Distributionism vs Plutoyperetonism

A reader asked me my opinion of Distributionism, which is GK Chesterton’s tentative venture into economic philosophy.

For better or worse, my take on Distributism is uniformly and unabashedly negative. You see, I had studied economics for many a year before I stumbled across the writings of Mr Chesterton, and I found him wise and witty and much to be admired in all other areas but this one. Once he starts writing about rich folk, he speaks frothing nonsense, and there is a touch of hatred, of true malice, in his tone I do not detect anywhere else.

Chesterton holds that the concentration of wealth into a few hands was bad for all concerned, and looked favorably on the idea of each man owning his own means of production, and their incomes being more equal.

By what means this was to be accomplished is left vague in his writings. Whether this was to be by a medieval guild system, or some form of government-run syndicate, or an all-volunteer affair, is never mentioned one way or the other. He states clearly that he opposes the Enclosure Laws, by which common greens, formerly owned and used communally, were made private property; but he does not state clearly how, or even if, he would reverse this.

His position differs from Socialism mainly by being nondoctrinaire by being unclear.

*

He makes all the popular errors that Marx capitalized upon (no pun intended) including such absurdities as claiming rich people make poor people poorer on purpose in order to force them into factory work, and sell them shoddy goods.

This is the mere opposite of reality. Even during the most Dickensian days of the Industrial revolution, the farm workers flocked to the factories because the pay was better and starvation was ABOLISHED as a perennial national event. We see mass starvation now only in the Third World, that is, where there is no industrialization. The factory owners were, by and large, lower and upper middle class, who lived on the narrowest margin of profit, and who came from the same social strata as the workers, or near to it.

The rich have no ability to ‘make’ poor people poor. By what means is this feat of evil magic allegedly accomplished? Chesterton never even hints that there is a means; he merely assumes it is done.

In reality, the rich get richer by making the poor richer. The richest man in the ancient world has less than a beggar in America.

*

As best I can tell, in England during Chesterton’s boyhood and the period immediately before World War One, there was a cabal of wealthy landowners, who, in England, also formed the corrupt backbone of the parliamentary system, which was based on wealth, privilege, status, land.

It was self-defeating: The industrialization slowly was eroding this system, as the new rich, who had earned their money through the free market, were displacing the old rich, who manipulated the laws concerning class and land ownership to their advantage, and who inherited their money through ancestral conquests. However, while it lasted, it was reasonable to condemn ‘the rich’ as having a monopoly on political power and financial influence.

Chesterton’s solution for this was non-political, that is, he thought that by having all men try to own their own tools of trade, that is, be small farm owners or small shop owners or small tradesmen, the cabal of aristocrats manipulated parliament could be abolished.

In reality, only a very intrusive socialist or semisocialist state would be in a position even to attempt such a massive and massively evil redistribution of wealth, or, to call things by their right names, mass theft and plunder, and the maniacal Caesar who attempted such a thing would of course be required by the logic of the situation to act with an utterly arbitrary and utterly unrestricted hand: To be a dictator in the fashion of Mussolini or Stalin or Mao.

And of course the attempt could not possibly succeed, not in this or any other world, not even in Eden. The natural inequalities of the skills of men, and the natural desire of men not to waste their time and money would reward the more efficient shopowners and farmers and tradesmen and take business away from the inefficient, and in one generation or two, some would be markedly richer than others.

Distributionism is madness based on lunacy. It is the only area of his writing where I have no sympathy and no agreement with Mr Chesterton’s position. He was seeking a solution to a problem which, by the time his words saw print, had already been solved.

*

G.K. Chesterston when writing on Distributionism displays sparkling wit and trenchant insight into human nature in this as in his other writings: the man is charming.

He is also an ignoramus of staggering proportion when it comes to basic matters concerning political economy. For example, in Eugenics and Other Evils : An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State Chesterton‘s criticism of the free market consists of a belief that the poor are wretchedly poor because the rich derive wealth from the poverty of the poor. Poverty exists because the rich, merely by wishing the poverty into existence, create it. Once the poor are wretchedly poor, only then will they be cowed enough to work in factories.

Chesterton, with a straight face, announces that the poor who are moderately poor do not seek wages, and rich people do not seek to hire them.

He also thinks the rich could wish poverty out of being using the same magic power that they used to wish it into being, but that they selfishly refuse to use this power, because, if the poor were not wretched, the factories would find no employees, and the rich would be less rich.

I am frankly baffled, in this analysis, what Chesterton thinks the factory owners do with manufactured goods once they are produced: if the rich had the power to wish wealth into being, would they not wish for wealthy customers to buy their goods? If no one buys the goods, what good are they?

Chesterton concludes his (ahem) ‘analysis’ by saying that the rich have unwisely ‘allowed’ the poor to multiply in great numbers, so that the overpopulation would increase the labor supply and drive down the height of wages: but they miscalculated in their villainy, and now they fear the numbers of the poor they way the Pharaoh feared the swelling ranks of the Hebrews. The Eugenics movement of the 1910’s was a plot by the wealthy to control the numbers of the poor, who, apparently, can magically raise population rates when it suits them, but not lower them again.

He also pauses to call the rich all the usual nasty names that writers blissfully ignorant of economics call them: parasites, robbers, flint-hearted sinners, etc. Apparently wealth merely exists as a given, appearing naturally for no cause and at no cost, like manna from heaven, but the rich (somehow) with their hoodoo magic have usurped all the wealth, so the manna meant for us falls only on them. This is the economic theory of a cargo-cultist.

Chesterton’s economic theory does not realize that the consumers, not the whim of the factory owner, sets the price of goods and the price of every factor of production, including the wages of labor.

His theory does not notice that the poor factory worker was mass-producing cheap goods for the poor, at prices the poor could afford, leading to the general rise of wealth and luxury of the nation. It is the capitalist, who invest, builds the factory, and creates the jobs. It is the capitalist who allows the poor shoeless man and the poor shoe-factory worker to make a mutually advantageous exchange.
If the rich man who built the factory were a thief, and hanged as other thieves are hanged, the victims that he robs would be the richer when he leaves off robbing them.

In reality, if the rich man does not invest, the factory is not built, and the poor man who wanted to buy shoes will go unshod and the poor man working in a shoe factory will go begging.

*

Both in his UTOPIA OF USURERS and in his EUGENICS, Chesterton explicitly says that rich, acting as a group, control the height of wages, which they lower to starvation minimums for the express purpose of creating widespread poverty because only the impoverished will work in factories.

I happen to have the quote right at hand:

“To-day the rich man knows in his heart that he is a cancer and not an organ of the State. He differs from all other thieves or parasites for this reason: that the brigand who takes by force wishes his victims to be rich. But he who wins by a one-sided contract actually wishes them to be poor. Rob Roy in a cavern, hearing a company approaching, will hope (or if in a pious mood, pray) that they may come laden with gold or goods. But Mr. Rockefeller, in his factory, knows that if those who pass are laden with goods they will pass on. He will therefore (if in a pious mood) pray that they may be destitute, and so be forced to work his factory for him for a starvation wage.”

Mr. Chesterton here is being not just silly, but idiotic. Is Mr. Rockefeller praying that no customers have money to buy his goods, and no investors to supply him stock? To whom do we think the factory owner sells his cheap mass-manufactured goods? To his fellow Plutocrat, as he is called?

I would propose, rather than calling the men who create wealth by creating jobs cancers, thieves, parasites, brigands and suchlike who wish poverty on their victims and delight in their starvation Plutocrats those who rule by wealth, we coin the term  Plutoyperetoi — those who serve  by wealth, and whose service is rewarded by wealth as abundantly as their acts make others enjoy abundance.

Instead of seeing them as organs of the state, which the vile paragraph quoted above evidently means as a compliment and not an insult, let us see them as free men, as God intended, who own no man and are owned by none, and better themselves only by bettering others, giving wages, not alms, bringing products to market when and where and as each grateful customer demands.

Instead of a fictitious system called Distributionism, which should rightly be called Plunder, which alleged to solve the fictional problem of inequality of wealth, let us embrace the system called Plutoyperetonism where free men freely reward each other by the labor of their hands when and if all parties mutually agree, without coercion.

Let us, above all, as Christian men, have a system that avoids and eschews and condemns the poisonous, European and malignant envy and class-hatred Chesterton guzzles like grog in such passages as I quote above. Let us condemn the barfing and roaring drunks and berserkers of envy, that bitterest of the deadly sins.

I am pleased the God in His wisdom planted this one obvious sin in Chesterton’s otherwise remarkable and generous character, for by it alone I am drawn away from my temptation to idolize the man. It is the great man’s only flaw known to me, but, by heaven, it is a putrid, stinking, vile flaw.

And we need coin no term for this system of free markets. It needs no name.

It is not ‘capitalism’ or ‘freedomism’ or any other ‘ism’. It is the natural condition of man once placed in a culture and civilization where private property is protected alike from government plunder or theft by brigands, where titles to goods and reality are clear and undisputed, and men have and exercise the right to alien themselves of their titles in exchange for others of like value as they shall mutually agree, without fear of fraud or deceit.

But if it must have a fancy and unpronounceable name, Plutoyperetonism the system that makes wealth serve us rather than rule us is as good a name as any.

Or Plutodulonism, if we want to make wealth our slave.

153 Comments

  1. Comment by Spekkio:

    I think you meant Marx instead of Mark in the second section.

  2. Comment by distractedbrony:

    Mr. Wright,

    I have learned a lot from your blog about the evils of socialism and other such wealth-redistribution ideologies. But I have not learned much about the possible corruptions and other problems of free-market systems.

    It would be nice to hear about these things without having to go to a liberal site to do so. If you have any solid reading suggestions, or if you have written elsewhere on the subject, I would be pleased.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The problems are fraud and greed. This has been known to all men since the dawn of time. What needs to be said of them? The only thing to be said is that master can and do treat apprentices and employees badly, but that being a slave is even worse, because the employee is legally free to depart and seek another master. If the circumstances, for whatever reason, make the legal right difficult to exercise, enslaving the fellow do not alleviate such problems, but rather aggravate them.

      You will have to seek elsewhere for your information. Since I have heard nothing but lies, horror stories, lies, criticisms, lies, nonsense, lies and lies about the free market since the time I was old enough to be propped up in front of a TV to watch THE FLINTSTONES, I am puzzled that you or anyone thinks there may be some criticism of the free market which has not yet been aired, discovered, trumpeted from the rooftops, refuted by sane economists in a paragraph or two, and, after being refuted, refuted again, triply refuted, and proven beyond any possible scintilla of a shadow of a doubt by a century or two of example and experience, the false belief goes on to become an ingrained and unshakeable core dogma of all Democrats and two thirds of the Republicans, and shows up in all the dramas and sitcoms and rock songs and half the news stories.

      A man dying of thirst in the desert is not the right person to ask about the dangers of drowning in a teacup, not when you live in a culture where all the murder mysteries concern rich uncles found with mouth and nose jammed in teacups, with water in their lungs, and ninety percent of all public debates, laws, regulations, and court cases concern the manufacture, distributions, handling and filling of teacups so as to prevent accidental drowning.

      In case you think I am exaggerating, I assure you most solemnly that the number of people harmed by unfair trade practices who are protected successfully by unfair trade practice laws against such things, or harmed by monopolies who are protected successfully from that danger by antitrust laws, is LESS THAN ZERO. No one has ever been harmed by such things, and no one has ever been protected, but many, many, many people have been harmed. If you believe, as I do, that the bad economic practices of Germany between the wars were a contributing factor to the rise of Communism and Fascism, then the number of people harmed by bad economic practices is literally incalculable.

      So, no. Do not expect me to say anything but curses and anathemas against such wicked, illogical, counterproductive, unamerican, unchristian, vile and tyrannous and stupid laws as these. The science of economics studies the laws of economics, and human laws cannot refute them or overrule them any more than human laws can overrule the law of gravity.

      You will never hear me arguing against the free market because there is no argument against it. Laws against fraud, breach of contract, and false advertising protect the free market and do not hinder it.

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        Bravo! That comment is also worth a blog post if I do say so myself.

        Hopefully then you see what I mean when I relayed to you the desire someone had that Ayn Rand be “baptized”. Indeed the number of “capitalist-Catholics” out there seem very very few (heck you don’t have to go far to hear some claim that the free-market is incompatible with catholicism). My vote may count for aught but I can think of very few worthy champions (and I know Vox would practically beg to publish such a work, lol).

      • Comment by metzengerstein:

        I think the serious Christian argument against plutoyperetonism (and the free market) is not that it enriches some at the expense of others, or any variant of that. It is rather that prosperity and lack of hardship can spoil and corrupt the soul. That it gives way to sloth and idleness.

        Combine a childhood involving no real hardships with the idea of progress (that moderns are more moral than previous generations) and you have much of what fuels Critical Theory and Marxism today.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          It is rather that prosperity and lack of hardship can spoil and corrupt the soul.

          Bravo! Exactly my point. It is more difficult for a lazy, fat, and happy American like me to get into heaven than a camel to jump through the eye of a needle. This is because when one poor man is dropped among poor strangers, they offer him hospitality without thought of repayment, if they fear God, whereas if I am dropped among rich strangers, I go to a hotel and demand and expect service proportionate to what I have paid for a room, so that there is no uncertainty, no charity, no humanity, merely an armslength interaction between sovereign strangers. A good hotel may win my customer loyalty, but not my love.

        • Comment by RedJack:

          Good point.

          Growing up on a farm, I had to “grow up” a lot faster than most of my peers. My father was injured for a time, and could not work. I was 13-14 that year, and suddenly had to do ALL the work on a large hog and grain farm. It changed who I was, and helped me become who I am.

          I worry about that with my own children. What will influence them?

      • Comment by Patrick:

        I am surprised to see you argue this way. Here’s a word from Chesterton himself (pardon the paraphrastic nature of these; I’m just the messenger) on what he thinks the problem is, from “The New Jerusalem”:

        “The lesson he ought to learn from it is one which the Western and modern man needs most, and does not even know that he needs. It is the lesson of constancy. These people may decorate their temples with gold or with tinsel; but their tinsel has lasted longer than our gold. They may build things as costly and ugly as the Albert Memorial; but the thing remains a memorial, a thing of immortal memory. They do not build it for a passing fashion and then forget it, or try hard to forget it. They may paint a picture of a saint as gaudy as any advertisement of a soap; but one saint does not drive out another saint as one soap drives out another soap.”

        “A scheme of guilds may be attempted and may be a failure; but never again can we respect mere Capitalism for its success. An attack may be made on political corruption, and it may be a failure; but never again can we believe that our politics are not corrupt.”

        “t is not a question of controversies, but rather of cross-purposes. As I went by Charing Cross my eye caught a poster about Labour politics, with something about the threat of Direct Action and a demand for Nationalisation. And quite apart from the merits of the case, it struck me that after all the direct action is very indirect, and the thing demanded is many steps away from the thing desired. It is all part of a sort of tangle, in which terms and things cut across each other. The employers talk about “private enterprise,” as if there were anything private about modern enterprise. Its combines are as big as many commonwealths; and things advertised in large letters on the sky cannot plead the shy privileges of privacy. Meanwhile the Labour men talk about the need to “nationalise” the mines or the land, as if it were not the great difficulty in a plutocracy to nationalise the Government, or even to nationalise the nation. The Capitalists praise competition while they create monopoly; the Socialists urge a strike to turn workmen into soldiers and state officials; which is logically a strike against strikes.

