto on the farrago of “external costs”…an uneconomic philosophy that turns any notion of an “accounting” on its head.

Ditto on a wholesale abandonment of trains…and it begs the question is the car inherently bad or is the car as an instrument of the distortions of suburban sprawl the villain..or agent of villainy? This is an intriguing conundrum and it broaches the subject of Peak Oil, another habanero.

Cheeks, your loyalty to good old fashioned republicanism is heart-warming to see but I hope I don’t have to be the first to break it to you that somewhere back after Goldwater was walloped and Taft receded into dull memory and Nock vanished into the grave, the Republican Party started taking hormones….. and during the administration of G.W. Bush, it took a corporate junket to Amsterdam for a Sex Change Operation and stayed for a few months afterwards, apprenticed to those charming hostels along the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, learning how to dance in windows and charm the shopper . It proudly wears the Red and is a compliant hostess to anyone laying down cold hard cash…or a facsimile thereof. Talking about Republican Principles today is a brisk scan through the tawdry back pages of the Village Voice hidden inside a copy of Gideons Bible stolen from a motel that charges by the hour.

Don’t start me on the Democrats but at least they don’t attempt to further some piety about “small government and economic probity”. Far from it, its all mosh pit, all the time.

To change the subject a bit but further the Gideon’s Bible stream, I learned recently from a little reading on the beloved Mencken that he was prone to purloining the Gideons Bible from hotels he stayed in , signing them “Best Wishes From the Author” and handing them out to various friends. Yee Gawds but what he would have to say about the current scene. Where is our Mencken? and Abbey? and Benny DeVoto when we need them?

avatar Bob Cheeks July 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm

D.W. your association of the concept of a republic with the contemporary Republican Party is most illuminating and rather far from the intent of your old palsy. Actually, I’m referring to the restoration of those republican virtues elucidated by the founders: separation of powers, states rights, the appointment to the Senate by the state legislatures, the voting franchise restricted to combat veterans and/or tax payers, the right of secession, ect, ect.
Frankly, I don’t think it’ll be possible to constitute a Wendellian liftestyle without re-incorporating the principles of the republic, simply because those in power, the statists (socialists or otherwise) will surpress any attempt to establish a humane order.
It may require (and I’d really like to see one of our bloggers take this on) an overthrow of the existing gummint.

avatar John Médaille July 23, 2009 at 3:21 pm

I don’t think you can have a republic without a republican form of property. Insofar as the great corporations control the economy, they will control the gov’t. Power follows property, as Daniel Webster noted. Property may not be a sufficient condition for a republic, but it is a necessary one.

avatar Clare Krishan July 23, 2009 at 9:44 pm

ditto Marchmaine, and re: Power follows property, lets audit the Fed shall we? The seignorage scam has to cease before any meaningful accounting of redistribution of social “costs” can be made. We certainly cannot assume any reasonable conclusions re: net gain to the common good from ‘specifics’ of fin-de-siecle fads that predate the hegemony of international central banking and overlooks the profound deficit in accumulated experience or practical skills that consigns impoverished urban dwellers to an intellectual ghetto of low expectations. Bequeathed the blight of a half century of neglect and decay, home ownership would be a health hazard for most (lead paint is still permanently stunting the brain development of infants and kids today, growing up in Philadelphia row homes their parents own… but cannot afford to renovate to remove the toxic waste of centuries past).

avatar D.W. Sabin July 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Cheeks,
Yes, I knew your references were to the concept of republican government and not the current besotted sideshow but we abandoned that vehicle longer ago than we turned the GOP into farce. It is why I routinely refer to the gubmint we have as the “lapsed-republic”.

As to any notion of overthrow, fear not, this government is out on a limb sawing away while throwing bits of red meat into the shark tank below. Truth be told, with the public in the shape it is in and our media as fixated upon recreational trauma as it is and an elite class as largely clueless and self-absorbed as it is, any “overthrow” would likely result in something far more psychotic than what already exists. A literate and emotionally balanced public might have averted what lies ahead but the de-facto Functional Illiteracy and Historicidal Ennui of American Exceptionalism creates better than even odds that as bad as the current sideshow is,it will be looked back upon fondly as some kind of golden age. Think the Fall of Rome without picturesque ruins but with the belligerent hordes and all manner of murderous gimmicks and gadgets blazing away in a Sanguinary Busby Berkley Extravaganza for the Attention Deficit Age.

Now for the bad news.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 24, 2009 at 3:14 pm

D.W. I’m not as sanguine as you about the chances of restoring the republicanism of yore. However, I’ll give you this, because of the things you mentioned-and in such a literally clever way that we’ve come to expect-I have the feeling you’re right. But, part of me is Irish and while we got our arses kicked, oppressed, and systemically starved over the space of a few hundred years, we did finally rise up-wait, Dude, I can hear the pipes-and smite the bloody British bastards, now didn’t we?
In the end, it’s still God’s world and that world, my friend, is predicated on a metaphysical freedom (soon to be blogged at PoMoCon) that lies beyond our ken.
So let me have my hoped for republican gummint and in my allegiance to this wonderful idea, some small association with those heros, men better than I, who gave their lives that I may preach, bitch, and moan about socialists and statists, and maybe, someday, actually do something about it.

avatar Dave Taylor July 25, 2009 at 5:20 am

May I first again thank Allan for a splendid paper. Its value was obvious when I heard it in Oxford, but is even more obvious now I can see it and reflect on it at leisure.

