Thursday, August 27, 2009

On Distributism

I've been away for a while. I have some time - so I figured I would post. The thought is Distributism. What is Distributism? It is 'the economic theory that advocates the distribution of capital amongst as many persons as possible'. Some have called it a middle-way between capitalism and communism. Some have called it eminently unreasonable, and others have claimed just the opposite.

The ideas behind (or underneath) Distributism are largely related to the medieval concept of usury. Usury, I think, should not be understood simply as charging interest on a loan, but rather as charging undue interest on a loan. The principle being that it is immoral to use your wealth as an unfair advantage over another. The problem is that our system function precisely on just that - the wealthy make their money by loaning it to the poor, or by financing enterprises that mine money from the poor without inviting their ownership or participation. G.K. Chesterton called our current economic system 'A Utopia of Usurers', as it seems perfectly created for them.

Hillaire Belloc, another proponent of Distributism, spoke of the injustice committed to the poor in the form of rent. A renter has no foundation upon which to stand, nothing to call his own, and nowhere to hold his earnings. His wealth is simply absorbed by another without personal accumulation. This is the blessing of property - the ability to build and excel upon a foundation created by our own work. In too many ways, denizens of Western societies are 'renters', paying dividends for most of their lives to people they do not know, and who do not know them.

What's to be done? Well, distribute! But hold on, how do we take stuff from those persnickety rich folks who have it all now? Great question! I don't know the answer!

Here's what I can see now: the practical application of Distributism starts with people. I love the subtitle to E.F. Schumacher's book Small is Beautiful: 'Economics as if People Mattered'. We need to exercise our economic power as if people mattered. This means, for starters, shopping locally whenever possible. I take this as a given, the benefit of local economics. Some don't. It's worth a conversation.

We need to think of our money as a sort of moral 'vote' for whatever business enterprise we invest it with, or purchase from. When we give someone money, we are in effect saying, "You deserve my money. I want you to thrive and keep doing what you are doing." We need to start voting for things that matter. Before long, we will live in a Distributist society.

Sound funny? Think about it. We are told that, as far as money is concerned, selfishness is good. If you buy the cheapest product, you will have more stuff, and you will be happier. We can all see this isn't the case. Our money should be a tool for living, and we should use it to forge relationships with people we like, that we trust, and that we respect. Fight the power, chilluns. Don't be reduced to a consumer - there's more to life than that.

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