        I merely mention it as an example of the bewildering inconsistency, and for no controversial purpose. My own sympathies are with the Socialists; in so far that there is something to be said for Socialism, and nothing to be said for Capitalism. But the point is that when there is something to be said for one thing, it is now commonly said in support of the opposite thing. Never since the mob called out, “Less bread! More taxes!” in the nonsense story, has there been so truly nonsensical a situation as that in which the strikers demand Government control and the Government denounces its own control as anarchy. The mob howls before the palace gates, “Hateful tyrant, we demand that you assume more despotic powers”; and the tyrant thunders from the balcony, “Vile rebels, do you dare to suggest that my powers should be extended?” There seems to be a little misunderstanding somewhere.”

        His objection to capitalism is simply greed and fraud; you think of these sins as rather more private affairs than he does, so it seems. I don’t think Chesteron offers a system anywhere of just how to make things fair; only what fairness may tend to resemble.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          His objection to Capitalism, as he himself says in the quote you quoted, is that there is nothing to be said for it. That it, Mr Chesterton does not comprehend the source of the wealth of nations. He always speaks of wealth as a fixed commodity, like land, to be distributed more fairly, on the grounds that it is a zero sum game, and one man having too much means a second man has too little.

          Chesterton, despite this one huge blind spot in his soul, is alive and human enough to have dragged himself away from the hellhole of Socialism, which he rightly regards with suspicion. However, reading the passage above, you can see that he cannot comprehend the difference between private and public property, and regards unions using threats of violence to rob the innocent and being resisted by the government seeking law and order (which is indeed what he describes when the government resists labor unions) as being an odd paradox, as if labor unions were something other than an organ of the government, or the government something other than an organ of labor unions.

          “I don’t think Chesteron offers a system anywhere of just how to make things fair; only what fairness may tend to resemble.”

          In this you are correct. He offers no program, merely a wish that the rich not be so rich, and that more men own their own businesses. He does not see the connection between the number of rich men and the number of men owning their own businesses. I am not sure how to explain so obvious a manner. Small businesses require investment and a stable legal regime to begin.

          Socialism and the various forms of leftwing semisocialism (by that term I mean ‘planned economy’ or ‘mixed economy’ or ‘correcting for the excesses and failure of capitalism economy’ or whatever name lying-ass bullshit half-hearted socialism is called these days) afflicting the market introduce instability, high taxes, arbitrary hence opaque futures, and discourage investment. Hence, without rich men to invest in new small businesses, there would be no new small businesses; without the rich businesses needing additional things from the economy, such as a White Castle outside a train station to feed workers going to the factory, all dependent small businesses fail.

          I cannot tell what it is you think I am trying to say. I suspect you misconstrue my point. My point is that semisocialism and socialism are counterproductive. When attempted, they create the exact opposite of their promised results, both material and spiritual.

          For an Englishman to decry the land ownership of the aristocracy without once mentioning the American abolition of the entail demonstrates a lack of understanding of the basics of economics. To protect the free market, you punish men who break their sword word as written in the contracts they solemnly sign, not punish men who successfully fulfill their customer’s wishes. One cannot correct for the alleged failures of the free market by creating more and permanent failures.

          A businessman not acting like a Santa Claus to his employees is not a failure of the market, merely a misunderstanding of his role in society. He is not running a charity. (Although a godfearing man will give to charity with both hands, and a godfearing rich man with both hands and both feet.)

          One cannot achieve the fruits of freedom by destroying the seeds of freedom; and the continual gullible belief of the socialists that freedom is slavery and slavery is freedom is merely a paradox. They call wage earners slaves and in order to prevent the so called slavery of two free and equal men freely contracting for the sale of services, they enslave the man and destroy his power to make contracts.

        • Comment by Andrew Brew:

          There is is nothing to be said for Capitalism for a simple reason. “Capitalism” is an invention by Marx, almost out of thin air. Had he worked in Hollywood he might have said it is an economic system “based on real events”. He made it up for the sole purpose of holding it up for ridicule and hatred, to inspire violent revolution against it.

          That those who believe in freedom of trade have adopted it to refer to themselves, as others have adopted terms of derision as badges of pride (cf. “The Old Contemptibles” or “The Rats of Tobruk”) makes this difficult to remember. I find that my greatest difficulty in discussing economics or politics with most of my acquaintances is their language is so full of Marxist terms, therefore their thoughts so poisoned with Marxist assumptions, that we have lost all common ground. The answer to everything is a slogan, but if I point this out they become angry at my rudeness.

    • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

      Perhaps you could expand your question. As it stands, Mr. Wright has said nothing about “possible corruptions” in free-market systems, because corruption is a problem all systems share, and a much larger one in all other (human) systems, for it is much easier to steal from someone at gunpoint…..

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Dear Mr. Mitchell:

        But, Mr. Wright has already mentioned what are the problems of the free market system: fraud and greed.

        And I agree as well that G.K. Chesterton was, alas, thunderingly wrong when he discussed economics. Which puzzles me, Chesterton must have heard of Adam Smith and the other Classical free market economists. And the Austrian School which built on these foundations (see Ludwig von Mises) had its beginnings in Chesterton’s childhood. So he really had no excuse for being ignorant.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

          Alas, Fraud and Greed are not problems of the Free Market System, they are problems of Original Sin, common to all possible systems involving human beings. So, again, what problems do you and DestractedBrony see with the Free Market system?

          • Comment by Sean Michael:

            Hi, Robert!

            I refer you to Mr. Wright’s comments above of Aug. 22, 7:17 PM. Those comments were what I had in mind. But I do agree fraud and greed are among the consequences of Original Sin, and not to be found ONLY in this or that “system.”

            Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

          • Comment by distractedbrony:

            I do not “see” any problems with the free market system. I simply know that it must have potential problems, for nothing on earth is perfect.

            Whether these problems arise from original sin or not is immaterial. If it were not for original sin, I do not see why even communism could not work. So that matter is irrelevant. The question is what economic system will work best, given the state of the world that we actually find ourselves in.

            I just asked about the problems with a free market system because, first, I am under the impression that a completely unrestricted free market system would not be completely in accordance with Catholic social teaching, second because I am naturally wary of any kind of extremism, especially in a divisive area of study like politics, and thirdly because I would rather hear about the problems in a free market system from someone, like John, whom I know would give a balanced account of the matter rather than a slanted, partisan philippic.

            If my “corruption” wording was not precise enough, I beg your pardon, as I am very poorly educated and often do not succeed in saying just what I mean. But I should think that the context would have made it clear what I was asking for. Just as John has on many occasions given very clear reasons as to why socialism and other related economic systems must fail, I was hoping to hear a similar treatment–if not from John, then from someone else qualified to speak on the matter–of the problems inherent in a free market system. For surely there are *some* problems with it, and it would be nice to know what those are.

            So, since John has declined either to expound himself or to point me in the direction of someone else who could tell me about the dangers of “drowning in a teacup”, I will move on and ask you, or anyone else who cares to help: From whom can I read a balanced and unbiased account of the flaws of the free market system?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Leftists, who are materialists in spirit whether they realize it or not, will always attempt to show that the free market will cause poverty or injustice, but since their system, force and lies, requires even more poverty and injustice, their criticisms are puerile and foolish.

              One reason, the main reason, why I cannot tell you the arguments why the free market leads to monopolies, for example, is that the free market is the best way, and indeed the only way, to prevent monopolies as much as possible.

              None of the criticisms of the free market I have encountered are actionable, by which I mean simply that socialism would make all of them worse, those that are real, and the ones that are unreal, like phobias about monopolies, have never arisen in real life.

              Much more real harm has been done by antitrust laws than was ever done by monopolies (who only get to be monopolies by lowering their prices and giving their customers better service than possible competitors).

              So much for the economic or worldly reasons to criticize the free market.

              On the other hand, the free market involves not just one man, but the entire social order, in that particular spiritual danger of pride, materialism, greed, selfishness, and smugness which is the special temptation and special danger of Dives, the Rich Man in the parable of Lazarus.

              In other words, the Leftists are not just wrong, they are wholly, entirely, absolutely, and perfectly wrong: the danger of the free market is that it is too fair to its participants, and too easily generates too much wealth, so that men no longer look to God to save them, but to gold.

              Of the Catholic writers intelligent enough to lay out the spiritual dangers of wealth, the danger of letting wealth turn us into worshipers of Mammon, THE SERVILE STATE is a fairly clear account. There are also any number of Papal Bulls and encyclicals on the topic, as well as the Gospels and the books written by Solomon, Proverbs and Wisdom and Ecclesiastes.

              Were I you, I would start with Ecclesiastes.

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

              “From whom can I read a balanced and unbiased account of the flaws of the free market system?” is the wrong start. If you really want unbiased, you need to look for what the Free Market does well, not just the flaws. Also, given the hideous failures of the “post-free market” systems, and the millions dead because of those failed attempts, worrying about “potential problems” is rather odd. Why would you focus on the system with the least blood on it’s hands, and why would you expect an “balanced and unbiased account of economic systems” to cover the “potential problems” of the Free Market with more than an aside?

  3. Comment by RedJack:

    I want to thank you Sir for acknowledging the problem with Distributionism. Namely that it is really socialism in old style dress.

    Many Catholics I have conversed with will try to say it is not, if only because Chesterton embraced it.

    Still, you have to remember the time that Chesterton was in. There were some factory owners who openly spoke of trying to pay a starvation wage in order to weed out the “excess population”. Of course, those people also spoke ill of Henry Ford’s idea of “Lets pay the workers enough so they can buy my products!”

    There is an idea in many pious men that all economics is sinful, all gain is theft, and all should be given to the poor (often through themselves to distribute). What is very odd to me is that the Bible and our Lord did not speak that way. Yes, Usury was considered similar to sodomy (the change of Usury from a sin to the Vatican bank would be an interesting essay), but trade and such was not condemned, and often used as an example of building up the Godly life.

    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

      I have wondered sometimes…

      While charity is, of course, noble and ever welcomed, like all things it can still be corrupted. Like when a caregiver wishes to keep their charge ill so they can continue to provide said care (I know there’s a clinical term for it but my mind blanks).

      Sometimes I wonder how much such a complex effects some Catholics out there, (even if it’s subconscious), a fear that capitalism will lift the poor and that they won’t “need” the church any more. Never mind that when material needs are met, that frees up the time and effort to see to spiritual needs (if anything, some would say spiritual needs become MORE important). But given that material needs are so much easier to meet than spiritual ones (the trickiest cancer, the thirsty in a desert, all is still easier to root out and treat than pride or sloth or…) I can’t hardly blame them for being tempted in that way.

      • Comment by Pellegri:

        You’re likely thinking of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy.

        • Comment by Nate Winchester:

          You know that came to mind but I’m not sure if it’s quite what I’m thinking of… Tropes describes it as: “involves actually making someone sick in order to get positive attention from others for taking care of them” but what I’m thinking of it doesn’t matter whether “others” ever know or provide anything. Like remember the DS9 episode “Waltz“? How Dukat faked some things to keep Sisko dependent? Would that still count as MSbP?

          • Comment by Pellegri:

            Hmm. If it’s not strictly medical I don’t think it counts as MSbP, no. Ditto for if the abuser isn’t doing it for outside attention but for the sake of having the victim be dependent on them. It’s like codependence and some of the nastier behaviors of people with personality disorders, but I don’t know if it’s got an actual name outside of the narrowly defined subset that is MSbP.

      • Comment by RedJack:

        Interesting point Nate.

        Having worked with many in the “non-profit” sector, I have seen that to many times to count. Honestly, after one of my hunting buddies became a fund-raiser for a charity, and listened to how he solicited and spent the money, it changed my giving patterns. I no longer mainly give to big charities or church offices. I go help those I know who need it. For instance one of my wife’s friends lost her job and had to move away to find another. She is a bit short of funds for the next month or so, so we are sending her gift cards to the grocery store till her paychecks start.

        Not much, but I know that isn’t going to buy a “retreat center” and an executive office for a mission to help the poor

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        “… a fear that capitalism will lift the poor… ”

        If you can find me a man of any persuasion, Catholic or heretic, Christian or pagan, who believes that capitalism uplifts the poor rather than grinds the faces of the poor, then I assume such a man was not indoctrinated in any school in America or Europe, and has never seen any television shows nor read any books of the popular literature of Europe and America.

        No, do not seek the answer in esoteric speculations about subconscious fears. You will end up sounding like a Leftist and their conspiracy theory views of life, where everyone is a racist and does not know it, and the Jews made Germany lose the First World War, and so on.

        Catholics hate capitalism because everyone and his brother says capitalism throws babies into woodchippers, and since the only outspoken advocates of capitalism are Jews and Atheists and enemies of the Church(Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises) plus of few Manchesterian Anglicans and Protestants and advocates of the Puritan Work Ethic, well, when in the world would any Catholic have heard anything but lies about the free market?

        • Comment by Nate Winchester:

          Ok I stand corrected, but why then when trying to correct their ignorance (such as by quoting you or Tom Woods – a libertarian Catholic) do so many react negatively? You think they’d be joyful at the revelation: “Hey things may be bad, but they’re not THAT bad.” Instead they seem to fight even harder to prove my one time observation that Catholics are to economics as Evangelicals are to evolution.

    • Comment by Pellegri:

      Still, you have to remember the time that Chesterton was in. There were some factory owners who openly spoke of trying to pay a starvation wage in order to weed out the “excess population”. Of course, those people also spoke ill of Henry Ford’s idea of “Lets pay the workers enough so they can buy my products!”

      The puzzling thing is I’ve now heard Ford’s desire to pay people enough so they could buy his products–a voluntary decision on his part–used as an argument to support federally mandated minimum wages.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        The federally mandated union contracts, by which I mean, organized crime, are tied to the minimum wage by formula. This means any increase in minimum wage increases the worker’s pay, and greatly increases the pay to crime bosses and union officials and mandatory union bribes, contributions and payola to Democrats.

        There is no argument in favor of a mandatory minimum wage which was not exploded at about the same time the Phlogiston Theory was exploded. Nobody in his right mind actually believes any such argument: the fools repeat it without understanding what they repeat, and the cunning merely put together phrases and slogans as foolish as the one about Henry Ford paying his workers a solid wage.

        Minimum wage is a political payoff. It creates unemployment, which creates misery, which creates a moral and political atmosphere that the chlorine breather monsters called Dems can flourish in, but which chokes honest men to death.

        • Comment by Pellegri:

          Indeed.

          It just upsets me to have to rank family in with the legions of those fools.

        • Comment by Zaklog the Great:

          I have heard, and I forget where, that one of the early justifications for minimum wage laws is that they would price blacks out of the labor market. That is, black people were willing to work for less money than whites, and even in an age of widespread racism, employers weren’t stupid enough not to take advantage of this. Minimum wage laws, in some places, then, were explicitly racist in intent, and purposefully designed to create unemployment.

          I’d have to do a little more research on the facts of this story before I took it into a serious argument, but it is certainly interesting, and would be a serious blow to most of the advocates of raising minimum wage if you could get it to penetrate their neutronium skulls.

    • Comment by The Deuce:

      I want to thank you Sir for acknowledging the problem with Distributionism. Namely that it is really socialism in old style dress.

      Indeed. From what I’ve seen, distributism primarily serves as a means for economically ignorant Catholics to be socialists while self-righteously preening that they are the “real” conservatives because they agree with Chesterton.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Well, Chesterton’s problem perhaps sprang from the way crony capitalism was wrapping itself up with the banner of capitalism in his day. Such as deporting men for going on strike.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        I share Mr Chesterton’s hatred of crony capitalism, which is another name for semi-socialism or socialism or fascism or mixed economies or interventionist economy or bureaucratism or welfare statism or whatever it is calling itself these days.

  4. Comment by Stephen J.:

    One rather sheepish question: how is “Plutoyperetonism” pronounced?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I have no idea. I was the worst student in Greek in my whole class. Pluto is pronounced like the planet. Hypo is pronounced like the needle. Ereton means rower. Hypo-ereton is the underrower, the guy who sits beneath your buttocks and helps pull your oar, so it is a rather fitting word, Ypereton, that came to mean any sort of servant or servile worker.