What comes out of its brilliant summary of past Distributist proposals is why so many of them (notably those on home ownership and transport) have turned sour. Whereas I see it taking for granted that Money is valuable (a form of Wealth), Bob Cheek picks out its taking for granted traditional concepts of Government: “Aren’t we engaged here in a way that the nasty “Servile State” boys were, with finiglin’ gummint to their/our benefit? And, what’s to stop one of our “good” guys – those who wish to implement distributism – from sinning? I mean we’ll always have the libido dominandi!”

This is where Constitutions (whether written or built into our institutions) are so important for governing Governments; but though the US Constitution seems to have been written by good guys it is not at all obvious the unwritten UK one was, given your Fed is built in its image and likeness.

There is, however, something to be learned from the 1949 metamorphosis in British Constitutional goals – from “Empire” to “Commonwealth” – so dutifully led by our powerless Constitional Monarch. Not that Bob’s libido dominandi have appreciated that; but witness Allan’s summary, the educative value of Constitutions don’t seem to figure at all in traditional Distributist thinking.

Likewise on Money. Abraham Lincoln understood that modern money is simply an IOU, and that the first one to use it gets others to earn it. Financiers of the US – the victorious nation after WWII -required oil to be paid for in dollars which of course the bankers were allowed to print. The banks which issued them thus got their percentage from first use before this national seignorage could underwrite defecit budgetting by Government. The principle is, however, sound. Lincoln didn’t need to impose complex taxation schemes to pay for his war. He simply recognised that money is debt. On the evidence of Allan’s taxation proposals it seems Distributists have not understood the significance of this, nor the mathematics even of compound interest (applicable to population) and (in the case of housing and transport) the mathematics of “diminishing returns”).

Let me end this more positively by praising Allan again for his admirable paper and Distributists of the past for the great deal he has shown they have achieved. The point of my criticism is not to criticise people but to draw their attention to technical issues they seem to have overlooked. It may be hard for old dogs to learn new tricks, but here it is important that they do.

avatar D.W. Sabin July 25, 2009 at 10:37 am

Cheeks,
The Irish Element of the Personal Gene Pool interrupted their non-stop Hurling Match and broke into applause and bleary endorsements of your sturdy faith in our Whiggish tendencies but then they started to break out the Jamesons and I had to beat them back into the barricaded recesses of ye alte Cork provinces of my brain. I treat with the blessed horde at hazard.

If I’m an example of “sanguine”, well, I advise Emergency Medical Kits for Everyone. As to metaphysics and its reputed freedoms….one wonders if it is not more a silken and seductive self-incarceration. Not, mind you, that this might be a bad thing although I do seem to recall that ole Ed Abbey used to remark something along the lines of every time he hears the word “metaphysical”, he gets an urge to “reach for my knife” and furthermore, rather than burrowing into the spelunking grounds of the metaphysical, one might instead admire the “thighs of the woman in the tennis skirt yonder, just now bending and tying her shoe”….

avatar D.W. Sabin July 25, 2009 at 10:46 am

Dave Taylor…
Keep it coming…the sick irony of the U.S. consolidating its economic power after WWII by setting global oil sales in the dollar, only to see them hazard the dollar as Reserve Currency 60 years later …again over demon oil and its many assigns .

avatar Bob Cheeks July 25, 2009 at 1:13 pm

David Taylor: Excellent sir! I should mention, that on the one hand my derivatives are Irish Catholic and Scots, the other is Brit; sailing proudly past the chalky heights the clan first halted at the Bahamas than on to the American mainland, there to house themselves among the mountains, hollows, and flatlands of the Allegheny interior. The ensuing wars with the Brits, Shawnee,Delaware,Mingo,Iroquois ect., earned the multi-great grandpa, a veteran of Saratoga, Valley Forge, and the border wars a section in the Ohio Country.
The lad being a stalwart republican of the revolution and following Indian wars passed those traits along, faltering only with a errouneous allegiance to Lincoln by a brevet Capt of Gen. Rosencran’s Army of the Tennessee grt-grt grandpa, and close ties to FDR and the Democratic Party by my heroic platoon Sgt. father whose love of Gen. Patton existed as long as he did.
So my fidelity to the republican, nay, sir, anti-federalist cause is embedded in the psyche and my devotion to economics schemes is quite secondary.
This is not the time nor place to discuss the black-hearted tricks required to bring that document of oppression-the Constitution-into existence. But, let me say the grand olde Articles of Confederation was a document that secured our liberties, while limiting the central gov’t, and it required scoundrels of the first order to deprive us of its milde, succoring protections. No son of liberty signed that Devil’s Bill.
But I am here to learn so preach on.
Yet, know this; I shall strike down the socialist with my Scottish broad sword hidden in my thatched roof (from you Brits), or stick him with my dirk. I have learned the lessons of socialism, hard taught, nor shall I countenance those preachments of any of the epigonic Marxist cabal that left the twentieth century stinking from the rotting flesh of a hundred million corpses.
So if this distributist strategem is employed by the usage of socialist, redistributions schemes, count me your enemy…if it isn’t, let me know how it is implemented. And, be gentle sir, economics hurts my head!