      Plutodule is the other neologism I suggested. That, of course, rhymes with Heirodule, so it is easy for fanes of Gene Wolfe to pronounce.

      • Comment by Jump the Shark:

        More tricky because of the question of where does this stop being a Greek construct and instead become English. I don’t know how old ‘Ypereton’ is — if it’s a fairly modern construct, it will have dropped the initial H because all such words have. If it is a more ancient construct, I haven’t the foggiest idea why it’s not ‘Hypereton.’ This, in turn, has ramifications because ‘y’ is a rounded vowel in ancient forms of Greek, and is not in modern forms, and so they sound very different.

        So if ‘ypereton’ is a post-Koine term, which seems likely since the o in Hypo has been redacted, then the o in Pluto will probably combine with the Y for what we would consider an ‘u’ sound — ‘Plutuperetonism.’ If not, I would pronounce it as it’s spelled, with the ‘oy’ in ‘plutoyperetonism’ pronounced like the ‘oy’ in any episode of Dr. Who with Donna.

        Disclaimer: I am an enthusiast, not a trained expert.

  5. Comment by Bob Wallace:

    One of the purposes of the Enclosures was to force people into the mills. The same thing happened in the Clearances in Scotland, when soldiers burned people out of their homes.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Can you quote me some authority for that proposition? Is there a speech in Parliament, for example, where someone said on the record “Let us enclose the land so as to force the people into the mills”? Please tell me where I can look it up.

      Forgive my caution, but I have had so many people speculate about my motives for doing things that were nothing other than common things done for the common reasons I had no reason to hide — indeed not many, but almost all men on the Left who have ever voiced an opinion about me or my work — I am required to give to dead men of a century or more ago the selfsame courtesy that was not extended to me, and ask what they said their motives were, or by what means you came to know what they were.

    • Comment by bear545:

      The enclosures were happening long before the mills began to appear. It was an issue in Shakespeare’s time. Thomas More mentioned it in his Utopia. In Cromwellian England you had various religious groups- ranters, diggers, family of love, etc- who were bent on tearing down the fences and freeing up the commons. The usual motive given for the enclosures was a combination of greed and sheep.

      The fact that peasants were being forced from the land meant that there was an available workforce when the mills began to operate, but I doubt that was a result of careful planning. Generally speaking, the men who were making the enclosures and those who owned the mills were two different groups of people.

      • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

        The reason for the Enclosures was that having more pastures for your sheep (producing wool for the wool trade, which was one of England’s biggest industries) started to be a lot more profitable than having tenant farmers/serfs/clansmen on your land.

        The (largely absentee) landowners didn’t care where the people went, as long as they no longer had houses and fields clogging up the potential pasture.

        Of course, one big reason sheep were more profitable was that England’s weather started to really stink for a few centuries, and farming was worse than usual, and there were a lot of problems with drainage and soil exhaustion in places where people farmed like idiots, or where good medieval practices had been stopped and not replaced with good modern practices.

        But yeah, it wasn’t a plot to get workers for the mills. It was a plot to factory farm sheep.

  6. Comment by erik1880:

    Has anyone here ever perused The Distributist Review http://www.distributistreview.com/ Many of the articles there are not just crazy, but certifiably crazy. From hours spent in reading through them I get the sense that they would only be happy if the American Constitution and Bill of Rights were jettisoned and our Govt replaced with a Louis XIV style Catholic monarchy. The dissonance in hand ringing about the welfare of the common man while at the same time sneering at him exercising any power or say of his own is incredible. I fear they only believe in wealth when it is safely in the hands of an aristocracy.

    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

      Never read it but heard unending recommendations for it from Mark Shea and many of his commenters.

      • Comment by erik1880:

        That is where I found it as well. It is run by the American Chesterton Society, an admirable organization aside from this venture of theirs. If you’d like, try reading the 2 part article “Liberty: The God that Failed” as just a sample of what is on the site.

    • Comment by RedJack:

      I have read it.

      They do long for “A Return to the Manor”. The Lord in his hall, the peasant on his land, and both bound in place by laws and privileges. What is funny is that they don’t realize that the Lord’s would not be them.

      Belloc, a friend of Chesterton, was also a founder of Distribustionism. He was the first that I have read that called the enclosure system a way to force people into the factories. Thing is people were leaving the land well before that to go to work in factories for the promise of better pay. That and the price of wool was high and that of crops so low that the owners almost had to move to sheep raising to survive.

  7. Comment by CanedCrusader:

    Mr. Wright,

    While I am in basic agreement with this, it seems that you are at least in some tension with the papal encyclicals that cover this topic (particularly those by Leo XII and John Paul II.) I may be reading them incorrectly–i am not a Roman Catholic–but they do seem to be pushing against the idea of an unbridled free market. How do you interpret the mainstream (church-approved, Orthodox) social teachings on this matter?

    • Comment by RedJack:

      From the documents I have read (in translation, not the originals), the Popes viewed economics with great suspicion. But remember JPII came from a Communist country, and Leo XII was alive at the time where much of free market theory was openly discussing how many people had to starve to death to get rid of the excess population (economics as the dismal science).

      The idea that by growing the economy, everyone got more, was pretty radical.

      Now I am not excusing the trend of socialism in the Church (I am a Lutheran, and we have it on this side also), but if you read Eastern Orthodox theology, it is much worse. There is a reason that communism took hold with such great speed in Russia.

  8. Comment by AstroSorcorer:

    Would the commandment against coveting that which is one’s neighbor’s fall into this? Much of the collectivist philosophies seem to be focused on making envy a virtue, and this seems to be in contravention against that commandment.

  9. Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

    I must point out that Chesterton’s economic ignorance appears to be genuine. While a brilliant mind, he did not function well without a “keeper” (Mostly his wife, from my reading) to keep the money and travel straight. It is a shame he was not able to see that the need for “socialism” was a personal problem…..

  10. Comment by Triledgets:

    As an avid genealogist, I have engaged for the past ten years or so studying one branch of the family tree with roots in the textile boom in early-to-mid-19th century Leeds, England, when country dwellers were flocking to urban areas by the tens and hundreds of thousands seeking jobs in the factories that were springing up all across England.

    The explosion of urban growth resulted in deplorable living conditions. Most homes of the period lack bathrooms; cities lacked sewage systems, and human-waste-laden sewage piled up in the streets; in some parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire, average life expectancy was in the thirties. Children as young as eight (including my great-great-grandfather) were commonly employed sixty hours a week in menial factory jobs. Church cemeteries filled and over-filled, and the rotting corpses only heightened the sanitation issues. One consequence was the 1847 typhus epidemic that swept through England claiming tens of thousands, my own thrice-great-grandmother among its victims. As one of my ancestors wrote, “Such a time of sickness and death that was never known in old England.”

    But as deplorable as conditions were, they were not the caused by the greed of industrialists trying to squeeze every last cent out of enslaved workers, and by the late 18th century, my ancestors had abandoned the mills to seek gainful employ in a variety of occupations made possible by the newly urbanized landscape.

    I think particularly of the example of one Titus Salt, a nouveau-riche industrialist and “benefactor”, who built textile mills along the River Aire near Bradford, and then promptly constructed hundreds of modern houses, wash-houses with running water, hospitals and other services for the benefit of his employees, and workers from the slums of Bradford flocked to his employ. Altruist though he was, Titus Salt was also a pragmatist, and discovered that healthy, well-cared-for employees produced more, lived longer, and were far more loyal. Today Saltaire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  11. Comment by Finlay:

    This essay touches on the problem with almost every argument against Distributism that I have ever seen: it doesn’t actually talk about Distributism at all.

    Distributism is not Chesterton. Distributism is not socialism. It does not advocate robbing the rich to magically make the poor not poor. It advocates a wider distribution of the means of production not by taking them away from capitalists but by making is easier for everyone to BE a capitalist. Didn’t Chesterton say that the problem with capitalism was that there aren’t enough capitalists? The Mondragon Corporation didn’t become the 7th largest corporation in Spain by plundering anything from anyone.

    • Comment by frmkirby:

      Finlay,

      I’m sorry, but I’ve read that response by Distributist many times, and it ignores the constant refrain of your critics, implicitly repeated above by Mr Wright: unless one can posit a plausible mechanism to make the transition from the present system to this pan-capitalist, omni-entrepreneurial paradise that does not require incredibly intrusive (and ongoing) regulaton and/or redistribution, your theory does in practice reduce either to socialism or the “soft fascism” of corporatism. But, aside from voluntary associations such as you mention, which have always been relatively minor players in the big scheme of things, no other mechanism exists.

      And why is it that the voluntary “distributist-style” corporations are not more common? The answer is staring us in the face. Most people don’t want to be entrepreneurs or mangers themselves. (Me included.) Most people would prefer to be employees and only capitalists indirectly and by proxy, through share ownership or placing their savings with institutions which make investments for them, gaining them some of the profits of companies funneled via interest etc. This “distance” between ownership and management is seen as dangerous by many, diminishing accountability, but it is it seems the best way for those not adept at or interested in starting or running a business (most of the population) to be capitalists and gain the benefits of capitalism. In other words, the admirable goal of distributism (to maximally distribute the benefits and empowerment of free enterprise) is better achieved by encouraging the abovementioned aspects of the capitalist system with a healthy middle class of investors, than by the distributist fantasy of a society of roughly equal small business owners.

      Please note, I say this as what might be called a liberal Tory, not a doctrinaire libertarian. Unlike Mr Wright, perhaps, I am comfortable with sensible regulation and some redistribution to deal with market failure. So, while I am suspicious as a Tory of ideological purity, whether libertarian or otherwise, I have always felt that the Distributist position was untenable both as economics and as anthropology.

      • Comment by Sam F:

        frmkirby asked: “why is it that the voluntary “distributist-style” corporations are not more common?” and the answer is that they are quite common indeed.
        The reason why they are apparently invisible is precisely that they are so common. Has no one ever patronized a small business? Sole proprietorship is probably the most common way for individuals to start their own businesses and it is certainly the easiest method. There are other sorts ranging from partnerships to LLC’s. Practically every one of these is a Distributist enterprise whether the owners know it or not. Want a historical example of a Distributist economy? Try the early United States which was filled with sole proprietorships, family farms, tradesmen, and small businesses. These folk were hard to push around because they were largely self-reliant and it’s no accident that they sparked a revolution against English rule. Recall the the US was not founded as a Capitalist system – it evolved (or perhaps was forced) into one. Now ask why is the US citizenry so un-involved in political affairs today? They’re quite easy to push around too. Why should they be anything else? At work, we essentially inhabit a command and control environment and our say in how work is run ranges from precious little to zero. Given that fact, how would we ever get in the habit of running anything else?

      • Comment by Finlay:

        “unless one can posit a plausible mechanism to make the transition from the present system to this pan-capitalist, omni-entrepreneurial paradise that does not require incredibly intrusive (and ongoing) regulaton and/or redistribution, your theory does in practice reduce either to socialism or the “soft fascism” of corporatism”

        This is akin to saying that because I don’t have a good plan for re-evangelizing the West that must mean that I am in favor of forced conversions. Not having a “plausible mechanism” in no way means that one particular mechanism is the default.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          But saying “there is no possible mechanism, even in theory, that can produce this result aside from the arbitrary theft of land and property from the innocent, and the equally arbitrary reward of that land and property to persons who neither earned nor deserve it,” that is a valid criticism and must be answered.

          No Distributionist, not Mr Belloc, nor Mr Chesterton, nor their modern epigones, has ever answered this criticism, or even admitted that this criticism exists. They just pretend, as you just now just did, that the criticism is hairsplitting about some minor detail which need not be answered.

          I will ask your what I asked Sam F: give me a concrete step by step example of Distributionism in action where the free market would not solve the problem more efficiently and more justly, and without coercion.

          Go ahead. My ears are open.

          • Comment by RedJack:

            And that is the rub.

            For Distributionism to work, you need an all power state to say “I will take from you, and give to him.”.

            In that case, you want to make sure you are on the side of he who is distributing the land.

          • Comment by Sam F:

            Mr. Wright said: “I will ask your what I asked Sam F: give me a concrete step by step example of Distributionism in action where the free market would not solve the problem more efficiently and more justly, and without coercion.”

            I am unaware that Distributism rules out a free market*. It so happens that I am not alone in this view. I just ran across this book: Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More (Culture of Enterprise) by John C. Medaille
            http://www.amazon.com/Toward-Truly-Free-Market-Distributist/dp/161017027X
            … so I am not entirely alone in that view. BTW, I’ll have to acquire a copy.

            * As for free markets, the one we have is not even remotely free. It would be no great feat for a Distributist society to do much better in that regard.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              But you did not answer my question.

              I am not sure Distributism rules out the free market either, but I am not sure whether Distributism is anything but a chimera, a name for Chesterton’s particular intense dislike of the rich of his nation, day and age. If it is neither socialism nor capitalism, neither fish nor foul, what is it? I have read Belloc and Chesterton book after book and article upon article, and all I get when from them for an answer is fishfeathers.

    • Comment by Stephen J.:

      “It advocates a wider distribution of the means of production not by taking them away from capitalists but by making it easier for everyone to BE a capitalist.”

      What kinds of policies have Distributists advocated towards this end? How would they propose to make it easier?

      • Comment by Sam F:

        Stephen J asked: “What kinds of policies have Distributists advocated towards this end? How would they propose to make it easier?”
        It is important to remember that Capitalism’s tendency towards giant-ism is not accidental. It is the fruit of various enabling government policies that favor giant-ism. Remove those and enact laws that at least don’t discourage small businesses and watch what happens. Even in today’s relatively hostile environment people still insist on trying their hand at self-employment. Change even a few of those policies and we can expect big changes toward a more Distributist society. Want an example? Many large corporations avoid huge tax liabilities through aggressive lobbying, shifting money overseas, and finding every loophole available – some of which they engineered in the first place. Now imagine you’re a sole proprietor and discover they you have to pay twice the social security taxes, you pay a higher rate on some categories, some “employee” benefits are not tax deductible, you assume total liability, etc.. Yes there are some benefits too, particularly if you cheat… but let’s leave that to the big boys – who are really good at it.

    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

      The Mondragon Corporation didn’t become the 7th largest corporation in Spain by plundering anything from anyone.

      Then what’s stopping distributionism from flourishing elsewhere? Look I keep my money in a credit union which, I’m lead to believe, is another favorite distributionist example. You know why I put it in a credit union? Because the CU treats me far better than the previous bank I had. Good products – better service – it wins me over by competing like any other business in capitalism.

      The best feature of capitalism and the American freedom model is that everyone is free to try their ideas. If distributionism is truly better, then by all means continue to set up corporations based on its principles. Or even gather together enough like-minded folks to start a distributionist municipality together. If it works and is superior, the corporation will do better than others and outsiders would flock and beg to be a part of your community.

      Capitalism has “won” because it’s given the best examples and continues to do so against all challengers. Until distributionists step into the ring and fight for real, their words will continue to ring empty.

      • Comment by Sam F:

        Nate Winchester said: “Capitalism has “won” because it’s given the best examples and continues to do so against all challengers. Until distributionists step into the ring and fight for real, their words will continue to ring empty.” As already stated Distributist enterprises are very common – they’re “in the ring” and it’s worth noting that small businesses (which tend to be Distributist in nature) are the driver of employment increases and AFAIK always have been. But to suppose that they’re likely to go head to head with MegaCorp is fairly absurd. MegaCorp has dozens of politicians in its back pocket and can ensure favorable treatment and a decidedly un-level playing field. The fact that Mondragon exists and has prospered for decades demonstrates that Distributist enterprises can prosper in a Capitalist environment. There’s not much value in stating that because something is uncommon that it must stay that way. The fact of exceptions, any exception, is proof enough of that.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          This is a semantic argument. One side is using the word ‘capitalist’ to refer to the freemarket and ‘socialist’ to refer to the corrupt state-run unfree market; the other side is using the word ‘distributionist’ to refer to the freemarket, and ‘capitalist’ to refer to the corrupt state-run unfree market.

          (Technically, the system of allowing private ownership of property but subjecting everything to state management is called ‘fascism’ or ‘national socialism’ whereas a society where all men are of equal rank, are enfranchised to vote, and can own property and bear arms is called ‘liberalism’ but the concerted efforts of leftists over the years have utterly destroyed the meaning of those terms.)

          If people would simply define their terms, half of the disputes of the world would evaporate.

          • Comment by Sam F:

            Semantics? Exactly. I am using Distributism as its adherents do. (That seems like a good idea) It is perfectly obvious that most small businesses are in fact Distributist in nature and a society composed mostly of those types of business is very near the ideal Distributist goal. What else could it be? Given the principle of Subsidiarity, those enterprises that require large scale (think steel mills) should be organized as worker owned and run with open books so everyone can make reasonable decisions. Would that make a new Eden that the Socialists preach, or can everyone have a chance at fabulous wealth as the Capitalists preach? To a Distributist, it’s Not likely! Distributism’s worst feature is that it only will produce a pretty good economy – not an awesomely fabulous one like Socialism and Capitalism inevitably will. By the way, to assume that Distributism is an “ism” like Socialism is inappropriate. Distributism is just a modern name for what people have done throughout history. Capitalism and Socialism also have characteristics that extend throughout history though those terms did not then exist.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              No, sir. You are using ‘Distributism’ to mean the parts of free market economics you like, and therefore you mean the same thing partisans of the free market mean when they say ‘Capitalism’.

              Nothing in free market economics, no matter what one calls it, prevents people from organizing to build a steel mill and run it as they like, including as a cooperative. The reason why the term Distributionism has not caught on outside of the rarefied coterie of Chestertonians and Bellocophiles is that it is an undefined term — when, at what point, is a steel mill owner large enough to require that he voluntarily dismantle, or sell off his controlling stock?

              At what point do the social benefits alleged from the absence of rich men make up for the drain and damage to the economy caused by the absence of capital accumulation?

              Without rich men, no capital accumulation, no piles of money sitting in a pyramid waiting to fund largescale projects such as building and opening factories. The drain and damage to the economy always falls most heavily on the poor, since merchants pass along their higher costs to customers and workers in the form of higher prices and lower wages.

              If Distributionism is nothing but the principle of subsidiarity as applied to factory and land ownership, then the most rapid way to achieve this is by the free market. A few men will be ultrarich at first, but they can only get richer by making the poor richer. Once the poor are richer, they can open their own shops, if they have accumulated the capital and talent.

              And they can, if they wish, use the cooperative rather than the closely held or public corporation method of organizing their management. I am a lawyer: take my word for it that our corporate and contract laws are neutral on this point, and that there are instruments for organizing management nearly any way one might prefer.

              • Comment by Sam F:

                A definition is not hard to find:
                “Distributism is an economic ideology that developed in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno.”
                Or if you prefer Websters: ” the theory or practice of distributing private property (as land) to the maximum degree among individual owners ”

                Frankly, to use your example of Chesterton, who was so prescient in practically everything that I would be hesitant, very hesitant, to judge him (or various Popes) as fundamentally wrong on this topic.

                As for my using Distributism “to mean the parts of free market economics you like”, I’m afraid you have that backwards. I like Distributism precisely because it preserves what are in my estimation the best part of a free market without the rather obvious failings of Capitalism.
                As I posted earlier, my personal experience with Capitalism has not been an unalloyed pleasure. It would be simply delusional if I didn’t notice. I presume that you’ve noticed too. Capitalism has to a large extent produced our society. Capitalists have themselves contributed huge sums to bring today’s society to fruition. And what they’ve birthed is not exactly Capitalism by it’s usual definition. Instead we see very rich folk (like George Soros, Hollywood millionaires, pornographers, etc.) pushing a radical social and socialist agenda that varies between non and anti-Christian. If you like what you see in that, then Capitalism is for you – even though it’s not Capitalism unless one is using ‘Capitalism’ “to mean the parts of free market economics they like” while ignoring the ugly bits.

                I have no argument about steel mills (or solar arrays) either. My point was about one of scale. A steel mill would best be run on a large scale (Coop is my preference, or Capitalist if you prefer) and would be inappropriate if run as a small scale sole proprietorship. No matter what economic system one uses, the demands of large scale enterprises are inescapable.

                I never advocated an economy with no rich folk. I have not seen the elimination of the rich advocated among Distributists and would prefer to seem some evidence of that position so that, at the very least, I could object to it! Besides I doubt that it’s even possible to get rid of rich people. – though I’d prefer it if more people flourished ( that means they would be richer) rather than a very few got much richer leaving most folk behind. But like it or not, the rich we will always have with us.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  These definitions are all conveniently vague. By what mechanism is it decided that the private property is to be distributed and by what means and to whom? If the distribution is involuntary, that is fascism or one of its variants. If the distribution is voluntary, that is capitalism.

                  The things you insist on calling the failing of capitalism are the features of socialism, that is, government intervention in the market, centralized command and control. The fact that you have not had unalloyed pleasure in dealing with your fellow man is bullshit, and I wish you would not use yourself as an example of failure if you don’t want people to call you a failure. It is a cheap rhetorical trick, a straw man argument, and you damn well know that, since no partisan advocating the free market promises anyone unalloyed joy in anything. All that is promised is that you shall not have the fruit of your labor taken from you by criminals or (without due process of law) by the state, and that you may exchange it freely with anyone else in the market on such terms as you both shall agree. The argument is that this system is more efficient, more fair, and produces more wealth than having a central quartermaster confiscate all property and divvy it out by rationing.

                  Your terminology is what is confusing you. There are only two options: free exchange with any adult willing to buy or sell, or rationing by a quartermaster. Chesterton never said which way he was going to distribute the goods in his commonwealth. If by free exchange, that is capitalism. If by rationing, that is fascism or socialism (depending on the lame excuse used to justify the arbitrary edicts of the quartermaster).

                  Since I cannot tell whether or not we agree or all points or not, I strongly suggest you define your terms with real definitions, not some mealy mouthed nothing in the passive voice that could mean anything.

                  I am stupid: give me a concrete step by step example of Distributionism in action where the free market would not solve the problem more efficiently and more justly, and without coercion. Go ahead. My ears are open.

            • Comment by frmkirby:

              You are just proving John right here. And making my point for me. The existence of many small, privately owned and run businesses is not evidence of Distributism, but a natural part of free-market capitalism. Above you show that Distributism is not the approval of what we already have by way of small business, but the claim that if businesses get larger they should be run as co-operatives owned and managed by the workers, or, presumably, split into smaller businesses, and the further claim that bigness is due to unfair government policies.

              This ignores the reality that the main reasons for big business are success as smaller businesses and the economies of scale. There may be inequities in the tax codes, but it is fantasy to give this as the main reason large corporations exist. So, your claims about cause of the “problem” are specious.

              The belief that big businesses that are not co-ops are intrinsically a problem is also specious. I see no moral or economic basis for such a rash generalisation. So, your identification of this feature of capitalism as a problem is also dubious.

              Finally, if you really believe that big businesses “should” be workers’ co-ops, then it is a small step grammatically and logically to your preferred social policy saying they “shall” be so. Which brings us back to the need for massive governmental exercise of power to get the desired result. Again, I see no evidence most ordinary folk would prefer to be co-owners and co-managers of a co-op, rather than employees who can still be part-owners of a company (not necessarily the one they work for) receiving profits via share ownership, thus allowing others with the requisite skills and motivation to do the managing. And I am more than skeptical of the idea that companies would be ordinarily run better by committee, or the idea that once a business has got too large, whatever that means, the entrepreneur should make way for that committee of workers.

  12. Comment by Hobbitgal:

    I remember reading Belloc’s _The Servile State_ in college, and what struck me about it was the way he embraced Marx’s analysis of capitalism from the beginning of the book. That poisoned everything that followed.

    • Comment by bruce99999999:

      I remember reading The Servile State too, and what struck me is Belloc saying over and over that a Servile State is Bad, that civilization is losing its Christianity and moving to a servile state, which is Bad, and that the alliance of big business and big government pushes the rest of us to a servile state. (His phrasing is more eloquent than mine). The Marx stuff meant little to Belloc, and after a paragraph he moves on, but Marx wasn’t wrong to think an oligarchy of the wealthy and powerful pushing the rest of us to a servile state is a Bad Thing.

      Mr Wright, I strongly recommend you read The Servile State before re-reading anything Chesterton wrote on economics. If Chesterton had been a brilliant economist he’d have written a Catholic The Machinery of Freedom, but oops, he wasn’t. Well OK. Chesterton wasn’t one of the socialist fecaliths circling Garry Wills either. Chesterton was a real poet, with a real poet’s vatic streak, and his scattered essays against servility and the state foreshadow Friedman.

      ChesterBelloc, thou shouldst be living at this hour. We have need.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        I read THE SERVILE STATE. It is based on the premise that the invisible hand of the market inevitably forces workingmen into accepting ever lower wages and ever worse working conditions while simultaneously creating ever larger monopolies, combines, and trusts until finally there is only one trust megatrust left.

        This is like looking at a boy at five years old, and at ten, comparing his growth in height, and confidently predicting he will be 40 stories tall when he reaches 35. It is utter nonsense, Marxist lunacy at its worst. In the real world, the increased efficiency of factory work tends to raise wages and living conditions. Talk to someone who has seen the nonindustrialized Third World up close and personal if you doubt me.

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          I too have read Belloc’s THE SERVILE STATE, but it was so long ago I can’t recall his argument in that book. From what Mr. Wright says, Belloc was as bad as Chesterton was at economics. So, the corrective to Belloc’s book would be Hayek’s THE ROAD TO SERFDOM.

          Hmmm, it might be a good idea for me to reread Belloc and Hayek, in that order.

          Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by bruce99999999:

          >’ever lower wages’

          US working class wages have been dropping since 1970, though working conditions aren’t worse.

          >’until finally there is only one trust megatrust left.’

          The US government/megatrust share of the US economy has increased since 1930 according to Belloc’s model.

          >’In the real world, the increased efficiency of factory work tends to raise wages and living conditions.’

          Yes. Belloc was wrong there. But he was right to distrust cartels between big government and big business.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            The big government monopolies he mistrusts are caused by a reduction, chaining, hindrance, and choking of the free market, not by its operation. Belloc was infected with Socialist fever, as was Chesterton, and gullibly accepted all the popular misconceptions, errors, and mistaken theories that had been exploded between ten and a hundred years before their lifetimes.

            I have no idea why, but economics is the only science where everyone rejects the results of the discipline, and insists on believing things history has repeatedly proved false. These are not unintelligent nor wicked man, but neither do they have even a scintilla of a reasonable argument on their side: it is just hatred of the rich. I don’t understand it.

            Tell me the name of a single person ever harmed by a monopoly. I can tell you the names of ten men sent to jail as criminals because they lowered their prices to their poorer customers, and this was considered a conspiracy in restraint of trade. What is the basis for such hostility and suspicion over a problem, the fear of a monopoly, which never eventuates?

            • Comment by meunke:

              HAHA! I have been harmed by a monopoly! Back when I was a teenager we had played the evening before and I walked into the living room in the morning, barefoot, and stepped on one of those little red hotels. Yes it hurt.

              Consider yourself REFUTED!!!1!

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            “US working class wages have been dropping since 1970, though working conditions aren’t worse.”

            And from this rather dubious assertion you conclude, what, exactly?

            That inflation has eaten up the worker’s gains? That the average workingman with an airconditioned house, a car and a smartphone, is worse off than his counterpart in 1970 who had none of these things? That the remarkable loss of economic freedoms we have suffered during the explosive growth of the omni-interventionist Administrative State prevented rather than caused the alleged stagnation of wage-earner growth? That is is easy to lie with statistics? I am not sure I see your point.

            “The US government/megatrust share of the US economy has increased since 1930 according to Belloc’s model.”

            Either you are using these words to mean the opposite of their ordinary meaning, or you have a very different idea of what Belloc said than I do.

            He was not complaining about the growth of government meddling in the economy, but calling for it.

            He was not speaking of the government as the creator of monopolies, but the free market.

            In truth, there is no better protection against abuse by monopoly pricing than the free market, and no easier way to create monopoly pricing than in a semi-socialist or fully socialist market under constant interference and intervention by government meddling.

            • Comment by bruce99999999:

              I should re-read The Servile State, but yes, I ‘have a very different idea of what Belloc said’. I read The Servile State, not The Servile Megacoporation.

              ‘He was not complaining about the growth of government meddling in the economy, but calling for it’is
              exactly the opposite of my reading. He was complaining about the rich buying politicians to get the force of law behind their greed. He was complaining about politicians soliciting bribes.

        • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

          No, Mr. Wright, the moral philosophy of Chesterbelloc is not based on any premise that the “invisible hand of the market” inevitably enslaves its participants. It is based on the premise that the general concupiscence of men results in, as you have said, the ever-present threat of greed and fraud to the market system, and that entrusting the “protection” of the market to a state government is no better than entrusting the “control” of production to said state. You have mistaken a moral philosophy for an economic plan. The philosophy of Chesterbelloc, like that of Leo XIII and the RCC, is a call for Christians to participate in the economic market not as economic automatons but as rational actors whose purpose in life is not material gain but communion with God.

      • Comment by Sam F:

        bruce99999999 said: ” I remember reading The Servile State too, and what struck me is Belloc saying over and over that a Servile State is Bad, that civilization is losing its Christianity and moving to a servile state, which is Bad, and that the alliance of big business and big government pushes the rest of us to a servile state….” It’s been years since I read the Servile State so perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall Belloc taking Marx’s view as gospel truth and I agree that it would be a minor matter anyway. That said, the rest of bruce’s statement above merits elaboration. I take it from the responses that many posters here don’t dwell in the US? My own experience with the Servile State and its pushing the removal of the last vestiges of Christianity beyond the pale has been uniformly Bad. Belloc can’t possibly have been very wrong on that.

  13. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    “[Leo XIII and John Paul II] do seem to be pushing against the idea of an unbridled free market.”

    Maybe there is some excuse for Christians’ incomprehension of economics if we consider the severity of Jesus, the Apostles and Fathers of the Church’s condemnations of greed and indifference to the poor, and the fact that the free market has always proven very difficult to bridle. I am pretty sure Leo XIII and John Paul II said precisely in their social encyclicals why the natural laws of the free market are so badly implemented, with so few exceptions.

    Most people, Christian or not, would not even try to bridle greed and lust for power in themselves. Most cannot even be made aware of it. Not to mention that wealth has always been considered a due or a blessing by people thinking themselves superior to others by nature or by merit (including “religious” merit), while the poor and infirm somehow deserve deprivation or punishment. This is what gave a bad name to natural laws of economics, and the best pretext to “reformers” and revolutionaries to attack other targets than the real cause of the problems.

    • Comment by jtherry:

      This is a good and insightful comment.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      Thanks, jtherry. I might as well add something about the problem of distributism itself.

      I am a cradle Catholic raised in a modest worker’s home. I had a sound (I believe) basic economics college course wen I was 17. Thank God, I was never seduced by communism, probably because it looks a rather gray and boring thing, like Chesterton said about atheist rationalism in his reply to Blatchford.