D.W. “Sanguine,” what was I thinking. Re: the silken thighs of young ladies, I know I should smile at that, but I just can’t remember why!
So it’s the barricades for us, my lad, to take our stand (we can be sanguine)! I’ll bring the hotch and you bring the cigars (I’ll have one before we are overrun by the authorities). For me the broad sword, for you the bow and arrow from your aboriginal friends in the west. And, if Brother Taylor does not explicate this distributist scheme, that leaves you! Right now seems like all these fellows are duckin’ and dodgin’!
BTW, I’m starting a fund to free Prof. Henry Gates of Harvard from the brutal tactics of caucasion police officers determined to protect his property. I just learned via the AP that Duke Univ. Medical School, Psychiatric Research Dept., is issuing a paper on the recently discovered effects of Affirmative Action on the psyche, titled: Hubristic Fantasys among the Harvard Professoriate.

avatar D.W. Sabin July 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Cheeks,
Because this doomed ship of Capitalism as Now Practiced seems to be pitching, yawing, rolling and stymying into a reef of its own making, it does not surprise me that there might be a little ducking and dodging as a course correction is pondered. At least somebody is attempting to consult some charts instead of dead reckoning into the gale or perhaps consulting the Somnambulant Oracles of our vaunted Treasury and their smoky antechamber of entrail devination known as the FED.

As to your Bear-Baiting, the only right and proper thing to say about the Gates issue is nothing at all because the general trend in that grand debate is further into the kind of gibbering idiocy usually only found during a well-publicized temperance meeting.

Gathering in the White House for a beer and make-up session……cripes but does every day bring another plunge further into the socio-political equivalent of a willfully self-inflicted wound.

There is dumb and then there is the kind of spectacle-of-the-dumb that takes on an almost epic quality rarely matched but in the most foolhardy of efforts like when Custer decided he could kick around the Sioux to his hearts content .

But oh how the media doth love it so….hence the grand chasing of the media by the political class in a perfect loop of we might refer to as “If you think that’s stupid…well, try this out”.

Over 300 years of Cartesian Logic and we get the current logic-averse grabass of a Political-Media Complex…. a kind of high-toned HeeHaw malignant carnival that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only given in life is that man and his attempts at governance will regularly descend to meet the baser elements of its time in kind of Russian Roulette that sadly cannot ever come quickly enough .

avatar Bob Cheeks July 25, 2009 at 3:41 pm

D.W. Well, I wasn’t able to lure you into the Gates mosh pit, if I may borrow a euphemism, but the associated pontificating will get me through the weekend. And, I shall not bring up our UNITER president, who if he continues down the road he appears to be travelling, may instigate a certain unpleasantness that may be his political goal.

Re: the distributionist scheme, your a realist in these matters and willing, it appears, to tolerate a certain corruption among our elite master to further the aims, in this instance, of said distriubtism (see my opening ‘comment.’) and I ain’t. Human nature (libido dominandi) being what it is, once you get a power hungry arsehole in there you gotta shoot him to get him out; thus Jefferson’s call for a little tree washing every twenty years or so. Right now our lamp posts should be decorated with the corpses of our political elite, that they aren’t tells us all we need to know about our culture.

Maybe we should have a “Dirk ‘n’ Bob” blog where you do the realist stuff and I do the idealism thing, we can contrast the themes and if no one wants to argue we can argue among ourselves. Should work although it sounds sorta sexual!

Brother Taylor where are you, dude?

avatar Dave Taylor July 25, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Bob Cheeks: no need for the pretended excellence, I’m a humble Brit with similar ancestry to your own. Though a sometime soldier, our ideal was peace-keeping, and it is anger at wars of conquest that is written in MY psyche. Were I you, I would be thinking of the origin of your great … grandad’s “section” as a skeleton in my cupboard. Which is perhaps one point to be made about redistribution: surely there is every good reason to redistribute ill-gotten gains? However, Christian generosity makes me want to narrow that down a bit: let us say ill-gotten gains that are still needed by those with a claim on them and are not yet being used for good.

Death is a good time for drawing lines. The Australians redistribute rural land fairly intelligently: when occupiers die and/or walk away from responsibility for it. The son of a cheat (e.g. one grown rich by gambling with other people’s money) might reasonably be entitled to inherit a house that was his home, along with the responsibilities which would go with living in it; but not vast estates effectively storing ill-gotten value while depriving former communities of it. The point of Distributism, in short, is not to deprive anyone of an honourable livelihood independent of the state and its princelings, but precisely to enable any honourable person to have one.

Contrast that with States gaoling penniless people for not paying taxes – these, it turns out, being required only because the rich have taken over the money supply and will lend out their superfluous IOU’s only at interest. Contrast it with fraudlent private banks charging honourable people interest on IOU’s they themselves merely printed, seizing the honourable people’s homes if misfortune or bank misconduct should happen to leave them unemployed.