      My take on the Church’s social teaching comes from my reading, in the 80’s, a French philosopher and journalist, Marcel Clement. I still remember, because it rhymes in French, the aphorism he gave in conclusion of the column series, to illustrate why communism cannot be the solution: “While communism says ‘all proletarian (prolétaires),’ the social teaching of the Church says ‘all landowners (propriétaires).'” I also remember something from Paul VI about economy, where he advocated that every family should possess a modest wealth, a reasonable inheritance to pass on to the next generation, and condemned excess in both directions, plutocracy, monopoly or communism.

      It seems distributism was an effort in the sense of “everyone landowner”. Unfortunately, and despite obvious good intentions, it remains a system, an “ism,” an ideology, thus not solidly based in reality and unable to fix the real social problem, which is the fallen nature of man.

      The only thing that could fix at least a part of the problems is a true Christian conservatism, or rather a conservatism of true Christians, devoid of this pride of caste characteristic in superficial Christians. I salute our distinguished host’s efforts in promoting a sane conservatism.

  14. Ping from Migration | Something Fishy:

    […] thing that struck me, after reading this comment at John C. Wright’s blog, was that migrations of any sort tend to have terrible consequences […]

  15. Comment by wlinden:

    Rule by wealth of the perytons?

  16. Comment by Zaklog the Great:

    Thank you for writing this. I had heard Chesterton refer to distributism a few times, and simply based on his intelligence in other areas, I had wondered what it was and if there were any merit to it. As you said, no one’s perfect, and this appears to have been a severe downfall of Mr. Chesterton’s.

    This brings up a question that has bothered me for some time, as someone who may shortly become Catholic: Why do so many Catholics in the U.S. support Democrats? I think up until the past few decades, it may have been more excusable, but in the past decade or so, it has become obvious that the Democratic party supports virtually every kind of evil imaginable, actively promoting it as public policy. Your example makes it clear that one need not become leftist to be a Catholic, but why do so many Catholics ally themselves with these people?

    I think you understand me well enough by now to know I am genuinely trying to understand something that troubles me, not merely an attack or insult.

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Yo, Great Lord Zaklog!

      Sorry, just trying to be a wee bit funny! (Smiles)

      Your questions about why so many US Catholics still vote for a party as evil and increasingly anti Catholic as the Democrats are good ones. Unfortunately, I can only make a few tentative suggestions.

      One partial answer I have in mind for why many US Catholics still vote Democrat is sheer habit and inherited party affiliation. That is, “my dad and grandpa (or even great grandpa) were Democrats, so I have to be a Democrat too.”

      Another partial excuse some have suggested is that, as horrible as the Democrats are on many issues, their alleged “concern” for the poor, blacks, immigrants, etc., justifies voting for Democrats. False, of course, because their ideas on these matters are disastrously counterproductive.

      A darker reason is that Catholics are as much sinful and stupid as anyone else and will vote for Democrats for reasons of crass self interest and don’t CARE what the Church teaches on moral issues which conflicts with what the Democrats advocate.

      One small silver line I see in these dark clouds is that CONVINCED Catholics seem to be inreasingly opposed to the Democrats and disinclined to vote for them.

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

      • Comment by RedJack:

        Part of the reason is that the early Whigs were very antiCatholic. So for generations the Democrats where the Catholic party by default.

        Which has changed how American Catholics behave compared to their fellow Catholics in Europe. In the United States, Catholics are typically socially and fiscally liberal because they identify as Democrats, while on the main land of Europe they are socially conservative.

        Catholics in the U.K. have a similar history, though I think it has changed recently with the Church of England going full nutbar.
        nutbar

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          Hi, RedJack:

          Apologies, but I find your comments rather puzzlling.

          Which Whigs are you talking about, the American or British Whigs? If American, I don’t see the relevance because the American Whig Party was breaking up and becoming extinct just as Catholic immigration into the US was becoming truly massive.

          And CONVINCED US Catholics are increasingly at odds with the Democrats in “social” matters.

          I don’t understand the reference to the Church of England unless you mean the Catholic Church in the UK is increasingly seen as more logical, consistent, and Christian as the Anglicans became more and more “nutbar.”

          If you are British, my puzzlement merely shows how provincial I am!

          Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

          • Comment by RedJack:

            Not British, just an engineer from Nebraska who had the pleasure of being educated by a few great Englishmen.

            Now, the Whigs died, and the remains became the core of what was soon known as the Republican Party. There was a movement that started with the Whigs and continued by some in the GOP called the “Know Nothings”. They were very concerned that the new mass of Catholics coming in would try to over throw the US government and then install a Catholic monarch.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_Nothing

            I first heard of them when I was called a “know nothing” on Free Republic. It’s influence is still felt, as my late father in law felt he HAD to vote for the Democrats because the Republicans were all “Know nothings wanting to send us back to Ireland”. Which is even more funny since he was mainly English from Puritan stock.

            That is also (in part) why the Catholic church in the US is so bent on illegal immigration. There is a long cultural memory of the Irish and Italian experience of sneaking over the borders (remember that WOP meant With Out Papers, a term I heard growing up for Italians).

            • Comment by Sean Michael:

              Hi, RedJack!

              I looked up the link you gave, and I’m not sure the vicious Know Nothings were THAT prominent in the rise of the GOP. The article says many elements and issues help lead to the formation of the new Republican Party as the Whig Party collapsed, not just anxiety over Catholic immigration. I get the impression that decent Republicans would have no truck with Catholic haters. Lincoln, for example, had only contempt for the Know Nothings.

              It seems to me the GOP tended to represent the interests of the increasingly urbanized and industrial north of the US, as well as including anti slavery and pro Unionist ex Democrats and ex Whigs.

              And considering how the anti Catholic Ku Klux Klan was an overwhelmingly Democrat thing, I would say your late father in law was being onesided!

              And I disagree with those Catholics who advocate uncontrolled and unrestricted immigration. ANY sovereign nation has every right to set the terms and conditions by which immigrants can enter.

              Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

              • Comment by ZZMike:

                “ANY sovereign nation …”

                Not only that, but no industrialized country can withstand the mass immigration of an impoverished, ill-educated mass. I don’t think it’s an exaggerated analogy to say that there’s only so much room on the boat – unless you can build more or bigger boats.

                On the other hand, it is odd that there are no teeming multitudes trying to get into Zimbabwe or Argentina or Syria.

                • Comment by Sean Michael:

                  Hi, ZZMike:

                  I agree, with the proviso that only a free market econcomy can give you the means of building those extra and bigger boats. NOT any brand of socialism.

                  And Argentina SHOULD have been a nation as rich and prosperous as the US still might be, if it had not been ruined by the various types of populist socialism devastating her for the past 70 years.

                  Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

      • Comment by Zaklog the Great:

        No apologies necessary, by the way; from the moment I adopted it about a decade and a half ago, this moniker was always intended to be a bit of self-deprecation. Also, I suspect I adopted such an unusual handle because my real name is extremely common. (On the other hand, Chesterton did spend a few pages in Heretics extolling the greatness and poetry of my family name.)

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          Greetings, Lord Zaklog!

          Ha! I too have read Chesterton’s HERETICS and I well recall the praises he heaped on the great and noble name of SMITH. (Smiles)

          Salaams! Sean M. Brooks

  17. Comment by ZZMike:

    “… GK Chesterton’s tentative venture into economic philosophy.”

    I thought it was his venture into socialism, but a website suggests otherwise:

    http://andune.blogspot.com/2006/09/primer-on-distributionism-origin.html

    Four or 5 screens down, he elaborates on 10 points of distributionism, most all of which seem like good recipe for capitalism – or at least, a free market economy.

    As for GKC’s one vile flaw, well, as they say, nobody’s perfect.

    Did you really mean to write “No one has ever been harmed by such things, and no one has ever been protected, but many, many, many people have been harmed.” Is it “no one” or is it “many”?

    About minimum wage: Just where do governments get off telling businesses what they should pay their workers – from CEOs on down? If the Acme company decided to pay $1/day, and imposes a 50-hour work week, they would be hard-pressed to find people willing to sell their time on those conditions. One might say, but what if they all did that? It would be rough going for a while, but eventually Company B would discover that it could attract better people at $2/day, and that would eventually spiral upward.

    Many people have forgotten how it came to be that companies started offering health insurance. During WW2, the government established wage and price controls. Companies could not raise wages, so they offered something extra to attract workers.

    Nowadays, of course, government mandates that companies must offer health insurance.

    Enclosures and Clearances: These are new to me; there’s an introductory article on Wiki:

    http://www.ask.com/wiki/Highland_Clearances

    I think the thing that made that sort of action possible was the deeply divided class system: Those at the top made, enforced, and carried out all the rules. Those at the bottom had no say whatever.

    Distributionism seems to have re-reared its ugly head under the banner of “redistribution of wealth”.

    The only way to have a “just distribution” of wealth is for everyone to be equally poor.

  18. Comment by RyanM:

    RE: “Distributionism” vs. HENRY GEORGE

    Mr. Wright:

    Have you ever, by chance, ever studied the writing of Henry George?

    I still generally lean toward Austrian economics.. but as Christian, I do find Henry George’s ideas compelling…

    For the 5-second summary: Georgism is an economic philosophy holding that the economic value derived from natural resources and natural opportunities should belong equally to all residents of a community, but that people should own the value they create themselves. For policy, Georgists recommend collecting a Single Tax on rent collected from land. This rent would be distributed to each citizen, giving every person a minimum income. In theory, the collection and distribution of the Single Tax could occur at a town/county/state level, avoiding Federal involvement and/or central planning.

    Henry George was a very moral man, and a huge influence on early libertarians like Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov. Unfortunately, most Georgists today seem to have lost this liberatarian bent…

    I don’t 100% agree with the points in this essay, though I do find many persuasive, challenging and interesting:

    http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Sullivan_RL.html

    Just as interesting is how Henry George was also an influence on William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of National Review magazine, and thus factors somewhere in the genetics of American conservativism…

    http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Buckley_HDH.htm

    Respectfully submitted,

    RM

    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

      Georgism is an economic philosophy holding that the economic value derived from natural resources and natural opportunities should belong equally to all residents of a community, but that people should own the value they create themselves.

      The only problem I see initially is: what’s the economic value of natural resources? No, think about it a moment: resources only have “value” in that people can find a use for them. So take for instance the story of the Beverly Hillbillies, they find oil, right? Well what if Jed had located such a thousand years prior? The land he had would have been ruined and rendered useless by the pollutant, because man had not developed much use for oil. Land was for food growing and you can’t do that if oil is covering it. It took centuries of learning and development before man figured out: Hey can use this “texas tea” to do neat stuff! THEN oil had economic value, THEN it became a natural resource.

      I also do hope that Georgists have some kind of senority system set up, otherwise what’s to keep a class of rolling stones from arising, that is people that just move from community to community as natural resources are found and used?

      • Comment by RyanM:

        To his credit, the Georgists’ land value tax is a levy on the **unimproved** value of land only. It is an ad valorem tax on land that disregards the value of buildings, personal property and other improvements. Thus, according to George, the taxable rent would NOT be levied on the value of the oil wells, pipelines, other technology etc.
        http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Buckley_HG.html

        How would the system actually work? That’s the sticking point. One book that makes a mighty attempt is actually a pamphlet called the Libertarian Party at Sea on Land by Harold Kyriazi.

      • Comment by RyanM:

        Not to harp on the Georgism thing, but I feel like I must also make another correction:

        According to Henry George, a land value tax /Single Tax on rent would discourage speculation…

        Thus in your oil field example, it would encourage the *production* of oil …versus land speculation of holding oil property out for future value, or charging rent for a less productive activity (putting up a parking lot, for example).

        Remember, the Single Tax is only on the rent of the unimproved land, and not on the production from the improved land.

        Before you dismiss Henry George entirely, it’s worth checking out his ideas.

  19. Comment by meunke:

    Wait…. You mean to tell me that citing that one Chesterton paragraph about the little girl’s hair is not the equivalent of ‘Power Word Kill’ for any and all economic arguments, and that earnest commentators may have to actually LEARN to answer an economic argument in turn?

    This is Blasphemy! This is MADDNESS!!!! What will all but a couple of the economic illiterates who comment on Mark Shea’s blog do now? LEARN something? Are you CRAZY?

    (You’ll note I am speaking about his fanboys in the comment sections, not himself, though he tends to duck actual economic arguments using this strategy on occasion as well.)

  20. Comment by RyanM:

    Just found this on Henry George… Mr. Wright might find it interesting both from conservative movement history perspective, and for its vocabulary lesson:

    [an interview with Brian Lamb, CSpan Book Notes, April 2-3, 2000]

    CALLER: Mr. Buckley, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.

    William F. Buckley, Jr.(WFB): Thank You.

    CALLER: I’ve heard you describe yourself as a Georgist, a follower of Henry George, but I haven’t heard much in having you promote land value taxation and his theories, and I’m wondering why that is the case.

    W.F.B.: It’s mostly because I’m beaten down by my right-wing theorists and intellectual friends. They always find something wrong with the Single-Tax idea. What I’m talking about Mr. Lamb is Henry George who said there is infinite capacity to increase capital and to increase labor, but none to increase land, and since wealth is a function of how they play against each other, land should be thought of as common property. The effect of this would be that if you have a parking lot and the Empire State Building next to it, the tax on the parking lot should be the same as the tax on the Empire State Building, because you shouldn’t encourage land speculation.

    Anyway I’ve run into tons of situations where I think the Single-Tax theory would be applicable. We should remember also this about Henry George, he was sort of co-opted by the socialists in the 20s and the 30s, but he was not one at all. Alfred J. Nock’s book on him makes that plain. Plus, also, he believes in only that tax. He believes in zero income tax.

    You look bored (addressing Brian Lamb)!

    B.L.: No, no. As a matter of fact I was going to ask you about this little book (“Lexicon, A Cornucopia of Wonderful Words for the Inquisitive Word Lover”). I’m fascinated by it. I’m going to see if you can pronounce the word, the-fear-of-having-peanut-butter-stuck-to-your-roof-of-your-mouth, This little book starts off and the fellow’s name, is it Jesse Sheidlower?…

    W.F.B.: I think so.

    B.L.: S-H-E-I-D-L-O-W-E-R? You’ve never read it (the Introduction to “The Lexicon”).

    W.F.B.: No. I never have.

    B.L.: (Quoting the book) “The first time I met William F. Buckley, we were both members of a televised panel discussing word. The moderator introduced me with a pop-quiz to test my credentials asked me to define the word…” Is it USUFRUCT?

    W.F.B.: Usufruct, yeah.

    B.L. (Quoting the book) “I felt smug as I recite the right to enjoy another’s property as long as you don’t damage it. Then Mr. Buckley leaned into his microphone and quoted an entire paragraph on usufruct from the political economist, Henry George.

    W.F.B.: Oh for heaven’s sake!

    B.L.: And this little book has..

    W.F.B.: The land belongs to those in usufruct .

    FROM: http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Buckley_HG.html

  21. Ping from Distributism: Novel Economic System | The American Catholic:

    […] Go here to read the rest.  Distributism has as much chance of ever being a major economic system as does the economic system of Utopia (No Place) by Saint Thomas More, which is a very good thing.  Attempts to implement economic systems in the real world that rely on reshaping how humans behave has a track record, one which no one sane should be eager to emulate. […]

  22. Comment by Sam F:

    Having been subject to the tender mercies of a Capitalist economy for many decades I can’t help but wonder at those who view Capitalism so favorably – through rose-colored glasses. How have they been so sheltered? Let’s get to some real experiences which, like most personal experiences, are un-impeachable. I have always been practically the ideal Capitalist worker. I won’t move just anywhere for a job but beyond that, no Capitalist could possibly complain. I am willing and have done almost any work – from factory production line welder, skilled technician, supervision, management, office tech-nebbish, security and more. I have had numerous lay-offs and had two “careers” exported abroad – one to Central America and the latest one to India. In both those examples the places I worked were highly productive and profitable where we workers did all that was asked of us and made money for our betters. But apparently just being profitable wasn’t enough. To navigate all this chaos I have re-invented myself more times than I care to contemplate and what do I have to show for it? Now approaching 60, I can’t even buy a job! These days, though requiring a high level of skill, and being a “boss”, I am reduced to largely menial labor. Sorry, but I can’t seem to manage any warm fuzzy thoughts toward our wonderful economic system that routinely treats people as human kleenex.

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Dear Sam F:

      It is with some diffidence that I write this note, lest my comments cause you offence.

      First, and most basically, what OTHER alternative that WORKS is there if NOT the free market economy? Every brand of socialism (in which I include half hearted variants such as the so called “mixed economy”) has either indisputably failed or shown themselves to be gravely defective and inefficient.

      Secondly, and this is where my diffidence and hesitation comes in, isn’t it the responsibility of workers like you to provide for their own future? I would add that is the responsibility of ALL of us. My belief is that the best way to do that is by us starting to do so in a small way while very young. That is, SAVE a small sum from weekly or monthly salary and invest it in one or two good, well run companies (preferably with stock reinvestment plans). Keep that up for thirty or forty years and you WILL get a decent income.

      That is what I resolved to do in 1978 when I realized what a joke and Ponzi scam “Social Security” is. I had inherited a small sum of money from my grandfather which my now late father had invested for me in a good utility firm. I resolved to keep that investment and even to add more sums of my own money. By now the income I would get from quarterly dividends are much larger than what I will allegedly get from the bankrupt fraud of “Social Security.”

      Please, I’m not trying to sound sneering or condescending, I’m only arguing that for most of us who are not disabled in mind or body it’s OUR responsibility to provide for ourselves.

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

      • Comment by Sam F:

        Sean Michael said: “First, and most basically, what OTHER alternative that WORKS is there if NOT the free market economy?”

        I don’t think that’s relevant. Distributism is not Socialism and is not opposed to free markets. I certainly am not opposed to them. That said, does anyone contend that what we have in the US is a free market? If so, I’d love to see such an argument – especially after the extensive and on going government intervention after the “Great Recession”. That would be a difficult argument to make indeed.

        Sean Michael said “Secondly, and this is where my diffidence and hesitation comes in, isn’t it the responsibility of workers like you to provide for their own future?”

        Sure. I certainly hope I didn’t indicate that I had not done so.
        Of course, given my financial acumen and gambling prowess (IMHO the Stock market = Atlantic City), and the awesome 401K performance, I calculate that I’ll be able to retire in comfort five years after I’m dead. ;-)

        I might add that it is not really a radical analysis that Social Security taxes are not exactly a reliable way toward that end and may even contribute to making things worse by contributing to a false sense of security among other things. But you obviously know that.

        So while putting a bit away is sound, what is one to do if the government inflates away most of it? What is one to do, other than speculative investment, to keep ahead? What can one do if he lacks the gambling skill and/or luck to do that?
        This is the real world and lots of people are either not smart enough, not lucky enough, not healthy enough, or not ruthless enough.

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          Dear Sam F:

          Thanks for your comments, even tho I don’t agree with all of what you said.

          What do you MEAN by “Distributionism” or “Distributism,” if it’s not either a free market system or socialism? We need to understand and define our terms before we can go forward. And what we have now in the US is a half strangled mess in which the markets labor under the burdens imposed by an incompetent government.

          And I don’t agree with the comparison you seem to make by conflating investing in stocks with gambling at Atlantic City. A RATIONAL investor seeks to put his money with firms where he reasonably hopes the goods and services that firm sells will bring him a real profit. Investing in Coca Cola is not the same as playing the slot machines.

          Good, we seem to agree that “Social Security” is a disaster. Discussion of how to reform and replace that madness can wait another day.

          And, I disagree with your last paragraph. Because, even allowing for inflation, investors who put their money in sound firms will still get a real return over and above losses due to inflation. For one thing, such firms will be adjusting dividends to keep pace with inflation. They HAVE to, if they want to keep those investors!

          An analogy might help. Inflation might get so bad that my quarterly dividends will only buy me a candy bar. But, because I still took the trouble to invest, at least I have that candy bar, while the man who did not invest at all, has nothing.

          Ordinary foresight and good sense is all one needs, really. Not some mystic combination of luck, brains, or ruthlessness.

          Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      My daughter is from Red China. Her parents threw her away like garbage because they could not afford to keep her in tiny unlit hellhole where they lived with no lights and no running water. Her grandparents did not make it to 60.

      This is due to the fact that Red China does not have a free market where people can make enough money to buy a computer and argue online because of the bitterness of inflated hopes gone bad. One family did not even have enough money to afford to raise their beautiful daughter.

      So, let me get out my crying bag for you, old timer.

      Freedom has done more for you than socialism would do, and those are the only two options. You should have paid more attention in Sunday School, where the Nuns would have told you that life is pain and earth is a valley of tears.

      Whatever meager success you have had is due to the presence of that free market, hindered, choked and crippled as it is, not due to the presence of the hinderers, cripplers and chokers. And no economist says everyone gets rich in a free market, or even escapes poverty. What they say is that more people escape poverty in the long run under a free market than under socialism or distributism or whatever the salesmen are calling the snake oil this year.

      Your ingratitude makes me sick.

      • Comment by Sam F:

        Mr. Wright said: “Whatever meager success you have had is due to the presence of that free market, hindered, choked and crippled as it is, not due to the presence of the hinderers, cripplers and chokers…”

        Mr. Wright, I don’t consider my success “meager”. I started with absolutely nothing and have done rather better than anyone predicted. And yes, several predicted awful (though somewhat varied) fates – much to my amusement.
        But you’ve actually buttressed my argument about our so-called “free” market. It’s not even close to free.

        Mr. Wright said: “And no economist says everyone gets rich in a free market, or even escapes poverty.”

        Did I say that? I don’t think I did. And I certainly don’t believe that. Never have.

        Mr. Wright said: “What they say is that more people escape poverty in the long run under a free market than under socialism…”

        No argument there except to reiterate the old quip that in the long run we’re all dead – sometimes the economic improvements occurs too late.

        Mr. Wright said: …or distributism or whatever the salesmen are calling the snake oil this year.”

        Snake oil? If you recall, the sale of Snake oil is a feature of unregulated markets. You may want to choose a better example

        Mr. Wright said: “Your ingratitude makes me sick.”

        Now Mr. Wright that’s going a bit far, don’t you think?
        Perhaps you’re mistaking me for a Liberal? For an orthodox Catholic father grateful for my many blessings, especially my wife and children, nothing could be farther from the truth. I provided my real world experience and actually toned it down a bit. Now I might be an idiot, or just not too bright, but I don’t think that’s supportable given the evidence I provided.
        Let’s stick to evidence please. Please go back and read what I wrote about my experience and tell me what’s wrong with my facts.
        Was I having delusions since I entered the work force at 17?
        I can give lots of details that might shake up sheltered middle class folk. And I’ll be happy to provide names of companies too (except the most recent for obvious reasons).

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          You were the one who used yourself as an example of the failure of the free market because it robbed you of success. If you now claim to be successful, you contradict yourself.

          If you think that my criticizing our current semisocialist semifascist economy is an argument in favor of Distributionism and against Capitalism, that is because the argument is, as I said before, merely semantics. You are calling the free market Distributionism and calling socialism Capitalism.

          I am calling the free market Capitalism and called Distributionism socialism, if the precepts are enforced by the state, and not an economic theory at all, of the precept is merely a spiritual warning against the dangers of corruption due to wealth.

          No, sir. I am not going too far. You are ungrateful. What is wrong with your facts is that you interpret those facts in the light of a socialist theory, so that you blame the doctor for the disease and praise the disease for making you well. Your theory of cause and effect is exactly reversed.

          We are in the middle of a great depression right now. It is entirely due to government interference in the housing market, just as the last great depression was due to government interference in the credit market. This is not due to a presence of the free market, but due to its absence.

          Since you use ‘Distributionism’ to mean free market capitalism, let us shake hands and congratulate ourselves on our mutual agreement. Semantic arguments are pointless by definition, since both sides hear the opposite of what the other is saying.

          Or, if you want to continue argument, let us get down to cases and define our terms.

          • Comment by Sam F:

            Mr. Wright said: “You were the one who used yourself as an example of the failure of the free market because it robbed you of success. If you now claim to be successful, you contradict yourself.”

            I said no such thing. I did say “I can’t help but wonder at those who view Capitalism so favorably – through rose-colored glasses. How have they been so sheltered?” I did not label myself a “failure” nor a “meager success” – you did that.
            I suggest again that you read what I wrote and try not to read into it your own preconceptions. I am not a Liberal or a Socialist nor anything other that what I have said I am. My own experiences are essentially unimpeachable. Having been working class for much of my life, I can say unreservedly that my experiences are far from unique. No matter how inconvenient they are, they’re nevertheless data points that can’t be ignored.
            If however something I said is unclear, just ask. I’ll be glad to clarify.

            Mr. Wright said: “If you think that my criticizing our current semisocialist semifascist economy is an argument in favor of Distributionism and against Capitalism, that is because the argument is, as I said before, merely semantics.”

            Semantics is exactly what I am trying to avoid.
            Like this:
            Mr. Wright said: “You are calling the free market Distributionism and calling socialism Capitalism.”

            I assure you I did no such thing and am quite unlikely to ever make so basic a mistake.

            Mr. Wright said: “I am calling the free market Capitalism and called Distributionism socialism, if the precepts are enforced by the state…”

            Sure if one accepts the IF. I don’t. I can’t imagine a less Distributist notion than to force its implementation by the State.

            Now is as good a time as any to ask you: How did we get into our present “semisocialist semifascist economy”?
            It sure as Hell wasn’t the Distributists doing it! You can find more hen’s teeth in America than Distributists.
            Might it not be plausible that Capitalists themselves had a hand in our semisocialist/semifascist economy?
            After all, giant businesses benefit greatly from oppressive regulatory State machinery. Small Distributist-style businesses and cooperatives typically don’t have lawyers on staff and lobbyists by the score and bought and paid for politicians. Megacorp does have them and uses them to keep competition in check.

            Mr. Wright said: “Since you use ‘Distributionism’ to mean free market capitalism,…”

            Free markets definitely. Today’s Capitalism as noted does not operate in such a system and I never worked in such a system.

            Mr. Wright said:… “let us shake hands and congratulate ourselves on our mutual agreement.”

            Sure! Free markets are good. But I would modify that with the realization that free markets don’t always work very well. In fact they don’t even operate at all in an important portion of human life – the family

            Mr. Wright said:”Semantic arguments are pointless by definition, since both sides hear the opposite of what the other is saying.

            Or, if you want to continue argument, let us get down to cases and define our terms.”

            I hope I did define my term at least for Distributism. As Chesterton said, the problem with Capitalism is that there aren’t enough capitalists. Given today’s mess, is that not so?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              After twenty or twenty one comments of you saying one thing then immediately saying the opposite, I have had enough. Your method of expressing yourself is too opaque and disjointed for me to decipher.

              Please do not write me again on this topic. I have nothing but contempt your inarticulate position, your sneering and angry tone, and your damned ingratitude. You have nothing to say worth hearing.

    • Comment by RedJack:

      So then what?

      I have had the pleasure of working with many people who fled (yes, fled) the old Soviet block.

      Sir, I have sympathy for you. But saying that we MUST make sure that everyone has a job is an old system with an old name. Slavery.

      I have had many ups and downs in my life. I wanted to be a farmer, and ended up an engineer. Who knows where I will go from here? I have been called many things, used many times, and discarded by quite a few companies. At the same time, I have left quite a few to further myself and my families fortunes, moves that left those employers complaining of lack of loyalty and “betrayal”. If I was a peasant like the system of Chesterton or Belloc wanted, I would still be a farmer, but the situation that drove me off the farm probably would have led to me starving instead of going to school.

      • Comment by Sam F:

        RedJack: “Sir, I have sympathy for you.”

        Thanks but sympathy isn’t really called for. I am prospering. Nevertheless it’s important to provide a reality check. In this case through experience of how things actually work for real people. Since I am according to everyone who knows me real, I presume that my experiences are not unique. Of course I also know that they’re not unique. Capitalism has not and will not produce an economy in which people come first. What is the economy for? It’s for Capital, not people – that’s why it’s called Capitalism.

        RedJack said: “But saying that we MUST make sure that everyone has a job is an old system with an old name. Slavery.”

        I couldn’t agree more. But then I don’t think I said everyone MUST have a job. In fact, I think that would be a horrible outcome – considering mothers of young children, their children, and the elderly and the handicapped would not fare well under such a system.

        • Comment by RyanM:

          I feel like Mr. Sam F. owes us a his definition of “Capital.”

          MY dictionary says “Capital” is another word for “means of production”…

          Sam are you using “Capital” in the Marxian sense, as special class of (evil) people?

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Your dictionary is wrong. Capital refers to investment in stock, that is, the tools and material needed for production. Capital is the money used to build a factory and hire workers, often, but not necessarily, borrowed at interest.

            • Comment by RyanM:

              Not really sure how to respond to this. How is “means of production” any different than the definition you provided, i.e. stock, tools, etc. needed for production?

              I would also say this definition of “capital” is extremely limited and materialistic. Where is Google’s factory, for example?

              Ask Ayn Rand or George Gilder for what should be considered capital, and they’ll point to whatever is in that gray space between your ears…

              On a related note, Von Mises would distinguish “capital” from “capital goods.” In other words, capital goods are defined as the factories, machines, tools, cash, etc.

              Capital itself was defined as “The fundamental concept of economic calculation which expresses in monetary terms the net wealth (assets minus liabilities) of the complex of all kinds of capital goods and marketable assets (savings) belonging to a definite person or other unit participating in a market economy. It is only by use of such an accounting concept that (1) profits (increases in capital account) and losses (decreases in capital account) of contemplated market actions can be estimated or prognosticated, and (2) profits and losses of completed actions can be calculated. Thus the mental tool of capital is essential both as a compass for guiding future market actions and as a means for evaluating the success or nonsuccess of completed market actions.”

              Either way, my hypothesis is that Sam F is using the word “Capital” in the Marxian sense, i.e. the “bad evil people who steal from workers and push old ladies down stairs.”

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                I will gracefully yield to your third definition.

                • Comment by Sam F:

                  Ryan M says: “Either way, my hypothesis is that Sam F is using the word “Capital” in the Marxian sense, i.e. the “bad evil people who steal from workers and push old ladies down stairs.”

                  That is not a supportable hypothesis. I never said that nor have I ever said that. In fact I have a wee bit of capital myself and insofar as I am conscious of it, I am entirely guilt free about it too.
                  Please please read what I wrote and do try to not project some other view on me.

                  Disagree with this if you like:

                  “The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic.
                  ***Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital.***
                  Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity. Now, in preventing such strife as this, and in uprooting it, the efficacy of Christian institutions is marvellous and manifold. First of all, there is no intermediary more powerful than religion (whereof the Church is the interpreter and guardian) in drawing the rich and the working class together, by reminding each of its duties to the other, and especially of the obligations of justice.” Rerum Novarum

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    You misunderstand me so severely, that I despair of making myself clear.

                    There are only two systems. One is capitalism, which, apparently, you call Distributism. It is a free system. In this system, free men are allowed to exchange goods and services to their mutual benefit, with such laws and customs to regulate them as needed to deter force and fraud. The pursuit of mutual benefit naturally creates a tendency to mutual interest.