As I see it, therefore, a Distributist scheme has to neutralise the power of both the State and the Banks. That happens automatically insofar as we recognise that the State is competent only to advise more local communities and Banks only to issue and account for the honouring of other people’s IOU’s. Nothing changes but the way we see things; the sun still appears to traverse the heavens, but knowing that the earth is rotating enabled us to completely rethink and correct what we had been assuming and struggling with for centuries. The love of money being still manifestly the root of all evil, that radical rethink of political economics is what we now need to do.

Since this is evidently not a socialist redistribution scheme, you want me to let you know how it [presumably its Distribution] is to be effected. Imagine interest payments and taxes to be gone, and money understood as a title for debt. Businessmen and Statesmen already borrow most of the money they need, and minimising actual debt by not spending one’s entitlement is equivalent to saving. If one were paid at the beginning rather than the end of the working week, that would illustrate the general truth that in reality, borrowed IOU’s are repaid not by paying them back with still more IOUs added as interest, but by our actually doing the work that was needed of us. However, that work can be divided into basic reproduction of necessities and improvement work (maintenance, development, arts and education). With automation the former takes a relatively small proportion of the man-hours available, so the disabled and those otherwise occupied need not necessarily be involved, while timesharing would enable everyone to have enough free time to join in the latter.

We thus finally come to how the logic of this scheme would distribute livelihoods and property. Quite simply, everyone would have a Citizen’s Income: a right (cumulative in a family) to borrow enough for a decent livelihood. This would replace wages and pensions, and hence any need for tax, insurance and profits to pay them; it would normally be repaid normally with gratitude by doing basic work insofar as that was necessary. (I have in mind Londoners of old migrating joyfully to the Kent countryside at harvest-time). Everyone would have opportunity to write off such debts or better their property by way of prizes for exceptional improvement work of whatever sort: these being – by way of contrast with higher wages, patent and copyright royalties – fixed and and so readily accounted for rather than on-going burdens on the community. Everyone would also have the right to borrow for justifiable property needs (i.e. for homes, businesses or development workshops), thereby taking on responsibility for work to reproduce the material used in producing them. (Payment for work during production and improvement has already been provided for by Citizen’s Income). Those already possessing property would be similarly assessed, as being indebted to local communities to the extent of its value> This is not a situation they would like, so they would want to minimise such debt by passing on to potential users what they themselves are not actually using. And that, finally, is where such a form of Distributism will have achieved its aim.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 26, 2009 at 7:19 am

David, my new English pal, no “pretended excellence” was intended. Usually when I’m insulting it’s rather apparent and you’ll have no difficulty discerning the insult. I do have some things to say to you, alas, my nerves were shot last night, what with your communication and information recv’d at this place that my commie-Democrat Congressman, one Charlie Wilson, is going to vote to F**K UP my health care.
Thus, it was necessary for me to have two fingers of Maker’s Mark and retire early after combing the premises for a used, four month old cigar butt, which was thankfully not found.
I’m feeling better this Lord’s Day morning, seeking forgiveness for my numerous sins, looking forward to a “come to Jesus moment” with the Free Methodists,and preparing a “letter to the editor” for the local rag in which to batter said congressman about the head and shoulders.
Good Lord, am I the last Patriot?
Consequently, I’ll be with you sometime today!

avatar Bob Cheeks July 26, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Dave: The following I found insulting; “Were I you, I would be thinking of the origin of your great … grandad’s “section” as a skeleton in my cupboard. Which is perhaps one point to be made about redistribution: surely there is every good reason to redistribute ill-gotten gains? However, Christian generosity makes me want to narrow that down a bit: let us say ill-gotten gains that are still needed by those with a claim on them and are not yet being used for good.”

Obviously, we’re coming from two different worldviews; while Europe collapses into a enviro/politically correct socialim many of us here in the colonies are holding out, rather fond, as it were, of our history, unique culture, and traditions…it’s what makes us FPR’s. The conguest of the Aboriginal Indian nations are part of our history and we are not ashamed of this conquest. Actually, we are rather proud of the courage of our forebearers.

My many times great grand-father, Thomas Dickerson, following his service in defeating your Gentleman Johnny Burgoynne at Saratoga and a rather unpleasant winter at Valley Forge, Pa. mustered out of the Continental Army and made tracks for his home along the Pennsylvania frontier at Catfish Camp. Tom joined a company of scouts who patrolled the Ohio river and worked in conjunction with other companies of frontiersman either to intercept the maurading warriors of the Five Nations of the Ohio or to bring succor to those unfortunates that were underseige and forted-up in their stockade cabins.

I’ve managed to recover a couple of stories related to Tom’s service in protecting the out settlers living along the frontier and they are fascinating.

More importantly, in the matter of this discussion, is an explanation as to why the English-American settlers hated the Aboriginal population and wished to see them either far removed or totally destroyed.

It must be remembered that these settlers, long experienced in relations with the English were accustomed to the idea of torture. Being tortured by the English soldiers to obtain information was rather a typical event and understood by these settlers as a part of war. But, the Aboriginal culture was very much different. When they tortured it was to humiliate their foeman, to rob them of their spirit, and for the pleasure the act of torture provided. The record is pregnant with horrific stories and I won’t bore you with gruesome examples of Indian expertise in these matters. Suffice it to say the usual pattern was for the warriors to participate rather generally and the squaws and children to be thoroughly and keenly involved. The settlers unequivical hatred for the “red savages” rested on the matter of torture and because of it, few whites who experienced the work of the Five Nations first hand ever grieved for a dead Indian.