                    The other is socialism, which you apparently call capitalism. It is the unfree system.In this system, Caesar, acting as the quartermaster for an economy placed under military-style discipline, expropriates goods and services from workers arbitrarily and without legal limit, and rations them irrationally to his creatures.

                    All ancient economies were unfree, albeit, obviously, they did not justify the unfreedom by reference to Marxist ideas.

                    Any admixture of the two systems, such as fascism, tends inevitably toward ever greater socialism. The socialist expropriations, and the arbitrary nature of the rationing, means that all men have a possible claim against every other man’s life, work, property, happiness and goods, but that no one has a secure claim. This in turn creates an inevitable mutual conflict of interest and a mutual hostility.

                    There are rich and poor in both system, but in the unfree system, the rich are a legal class created by Caesar, and the laws and customs protect the rich from loss of money and prestige by imposing unfair burdens on the poor. The whole point of the free market is to remove the barriers that stand in the way of the togetherness or rich and poor, by placing them in a society where classes are not legally recognized ranks, where poor can become rich by his own merits, or rich become poor by his demerits.

                    No one here is saying America has a free market, or anything close to it. We have not been a free market since FDR, and the encroachments have grown year by year and show no sign of slowing. Large corporations are run as public syndicates and political slush funds, as in Mussolini’s Italy.

                    Enough is enough.

                    I have asked you several times to explain your position and define your terms. You steadfastly refuse to do so. You steadfastly continue to argue against positions I do not hold.

                    Now you are reduced to the pathetic antic of quoting Popes are me, where the quote says nothing with which I disagree, and much with which I heartily agree. Your behavior seems random and senseless to me, and borders on the offensive.

                    If you will neither ask nor answer questions, you are not here to have a dialog with me, but to subject me to a monologue. After a score of messages from you in this same rambling, incoherent, unpleasantly aggressive yet opaque vein, on a topic where I am an expert and you are not even a novice, I lose any hope you might snap out of your fugue and being to talk like a man to me.

                    Please send me no more comments on this topic. You have exhausted your welcome.

                    • Comment by Finlay:

                      Mr. Wright, I have been following this blog for many years and I have a great deal of respect for you and your opinions and also for your rhetorical style, but you are beginning to sound as if you are interpreting Sam F’s comments in the most uncharitable way possible. I would hope that we are reading the same things, but I see nowhere that he said himself a failure, I do not see where he sounds angry or ungrateful.

                      What is it that he is ungrateful about? To the free market capitalist system that you just admitted has not existed since FDR which would be since before Sam F was born? I have spent my whole life having it shoved down my throat that capitalism is the greatest thing ever. That if I just work hard enough I too can be a success. Does it make me ungrateful that my life experiences do not point to this conclusion? Does it make me ungrateful that I would like a system that I think would help people better than the current one? You say that there are only two possible systems. I do not understand the reasoning behind that. Why can there not be more?

                      You opened the semantical can of worms by defining distributism as something which it’s adherents neither believe nor preach. You say that what Sam F defines as distributism is actually free market capitalism. If what distributists say is distributism is actually a system that you support, then why get angry and tell him to leave?

                      At this point I’m almost sorry I intruded into this discussion. My comments have been insufficient, but I am going to be late for work…

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I am angry and tell him to leave because he is not playing straight with me, not talking like a man should talk, as one man to another, equal to equal. I am angry because he is dishonest.

                      You are writing to me from the same IP address as he, and making the same kind of elliptical and self contradictory statements.

                      You begin with the rhetorical question “What is he ungrateful about?” as if I were wrong to call him ungrateful. You then give the several reasons for him, or you, not to be grateful: 1. this nation is not truly a capitalist system 2. that you have been told, nay, it was “shoved down your throat” that capitalism is the greatest thing ever 3. That if you work hard enough you will be a success. You then ask rhetorically whether it makes you ungrateful if your life experience do not point to this conclusion?

                      That answer I have already answered. Your ingratitude sickens me. I compare it to Red China.

                      I have already tried many, many times to get a straight answer out of your twisted and rambling nonsense, and in return, you give me more nonsense again.

                      Reread your own comments, fool.

                      You JUST SAID your life experience does not show that if you work hard you will be a success. This means you are saying you are not a success. This means you are a failure. But when I say you called yourself a failure, you immediately boast of your success. If you are successful, that is even MORE ungrateful than if you are a failure, because now you cannot use your own life experience as a condemnation of the system that was fair to you.

                      And, you freaking jackass, no one here, no honest economist, ever said that if you work hard you will be a surefire success. (I have already made this point more than once).

                      This is the freaking twentieth time or so you have put words in my mouth that I did not say, so that you can beat up on a freaking strawman that no one here is defending.

                      I have not defined distributism, and never said anything about its adherence believing or preaching. I did indeed point out that everything Sam F likes about distributism is a side effect of capitalism, and in return he neither defined his terms, never leveled a coherent criticism against capitalism, nor distinguished between distributism and capitalism.

                      I am angry with him for dicking around with me, not playing straight, not being honest, not answering my questions, but instead yammering on and on without coming to a point.

                      Like him, you have no freaking idea what the word ‘semantics’ means and you keep using it even after I freaking told you what it meant.

                      I am angry because when I point out that if what distributists say is distributism is actually a system that I support, he neither answers nor responds, but goes off on some other tangent, and whines more about a topic he knows nothing about. If he and I support the same system, why is he yammering at me? Why is he complaining about his life to me?

                      To make this clear, let me use an example.

                      He says, “Do you disagree that the fault of capitalism is that there are not enough capitalists?” a witty quote from Mr Chesterton! Unfortunately, I am actually an expert in this field which I have studied for over thirty years. What is wrong with capitalism in America is that we have not enough capitalism. What is wrong is: first, we are off the gold standard; second we have a nationalize central bank which underwrites bad loans hence encourages bad loans; third, our currency suffers continual inflation due to the government printing up ever more money, which leads to capital decumulation; fourth, our national economic policy is governs by Keynesian ideas which are logically incoherent; fifth, we suffer periodic depressions due to government interference in the credit cycle; sixth, wage and price controls; seventh, intrusive safety regulations; eighth, tort law now imposes strict liability upon manufacturers rather than the common law (and common sense) practice of proving negligence; ninth, workman’s compensation act betrays both workman and their employers; tenth, laws making union thuggery and organized crime licit; eleventh, antitrust laws which are chaotic, vindictive, illogical, unpredictable and counterproductive, punishing success and entrenching the inefficient and politically connected; twelfth, racist laws requiring men be hired, contracts awarded, to men on the basis of skin color rather than merit; thirteenth, confiscatory tax rates; fourteenth, a bureaucratic nightmare state ruled by anonymous, unelected subhumans; fifteenth, a wrecked educational system, which produces neither workers nor managers able to do their jobs, but which sucks away a ghastly amount of consumer money to buy worthless pieces of paper; sixteenth, a federal welfare nightmare that encourages broken homes, a culture of dependency, and creates the poverty it allegedly fights; seventeenth, estate taxes which create capital decumulation; eighteenth, astronomical national debt which drives eat up all available consumer credit; nineteenth, federal control of interest rates, which ensures the market will always be out of synch with the need; twentieth, fascist federal expropriation and takeover of the medical insurance industry, the automobile industry, the student credit loan industry, and more.

                      Any of those is a legitimate reason to criticize the unfree market of this nation. Sneering at the rich is not a legitimate reason. Those twenty reasons are the reasons why there are not more capitalists. The idea that the wealth is not ‘distributed’ in some vague way that can never be defined is not a reason.

                      If you think a law enforced by the state will create more capitalists, you are a socialist. If you think the free and voluntary operation of the market will create more capitalists, you are a capitalist.

                      Those are the only two options: voluntary and involuntary.

                      The ‘Distributionist’ is both and neither because the distributionist brain is full of mush and does not know the first thing about economics.

                      Go read your freaking Adam Smith, you moron! His book was written TWO HUNDRED FREAKING YEARS AGO!! One would think by now literate people would know the basics of what he discovered.

                      I am frustrated because Sam Findlay is illogical and will not answer questions nor respond to comments nor stick to the topic nor say anything clear nor shut up. You want to bellyache about how unfair life has been to you? Go elsewhere.

                    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

                      You say that there are only two possible systems. I do not understand the reasoning behind that. Why can there not be more?

                      That’s rather like asking why can’t there be more options than chaste and unchaste.

                      Let’s put it this way… go ahead. Invent a third system. Propose one seriously and we’ll see if it truly is new or just another form or one of the two.

  23. Comment by Sam F:

    In the ring… one thing I don’t think has been mentioned are the Cooperatives in the US. There are hundreds of them – like my local Farm Bureau. They’re Distributist organizations too.

  24. Ping from PowerLinks 08.27.14 | Acton PowerBlog:

    […] Distributionism vs Plutoyperetonism John C. Wright […]

  25. Comment by meunke:

    As I have mentioned elsewhere, I usually don’t bother trying to talk to people who push Distributism, as I have found they behave much like earnest Mormons: you can’t raise questions about the accuracy of the Book of Mormon because the Mormon has taken it as their base assumption that the Book of Mormon is right and will not question that. And they will cite the Book of Mormon to support their assumption.

    So it is with people who push Distributionism.

    • Comment by RedJack:

      The first move is to state “Rich people to much! We need to DO SOMETHING” The next is the ever popular Appeal To Authority. Often without paying much attention to what the authority actually said.

      “See I have quoted Papal Document XYZ!” “But that says nothing about what you are talking about!” HERETIC!!!!

      The last move is the appeal to emotion. Accuse the person questioning of all sorts of things, bring up the fact that life isn’t fair and you puppy died, anything.

      Most people are not trained to state their position, and defend it. I just downloaded a few books on Distributism (got to love Amazon unlimited) last night. Pretty much all saying “If you disagree with me, you either don’t understand what I am saying or are a bad Christian/Catholic.”

      Distributism requires a body to take things from one group, and give them to another. The body that has the power to take my land or property and distribute it to another in order to be more “fair” is the one who really owns that property.

  26. Ping from Wright’s Shallow Anti-Distributism | Opus Publicum:

    […] of G.K. Chesterton’s presentation of Distributism — over at his private web-log here. (Not surprisingly Joe Carter over at the Acton Power Blog has highlighted the piece.) Wright […]

  27. Comment by meunke:

    From the pingback above, this pretty much summarizes all criticism of John’s article:
    “Wright’s liberalism clouds him to the moral truths embedded in Chesterton’s Distributist writings and his unquestioned self-assurance, coupled with no small amount of myopia, prevents him from fully confronting the principles Distributism as a whole sets forth.”

    It boils down to Jack Nicholson yelling “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Wright’s “Liberalism”?? I assume he is using the term in its older form, meaning one who favors a nonaristocratic form of society.

      As to whether I fully confront the principles Distributism sets forth, my answer is that there are none. Distributism is an emotion, disgust for the rich. It is not an economic theory, not a policy suggestion, not a principle from which one can deduce which laws and customs to support and which to disband.

      My discontent with Distributionism is precisely that no one has, and no one can, articulate its principles. “Distributing property as widely as possible” means nothing. A one hundred percent tax on all good and services whatsoever placed in a common coffer than divided equally in shares, one to each man in the nation, would be perfect distribution as wide as possible. That is socialism or fascism. Or does ‘as possible’ mean ‘as widely as possible given the sacrosanct nature of a man’s life, life work, and the fruits of his labor, so that no man is despoiled of his goods’? That is capitalism.

      Distributionism is neither fish nor fowl. If such writers of unparalleled clarity and wit and insight as Mr. Belloc and Mr. Chesterton cannot make anything clear out of this mare’s nest of sentimentalism and plutophobia, I doubt anyone can.

  28. Ping from Dangerous Influence of Transgender Ideology - BigPulpit.com:

    […] Evangelization – David Clayton Quæritur: Hogging the Confessional – Fr. Z’s Blog Distributionism vs. Plutoyperetonism – John C. Wright Hitler: Born Before His Time – Donald R. McClarey JD, The Amr Cth […]

  29. Comment by Sam F:

    A couple of things to help clarify… Finlay is a relative of mine and accesses the web from the same wireless network. Also Finlay drew me to this discussion and I thought it would be interesting to join in and defend the Distributist position. It’s rare that anyone has even heard of it. I certainly did not intend that the facts of my experience would be so offensive!!!

    That said, I can’t help but notice that you are defending Capitalism in a way that is, well, not particularly valid. After all, you arguing for an economic system that does not by your own admission even exist.
    Finlay is also correct in noting that I have no pre-FDR economic experience – I’m not even close to that old!
    I can only comment on my own economic experiences living here in the US.

    Frankly there wasn’t much point in reading the whole post after seeing this:

    Mr. Wright said: “I have not defined distributism, and never said anything about its adherence believing or preaching. I did indeed point out that everything Sam F likes about distributism is a side effect of capitalism, and in return he neither defined his terms, never leveled a coherent criticism against capitalism, nor distinguished between distributism and capitalism.”

    It is plainly obvious that I did in fact define the term Distributism and I provided examples. My view of Capitalism grows out of having lived in it. Now perhaps you are correct in that Capitalism has not existed since 1932 or thereabouts. And how can I possibly manage to respond to a system now long dead? Meanwhile during all my life our economy has been presented as Capitalism. Somebody is seriously wrong here! Granted that you are correct, and I am happy to acknowledge that you are, then at the very least our language has changed and my conclusion about what is now called Capitalism if perfectly correct, while your objection to my observations is based on an ideal system not extant.

    This is quite peculiar and leads me to conclude – and I hope you prove me wrong – that your response is emotional and not well thought out.

    Certainly when aggravated, people do respond that way, but I had hoped for better.
    When an orthodox Catholic, who has struggled with the issues of what makes a more just economy for half a lifetime receives such a response from another Catholic it is very disappointing. Liberals of course respond in exactly the same way but I must say that the instant hostility I received is quite surprising.
    I will however gladly honor your request to leave.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I certainly did not intend that the facts of my experience would be so offensive!!!

      Will you shut up? It is not the facts of your experience that I find exasperating, but your dicking around with me.

      You neither defined Distributism nor provided examples, or, to be precise, your definition was so vaguely worded that it could mean anything, and your examples did not distinguish between Distributism and Captalism — and these are both comments that I made before, asking you to clarify, and instead you dicked around with me more then, as you continue to do now.

      Your disappointment is a lie. I am angry with your not for your philosophy, nor for your Catholicism, nor for your struggle to understand the nature of justice, but for your elliptical nonsense and unwillingness to talk straight with me — as I have said four times now.

      My anger grew slowly, one message at a time, as you continued to blither at me without making sense, without even making clear what your point was or what side of the argument you were on.

      So, here again, just now, you are playing a game rather than having a discussion, pretending I said something I did not, beating up on a strawman.

      It is rude, it is illogical, and it is downright dishonest.

      THAT is what has angered me. I am not interested in being on the receiving end of your meandering, incoherent monologue. Go away.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      That said, I can’t help but notice that you are defending Capitalism in a way that is, well, not particularly valid. After all, you arguing for an economic system that does not by your own admission even exist.

      No economic system exists in a pristine form, any more than perfect triangles exist outside of geometry. The argument that free markets are more free than unfree markets is nonetheless valid, and does not rest on real world comparisons (albeit, of course, many such examples are available).

      Finlay is also correct in noting that I have no pre-FDR economic experience

      Irrelevant. The argument about whether a pure or perfect free market exists was a strawman, one more example of you putting words in my mouth.

      Frankly there wasn’t much point in reading the whole post after seeing this

      No comment.

      It is plainly obvious that I did in fact define the term Distributism and I provided examples.