Allow me one short story. I believe the year was 1790 and after more than thirty years of frontier savagery the fighting was dying down. The Indians had been soundly thrashed and were moving or being moved westward. But one day into the area that is now the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania came four warriors from the Sandusky Towns. It’s not known for sure who they were but some accounts list them as two Wyandot, a Mingo, and a Delaware.

These warriors were looking for plunder and came upon two little girls; eleven and thirteen. They capture them, raped them, and took them with them toward the area of Catfish Camp. The alarm was sounded and Tom and his cousin, Kinzie Dickerson, were at hand and set off in pursuit armed with musket, tomahawk, and knife.

Three days later Tom and Kinzie returned with the girls and when questioned responded that the Indians no longer constituted a threat. They each carried two bloody scalps on their belts and n’er tried to hide them.

Tom served as a frontier scout and a captain of scouts for over twenty years. His story is one of heroism, of defending his community, and of killing his enemy. Tom was an honourable gentleman and lies buried in a cemetery located on a little knoll just off Route 9 near New Athens, Ohio, on land that was once his section.

To suggest that the land, now long and legally sold off to others, be “returned” to it’s “rightful” owners is, singularly, one of the most absurd ideas I’ve ever heard and it rather indicates a disordered mind, a person living in a second reality of magical construct.

In America we still have men who remember the hard service of their ancestors and honour that service. The blood of my people has soaked this land, their graves mark this country. It’s one of the reasons why this place is my home, why it is part of me, and will always be part of who I am. Perhaps, I’m the last of my line, here at this place. So be it, there’s not much about that that I can do. But in my time here I will remember and honour my people: Tom, Vachel, and Kinzie Dickerson (American Revolution and Border Wars), Capt. Tom Dickerson (dead at Stones River), Cpl. Billy Cheeks (Veteran volunteer, Burnside’s command, died of hard service), Pvt. William Cheeks (6th North Carolina Inf.), Cpl. Tom Connelly, (58th Ohio Regiment, died under Bosch artillery barrage in the Argonne, 1917), SSgt. Robert Cheeks, 305th Combat Eng., 80th Div., 3rd Army, combat vetern.

I must put a meatloaf in the oven and will finish this latter!

avatar Dave Taylor July 27, 2009 at 2:09 am

Bob, I’m disappointed but relieved by your response. I was going to chip in with my “no pretended excellence” being about my being well aware of my own sins and short-comings – which include not being very good at banter even if able to enjoy it. That you could take offence at my attempt shows just how “not very good”!

I’m relieved that, after yesterday’s talk of ill-health, you have come out fighting! However, I’m disappointed that rather than “Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic” and respond to my more up-to-date view of a Distributist way forward (which is backed incidentally by Christ’s teachings and the error control theory of practical cybernetics), you have chosen to accuse me of living in fairyland:

“To suggest that the land, now long and legally sold off to others, be “returned” to it’s “rightful” owners is, singularly, one of the most absurd ideas I’ve ever heard and it rather indicates a disordered mind, a person living in a second reality of magical construct.”

So in your opinion the New Zealanders and Australians are suffering from disordered minds? But of course, you live in a culture built on “libido dominandi”, so you would think that, wouldn’t you? Understandable; but you might understand better WHY it is understandable if you learned how and why people’s points of view differ at a Myers-Briggs personality indicator workshop. Being more like an old woman than a top dog myself, my own choice is to be human as well as Christian. Your redskins hadn’t had that choice, and it is interesting that the so-called Christian use of torture to extract information seems to have begun with Boniface IX at a time when there were rival popes. Perhaps we backed the wrong one.

If that doesn’t look like banter, well: I’m just not as clever as Chesterton and yourself at being funny as well as serious. Where I was brought up in England’s industrial North, “if you didn’t laugh, you’d have to cry”, so the humour tends to be pretty black.

Dave

avatar Bob Cheeks July 27, 2009 at 4:33 am

David: It’s a good thing to air these differences. We aren’t all going to be beer drinking buddies, there are always going to be systems, ideologies, religions, and opinions that one doesn’t agree with or get along with. Re: the return of the land to its aboriginal “founders,” there’s little reason for me to get fired up over that! Even with the current American president and his afro-socialist deformed thinking, it’s not likely to occur.
Re: your economic theories, you’re simply going to have to give me some time to work up a critique. I have no desire to go from one set of “masters” to another, even and including the “righteous people,” or the pope. As I said, I’m a devoted republican (anti-federalist) and I intend to stay that way; politically, I will serve no religious or ideological masters.
Re: your criticism of my embrace of Christianity, you’re right, I’m flawed, less-than-worthy, a work in progress. I don’t embrace your brand of Christianity. I think it’s flaw is in its ennui that reflects what appears to be the sad, unfortunate British decline. I take no pleasure in watching you folks submit yourselves to the state, to the Muslim.
So let me work on this and include my wife, who has some familiarity with these things, and I’ll get back with you either on this thread or on another of Medaille’s. Wouldn’t it be ironic if two disparate lads agreed on the matter of distributism!
Re: the Aussies and their native populations…I’m an American, that’s their business!

avatar Dave Taylor July 27, 2009 at 5:55 am

Bob, please look again. I was “criticising” (or rather, airing) my own failings rather than yours – by way of dismissing your earlier apology as unnecessary.

Let’s start again from where we DO seem to agree: the thing you said which attracted me. We’re BOTH “here to learn”, so I’m sorry if my “preaching” sounds like criticism. For me, one of the “big ideas” A N Whitehead says “to hang on to like grim death” has been George Spencer Brown’s conclusion in “The Laws of Form”: the condition of being able to learn is that one doesn’t already know. Another, personally experienced, is that learning takes time: I do understand you will need that!

I think we also agree, really, that intelligent people do not simply switch from their point of view to someone else’s, e.g. to or from republicanism. They modify, enrich and occasionally clarify their own point of view in light of what they have learned of others.

At one time I myself used the term “confederation”, to try and tease out the difference between the original Catholic idea of European Community and the new European Union which has been foisted on us. I’ve since learned a lot more about republicanism, but I still interpret it in terms of Pius XI’s “small is beautiful” concept of subsidiarity, which as I tried to suggest does have a place for a “commonweath” (but not an “empire”) understanding of federation and world government. That I now prefer the term “commonwealth” is simply because it suggests aims rather than methods.

This, of course, is not strictly off topic: it is something Distributism needs to take a position on if it is to be practicable. However, that position itself needs to take account of the cultural equivalent of a need for parental control while growing up, and of cultural education by including the “children” in adult conversation.

I’m not preaching, really I’m not. I’m just sharing reactions which after 72 years were already there for you to stir up.

All the best.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 27, 2009 at 8:04 am

David, I had a lot written but lost it somehow. So here’s an abbreviation:

Re:”We thus finally come to how the logic of this scheme would distribute livelihoods and property. Quite simply, everyone would have a Citizen’s Income: a right (cumulative in a family) to borrow enough for a decent livelihood. This would replace wages and pensions, and hence any need for tax, insurance and profits to pay them; it would normally be repaid normally with gratitude by doing basic work insofar as that was necessary. (I have in mind Londoners of old migrating joyfully to the Kent countryside at harvest-time). Everyone would have opportunity to write off such debts or better their property by way of prizes for exceptional improvement work of whatever sort: these being – by way of contrast with higher wages, patent and copyright royalties – fixed and and so readily accounted for rather than on-going burdens on the community. Everyone would also have the right to borrow for justifiable property needs (i.e. for homes, businesses or development workshops), thereby taking on responsibility for work to reproduce the material used in producing them. (Payment for work during production and improvement has already been provided for by Citizen’s Income). Those already possessing property would be similarly assessed, as being indebted to local communities to the extent of its value> This is not a situation they would like, so they would want to minimise such debt by passing on to potential users what they themselves are not actually using. And that, finally, is where such a form of Distributism will have achieved its aim.”

…well, what can I say? It looks very much to me as if you’re talking a form of the old Marxists dialectic, and that ain’t for me. Let me suggest a book: “Autobiographical Reflections,” Vol. 34, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Univ. of Missouri Press. It’ll help you see our differences and provide, perhaps, an epiphany.

Best,
RCC

avatar Dave Taylor July 27, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Bob, I could say that your threatening potential opponents with the dirk is MORE like the side of Marx we dislike with good reason.

The fact is, Bob, if Plato, Marx and myself look at the same problem, it is very likely there will be similarities in the structure of what we see. We will almost certainly differ in our still developing understanding of what that means in terms of what can be done about it. There Plato advocated wise kings, Marx mechanical forces, I myself virtually powerless information servo systems – echoing Christ’s service: conveying the truth which sets us free. To paraphrase Chesterton on Browning, a mirror image looks like reality, yet is an “everlasting opposite”.

I can’t access Voegelin’s works easily but Wikipedia suggests he was a buddie of the dishonest Hayek, and “that ain’t for me”. The index of Vol 34 shows his philosophy of history doesn’t take account of information science. This however looks more interesting:

http://www.voegelinview.com/ev/eric_voegelin_table_of_contents.html.

He seems to link consciousness with understanding through concepts, which is about a quarter of the way to the unexpected truth revealed by understanding how languages, logic, communication and brains work. He’s also interested in how things come into existence, and I’ve cracked that too. Seriously, you will learn more by asking questions than by underestimating someone who tries to explain things simply.

Our reconciliation and epiphany are to be found at 1 Cor 12. Christ is supposed to be manifest in us, as complementary parts of His Mystical Body. Now that’s challenging!

Cheers.

avatar Dave Taylor July 28, 2009 at 7:23 am

D W Sabin: You asked me to keep this coming! Getting away from defending myself and back to studying the point of view of Allan’s excellent paper, it seems to me he (and most of us Distributists) are taking for granted the existing political system and imagining, IF we had power, what would we do? On the face of it, that leaves everything as it was, for the present political system requires one to OVERPOWER one’s opponents, which is a bit like imagining the Wright brothers overcoming a fully-developed Boeing organisation.

Allan is implying that Distributists have actually worked a third way; they have salted the thinking of the existing powers with Christian values to at least make their policies taste better. (I have in mind a stark contrast between Britain’s 1930′s begardened Council housing and slums from our nineteenth century). As always, Chesterton expressed the difficulty with expecting things to stay better in a nice epigram in a chapter in Orthodoxy, on “The Eternal Revolution”: “If you particularly want [a post] to stay white you have to keep painting it”.

Things have moved on. Now we can use plastic posts with paint built in. Similarly we have learned technological jujitsu and no need to overpower our opponents: the long lever and float of a toilet/fawcett flush has been replaced by a minature which turns on water pressure to switch itself off. When I was an apprentice working on the earliest computers, the first type on one side of the corridor was said to require half a power station to run it. Our work on the other side, transistorising it, made a standby generator feasible and now we can put much better computers in our pocket. Significantly, we have learned how to “repaint” faulty information, this enabling us to automate powered machines for the physical repainting of posts. I’m going on a bit because, in the political world of people seeing themselves as jumped-up monkeys or fighting each other to become top dog, the significance of this has not been sinking in. We humans have become top dogs in the animal world not because we are powerful but because we have brains capable of comprehending the possibility of God and adept at DIRECTING power. The problem addressed in Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” is that we are NOT USING half our brains: the intuitive/imaginative half required for conscience and error-correction. The “jujitsu” imaginative engineers have developed here is unfortunately the one I cannot illustrate in a words-only blog: imagination of invisible flows with the help of schematic diagrams.

That is the point, anyway. That is why Bernard Lonergan’s economics are so significant. The only way the powerful are likely to become capable of changing course and continually correcting it as necessary is if they can be shown how to visualise what is happening overall, including what can go wrong and what can be done about it. That is possible in a schematic diagram of the already existing theory of navigation (applicable to any course). That particular example of error-correction logic involves the tasks of course setting, steering by compass, correcting for positional errors and looking for danger ahead – then plotting a different course next time if ports turn out not to be worth visiting! There is no point in overthrowing the powerful and putting equally ignorant people in their place. The Christian way is to pass on the truth to whoever will listen, until even the powerful are converted by the fact that it makes sense.

I suggest for discussion that the most important truth just now is not our values: it is the existence of error-correction logic, as in “confession, correction, reparation and a firm purpose of amendment”. What do you think, Allan?

avatar Allan Carlson July 28, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Apologies for not responding earlier. I have been trying to finish a long-promised book, and have sworn off the internet in an effort to FOCUS!….

In any case, I am not sure if I can offer a resolution to the controversies engaging Bob, Dave, and D.W….. other than to note that I, too, sometimes suffer from a libertarian twitch which spoils my Distributist longings. I think it may be a distinctive American malady.

In any case, I would like to offer a commentary on land redistribution.
The whole question actually depends on one’s assumptions about ownership. Aboriginal peoples in America and Australia had little, if any, sense of family or individual ownership…. and for several centuries they lost out (in America, at least, we’ve made up for any injustices here with Indian Casinos)…. Short of a broad return to some conception of tribal property, it would be unwise to make any changes.

Yet there have been successful redistributions of property in recent memory. Moving beyond Ireland’s Wyndham Act of 1903, there was the restoration of small farms to the Bulgar peasantry after the defeat of their Turkish overlords in the late 19th Century; there was the restoration of small farms to the Czecho-Slovak peasantry after driving out the absentee Austro-German overlords in 1918; there was the post World War I restoration of property in Finland, Poland and Romania. In each case, the principle followed was that: the family that tills the soil should own the soil. Sometimes compensation was paid; sometimes not. In general, however, justice was advanced, only to be swamped by the fascists and communists. To read more, see my chapter on “The Green Revolution” in THIRD WAYS.

It is true that home ownership is not enough to achieve the Distributist ideal. Chesterton believed that the private home should also encompass vegetable garden and chicken coop: so that the family would be secure in its basic sustenance through its own exertions. Real freedom is summarized in the great Country Music song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” The ownership of productive property (land and basic machine tools)and the skills to use them are essential to that elemental form of liberty.

avatar John Médaille July 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Probably the most successful “land-to-the-tiller” program was in Taiwan, where 466,000 families received their own land for a price of 2.5 times the average annual yield, to be paid over ten years. That is, they would pay 25% of the crop for 10 years. Since they had been paying 50-70% of the crop in rent, this was a tremendous change. The former owners got industrial bonds in compensation, which could only be invested in Taiwan. The program was the foundation of Taiwan’s transformation from a poverty stricken backwater to an industrial powerhouse in just one generation. Farmers increased their production, investing in more labor-intensive but high-value crops, and went to three crops/year. The former owners invested in new businesses that started Taiwan on the road to industrialization.

It was elegant program. The government sold land it didn’t own, bought with money it didn’t have, to fuel demand that wasn’t there, which was filled by businesses that didn’t exist. The fiscal and monetary magic was astounding. The same program (designed by the same person)also worked in Japan and Korea. Oddly enough, it failed in Vietnam, for some peculiar local reasons.

avatar Dave Taylor July 29, 2009 at 8:40 am

Thanks, Allan and John, for your very useful responses.

That “Indian” thing on land redistribution began as a bit of banter in response to Bob’s, and maybe differences between libertarians and distributists are as much down to personality as nationality. As 1 Cor 12 suggests, “it takes all sorts to make a world”. I’m personally interested in truth, not wealth or power, choosing for a confirmation name Simon (for St Simon Stock, as in our folk song):
“Once in a bright green wood lived a hermit wise and good
Whom the folks from far and near,
For his counsel sought, knowing well that what he taught,
The dreariest of hearts would cheer”. …
Had I not married I could have been happy in a Benedictine community. Reflecting on the measure of truth in Bob’s harsh words about the British: “I think [the] flaw [in your brand of Christianity] is in its ennui that reflects what appears to be the sad, unfortunate British decline”, the point perhaps is that for a thousand years since the Normans took over we Brits have had nowhere to go except to sea or perhaps the remoter mountains of Scotland and Wales.

Doubtless it was those of us with libertarian genes who fled to the States once they were able to, that explaining both our shortage of them and your perhaps having an excess. However, our tendency to greater introversion should not be mistaken for “ennui”. That is a sickness of thoughtless free spirits and old age rather than of more thoughtful minds busy finding their freedom in truth.

avatar Matthew Wade July 31, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Gentlemen, in my various stumblings around the internet in search of a sliver of truth about political economy, I found myself reading this post and the subsequent back and forth. I’ve often struggled with two thoughts about Distributism, the first much more dangerous than the second in my mind:

1) It seems to me that the current consumer mindset is a “price alone” (solum pretium) system of procuring something at the cheapest price. Is this a peculiar by-product of the waning stages of the collapse of Capitalism? Or is it an innate desire in human nature that is unfortunately manifested today in visits to Chain Shops and Retail Boxes?

2) What about natural disasters that shatter crop yields for a community for an entire year? Certainly one or two of these events would be enough to shake most people out of the Distributist mindset rather quickly in an re-exodus to the cities.

I patiently await any response.

In Christ,

Matthew Wade

avatar John Médaille July 31, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Matthew,

I don’t think there is anything wrong with solum pretium per se. We all shop. The problem comes in how the prices are formed. If they are formed in the face of externalities and subsidies, prices will not reflect costs, and the price mechanism will be distorted.

I don’t understand why a general crop failure would force people into the cities. Cities have the same source of food as do the farm. A local failure is a different matter, but that can be handled, as it usually is, by shifting around the food supplies. However, since the cities often have greater political power than any particular rural area, they are often able to have first claim on the available food supplies. But surely it is in the cities’ real interest to keep the farmer in place, and insure an adequate sharing of resources in such times.

avatar Dave Taylor July 31, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Matthew: The simple answer to your first query is that innate desires are not that specific: the innate ones are at the level of a tendency towards “fight or flight” (soon expressed in the association of the satisfaction of hungry pains with a smiling mother) and “watch or do”. In a monetary society children learn to associate money with goodies like sweets; some may flee the idea that money should be earned. Most adults more generally associate money with value, never seeing that it is created as debt and therefore represents negative value. Most adults learned, from childhood use of real coins, to think of money having real value, never questioning the actual value of paper money (i.e. IOU’s which, if cashed, should be repaid by work). Many of them therefore actively fight for it, whereas others are preoccupied doing their own thing and do shopping by rotes learned in childhood, and a few flee it as more trouble than it is worth, especially if it involves commitment to environmentally or socially destructive work determined by others. So, I’m arguing the consumer “value-for-money” mindset is not innate but a learned response which hasn’t been outgrown. It is due not so much to the failure of capitalism as to a failure to maintain effective Christian education in the values of cooperating and sharing freely and responding gratefully in kind. Hence the Pope’s new encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Love in truth).

On the issue of agrarian disasters, Distributism long ago learned from Pope Pius XI the importance of subsidiarity, whereby layers of government covering a wider area can organise cooperation and sharing by less distressed communities, rather than have distressed communities going into the cities to add to the burdens these already impose on the residual agriculture supplying them.

avatar Septeus7 August 21, 2009 at 2:53 am

I don’t understand the dislike of rail. I think rail preserves the distinction between city and country and the automobile leads to Urban sprawl and suburbs defacing the countryside nit to mention the physical superiority of rail in all regards.

avatar Chris Travers October 23, 2012 at 8:59 am

One point about home ownership. Some of the discussion needs to be on the mechanics of home ownership rather than the emphasis on it. The problem with the collapse is that there was this rush to get people home loans but some of those were serviced by borrowing against the appreciating value of the property. Such cannot be said hence to actually encourage ownership except by the banks. Freeze the credit, these loans go under, property prices suffer, and the whole system begins to unravel. Hyman Minsky’s theories down to every detail. The goal wasn’t to get houses in the hands of people but rather banks. As Elizabeth Warren characterized the industry, “This is a get-people-out of their homes industry.” Distributism was not to blame, but it is a teaching moment as to how everyone can get mislead. The sub-prime lending industry is then exhibit A of the sorts of things Belloc talked about in the Servile State.

One approach to the home ownership question that has occurred to me would be this:

With a few exceptions, tax rental income for long-term real estate rentals, unless these are convertable into low-interest rent-to-own arrangements. No banks, no loans, just a gradual movement of households into home ownership. This would also discourage leasing lots of land to farmers, etc. I think the exceptions should include one unit per natural household landlord (to accommodate temporary relocations and rentals in that time), leases to family members, and the like.

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