      False statement. Your gave no definition, no examples, and when I asked you to clarify, I was ignored and belittled.

      My view of Capitalism grows out of having lived in it.

      Since, even after more than twenty letters from you, and more than ten requests for clarification, I have no idea what you mean by ‘capitalism’ I cannot respond to this statement. Clearly you have had some sort of experience of something. But if your theory of cause and effect is backward — as from your comments I suspect is the case — then the experience is being grossly misinterpreted.

      Now perhaps you are correct in that Capitalism has not existed since 1932 or thereabouts. And how can I possibly manage to respond to a system now long dead?

      This is once again irrelevant. You are once again playing the strawman argument game with me. I am not asking you to respond to a system long dead or otherwise. I am asking you to clarify what in the world you are talking about, define your terms, give an example.

      Meanwhile during all my life our economy has been presented as Capitalism. Somebody is seriously wrong here! Granted that you are correct, and I am happy to acknowledge that you are, then at the very least our language has changed and my conclusion about what is now called Capitalism if perfectly correct, while your objection to my observations is based on an ideal system not extant.

      The word Capitalism has been used in both precise and imprecise senses. I do not know in which of the two senses you mean the word. Again, as I have said before, if you are objecting to the unfree elements in our current mixed economy, then your objection is not to the free market but to the unfree market. Partisans of the free market would promote more freedom as a cure. I do not know what a distributionist would promote as a cure, and for the reasons I repeated many times to you and asked you about many times without getting an answer: if the cure is to equalize the income of all persons in the nation, this is either done voluntarily or involuntarily. If voluntarily, this advocates the free market. If involuntarily, this advocate the unfree market. Which would the Distributionist philosophy advise?

      This is quite peculiar and leads me to conclude – and I hope you prove me wrong – that your response is emotional and not well thought out.

      Ad hominem and irrelevant. My emotion is one of anger because you will not answer any questions put to you, and yet you persist in making unsupported statements in a disjointed fashion, so that I cannot discover what it is you mean.

      Certainly when aggravated, people do respond that way, but I had hoped for better.

      You aggravated me. I congratulate you on your success. I am not sure what better you could hope for, since your comments make no sense and come to no point.

  30. Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

    I have perused the comments and while I see one or two references to Rerum Novarum, it is my observation that because Mr. Wright greatly mischaracterized Distributism as an economic formula, the entire character of the debate herein was hijacked by materialism.

    I will provide some quotes excerpted from Rerum Novarum and I will then address Mr. Wright’s fundamental errors and suggest the proper direction for understanding the distributist philosophy.

    “For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own. This is one of the chief points of distinction between man and the animal creation…”

    “Hence, man not only should possess the fruits of the earth, but also the very soil…”

    “Now, when man thus turns the activity of his mind and the strength of his body toward procuring the fruits of nature, by such act he makes his own that portion of nature’s field which he cultivates – that portion on which he leaves, as it were, the impress of his personality; and it cannot but be just that he should possess that portion as his very own, and have a right to hold it without any one being justified in violating that right.”

    This one is key:

    “It is a most sacred law of nature that a father should provide food and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten…in no other way can a father effect this except by the ownership of productive property, which he can transmit to his children by inheritance.”

    To be discussed a bit later on; “All who are concerned in the matter should be of one mind and according to their ability act together. ” (Oh no! The Church is socialist! Well not really.)

    First and foremost, I say again that Mr. Wright grossly and completely mischaracterizes the distributes philosophy by referring to it as an economic system. It is not. It is this that informs all of Mr. Wright’s confusions regarding and stated objections to the idea. Chesterton very adamantly defends the capitalist economic system against socialism; this could not be more clear in his writing and, I’m sorry, but anyone who misses this clearly has not read much of Chesterton on the subject; only with blinders on and a predisposed commitment to classify old GK as a socialist could anyone of sound mind and reason mistake him for one. I’m sorry if this charge sounds a little insulting, but it is the simple truth.

    The concerns of Chesterbelloc are not with the capitalist system of economic production but with the moral choices men make within that system.

    So let’s review some of those excerpts from Rerum Novarum. I presented them in order of appearance, but first let’s consider the the moral charge that a father should provide for his family and the conclusion, that the only means of assuring such is for him to own productive property. Marriage and the family are the foundation of Christian society; in marriage each sexual partner has a divinely ordered role, and one of the roles of the man is to provide for the material sustenance of his family. While the object is material, this is a moral duty and not merely a material obligation. Marriage is not an economic contract but a sacrament; the father does not have an economic obligation to provide but a teleological geas — such provision is part of what substantially makes him a man.

    We see this in the explanation that possession of productive property is one of the key characteristics which separates rational man from instinct-driven animal. Possession of property by a man (and by extension, his equal partner – his wife – and his children) is a factor in what makes him human. The other quotes I excerpted further support the fundamental importance of property ownership for the Christian life.

    Where the macroeconomic lens adopted by our good author goes off the rails is in equating the possibility of property ownership with the actuality. If, as the Church clearly asserts, ownership of property is a key characteristic of fully realizing our humanity as created and ordered by our Creator God, and if a Christian father’s moral obligation is to provide for his family and the only means of doing so is to own property, then merely having a theoretical “right” to own property is not enough: he must in fact own property.

    Mr. Wright’s error is in classifying distributism as an economic system. It is a moral philosophy for how to live justly in the economic system that is capitalism. Free market capitalism codifies the individual ownership of productive assets (capital) and the corresponding free exchange of their produce. This is a positive economic system. (“Positive” means, as I know Mr. Wright understands but others may not, that the efficacy of the system is determined empirically — it is measurable. Free market capitalism “works” at what it is supposed to do – and we have a lot of data to prove it.”) Distributism is not a positive economic system but the normative application of moral judgment. It says, not how the economy ought to be ordered, but how human participants ought to behave within that ordered system.

    “All who are concerned in the matter should be of one mind and according to their ability act together.”

    “From each according to his ability…?” Doesn’t that smack of socialism? But no, the Church speaks out firmly against socialism and, likewise, the core of distributism could not possibly be farther from socialism. A socialist economy precludes distributism; it is only possible within a capitalist system. What Chesterbelloc call for is not the end of the free market capitalist system but for free participants in the free market to direct their participation in light of the moral teleology of man and not his material desires.

    If ownership of property is fundamental to the human mission directed by God and is necessary for fulfilling the roles divinely ordered by Christ in the sacrament of marriage then by definition all men (with their wives and children) must own productive property, that is, capital. As Chesterton says, the problem with capitalism (as practiced) is too few capitalists. A laborer who goes to a factory and works with someone else’s capital in exchange for a wage does not own productive property and does not provide for his family.

    This is an important and overlooked nuance. (Not overlooked by Chesterbelloc.) Wages are not the same as production, and only real production produces goods. A man who receives a wage in exchange for labor is indistinguishable from a man who receives a social transfer payment. It is the source of the payment that provides for his family, not him. Consider the following comparison. Two wage laborers do the same job for the same number of hours each week at a factory. At the end of the pay period a clerical error is made and the family of one receives the paycheck of the other, and vice versa. What has materially changed for each family? The answer is, nothing. Now consider that these two men are farmers who have the same acreage of land with the same growing conditions, but at harvest time they switch harvests. For their families the result is extremely significant, because each man put his own special drive and skills and knowledge and focus into producing his harvest, which will always be different from his neighbor’s. This is what “providing” for (a family) really means.

    Now just because a man has to work for a wage rather than really, objectively providing for his family doesn’t mean he can’t live a full and fruitful Christian life, and this is what Rerum Novarum concludes and prescribes. But the gist of distributism is that it is our moral duty to behave as if our goal is for each individual household own productive property.

    Thus the workshop artisan, when through hard work and luck and skill he is afforded the opportunity to expand his business, ought not to hire an “employee” but to take on an apprentice who receives a (lesser) share of their mutual production. And when the business merits a production-line-automated-multi-worker factory, the business ought to be reconstituted as a partnership or ESOP (though really the “E” ought to be omitted.) The essence of distributism is that the moral action of rational men supersedes economic incentive. It may well be the case that the artisan can grow the business faster and thus pay better wages and achieve Pareto improvement by selling off shares to third-party shareholders and classifying his subordinates as employees – but this is not the moral choice. The moral actor, following the principles of distributism, makes rational choices always in mind of the telos of free market capitalism, which is not to provide the greatest and most efficient material gains to all people, but to afford such people the means of becoming saints in communion with God. Capitalism, like the material goods it affords, is a means to an end. Distributism calls us not to be of one (socialist) mind about economic production, but to be of one mind about the purpose of all human action, including the economic: to bring all His Creation closer to the Creator. We are called, each according to our ability, to act together — for the salvation of souls, and yes, acting together for the salvation of souls may involve intensive economic competition amongst ourselves in a free market.

    So yes, of course Chesterton can’t provide systemic examples of how to “achieve” distributism or how a distributist “system” works. It’s not a system, it’s a normative milieu. Distributism isn’t a socioeconomic design but a moral framework; its essence is made up not of objective rules but of individual, subjective, human choices.

    I hope the above explanation sheds some light on the fundamental error Mr. Wright and others make when they attempt to shove Distributism into the confines of an economic system. It is not so much that Mr. Wright is wrong but that he is not talking about Distributism. The socialist-lite, pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo Mr. Wright talks about as “distributionism” is quite rightly derided by our good author. It also bears no similarity to the distributism talked about by Chesterton.

    One (final) point of clarification: people will charge that Chesterbelloc sometimes suggest some sort of state government-managed “distribution” of productive property amongst the citizenry; essentially land reform but for all productive capital. Yes, to those who misunderstand distributism as a socioeconomic system and not a rational philosophy of ethical norms, this smacks of communism. (Which is really socialism, since what the State gives you the State can take away and thereby controls.) However, it is imperative that we understand that Chesterbelloc speak of such distribution from the assumption of a truly democratic society — and on that in the interests of retaining your interest I am going to simply refer the reader for sources on the “demos” and the fundamental principles of democracy which are far from as practiced in the modern world. A distribution of productive property amongst the citizenry adopted and enacted on democratic principles (which doesn’t mean the subjection of 49% by the other 51%) already assumes a widespread individual adoption of distributivist moral principle; it is simply one possible means of effecting what each mean has already decided rather than a means of forcing something against a man’s free choice. In the context of Chesterbelloc distributist philosophy, a democratic, state-enacted distribution of property is not materially different from Dad saying, “Okay, you both agree that you would prefer to have the same size piece of cake in the interest of justice and fairness, so Bobby, you cut the cake and Suzy, you choose the first slice.” This is not forcing Bobby and Suzy to evenly distribute the cake, but providing them a means of ensuring that the cake is evenly distributed.

    Though a better example would be distributing cake batter, since the essence of distributism is based on the free market capitalist principles that an individual is entitled to both the ownership of means of production and the fruits thereof; if Bobby carefully turns his cake batter into a culinary masterpiece and Suzy forgets the cake in the oven and goes off to play Minecraft, then tough luck for Suzy. She gets the means of production, not a guaranteed benefit. Though, of course, in the spirit of love and Christian charity Bobby ought to perhaps share a slice of his cake with his sister, provided of course that doing so doesn’t obviate the lesson she needs to learn about being more diligent when baking. The ethics of distributism prescribe that Bobby ought not to propose nor to accept that Suzy sell her cooking implements and ingredients to him and employ her as a dishwasher. In economic terms both would be better off if Bobby owned the means of production and made all the cakes, and if Suzy employed her comparative advantage in washing dishes in exchange for a slice of the (bigger) cake. The essence of distributism, and the moral teaching of the Church regarding the ownership of productive property, is that the moral benefit of individual ownership and working partnership supersedes the economic benefit of consolidation.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      All this would be very much to the point, except that I did not say any of the things you attribute to me. The point I was trying to make in the argument was that Distributism was not an economic system but an ethical norm, what you call a milieu. In order to force that point into the clear, I kept asking for an example in action, knowing full well that no honest man could answer the question. I had hoped the honest man would then admit the question was unanswerable, conclude Distributism was not a system properly so called, and realize he was talking about an ethical norm.

      My experience is that the spirit of love and charity is more to be found when the economic system is a free market, the political system defends the rights of man, and the moral system is Christian than in any other combination of these values. I was trying by my questions to discover why anyone claimed capitalism to be more destructive of charity than socialism, when the opposite is so plainly the case: but my patience was defeated by the unwillingness of my interlocutor to answer anything or ask anything.

      • Comment by Finlay:

        “The point I was trying to make in the argument was that Distributism was not an economic system but an ethical norm”

        Where, Mr. Wright, did you say that? This is not a rhetorical question. I have just reread your essay; I have read the comments several times.

        From your essay:

        “[Chesterton’s] position differs from Socialism mainly by being nondoctrinaire by being unclear.”

        “Chesterton’s solution for this was non-political, that is, he thought that by having all men try to own their own tools of trade, that is, be small farm owners or small shop owners or small tradesmen, the cabal of aristocrats manipulated parliament could be abolished.

        “In reality, only a very intrusive socialist or semisocialist state would be in a position even to attempt such a massive and massively evil redistribution of wealth, or, to call things by their right names, mass theft and plunder, and the maniacal Caesar who attempted such a thing would of course be required by the logic of the situation to act with an utterly arbitrary and utterly unrestricted hand: To be a dictator in the fashion of Mussolini or Stalin or Mao.”

        “Distributionism is madness based on lunacy.”

        If you aren’t calling distributism socialism, madness, or comparing it to mass murderers, what are you saying? This is not a rhetorical question.

        “I was trying by my questions to discover why anyone claimed capitalism to be more destructive of charity than socialism, when the opposite is so plainly the case: but my patience was defeated by the unwillingness of my interlocutor to answer anything or ask anything.”

        I asked questions. They were not answered. Sam answered. You ignored things that he said. You claimed he said things that he did not. You said that he used both strawman and ad hominem arguments. Then you told me that that was a polite response. So, sir, I will take you at your word and be polite.

        Your arguments have been both strawman and ad hominem. This is not an accusation or a moral failing, any more than making an illegal move in chess is a moral failure. What you do when someone points out an error in the logic is restate the argument in a fashion that avoids the error. You state your case in a clearer or more rigorous fashion.

        But you haven’t done that here. You have changed your argument.

        You asked Sam to leave; I can assure you he will never come back here. You said to me that you would apologize to him. He has received no such communication. Mr. Wright, you assumed a refusal of your apology to me with a far smaller passing of time. What I am to think of this? This is not a rhetorical question.

        From past experience, I suppose the response to this comment will be nothing but insults and attacks, containing little reason and less charity. I expected more from an author and commentor base that was to some extent Christian.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Chesterton’s solution for this was non-political,”

          i.e. it was an ethical solution, something done voluntarily, not through law. I am sorry if that was unclear. Blame my old loyalty to libertarianism, but I thought it was obvious that whatever is not involuntary (political) was voluntary (ethical).

          No, I am not calling Distributism socialism. Read the words you yourself just quoted. In the daydream of Distributists, the ethical injunction to share and share alike either (1) is something capitalists do out of the goodness of their heart (voluntarily) or (2) is a political system (involuntary). So when I said “In reality all that happens is….” I mean as opposed to what the Distributists daydream. What happens if it is enforced is socialism. Socialism in reality causes mass murder. So we are left with two possibilities: one which is indistinguishable from the free market, that is, a free market run by descent Christians who voluntarily do not take advantage of their wealth, and two is socialism.

          So, no, I was not calling distributism socialism, or comparing it to mass murderers. I am once again baffled and frustrated with the conversation, which is turning once again in to the mutual incomprehension of all our previous conversations. No, I have not changed my argument. Rather than being offended at the statement, I assume that I did not explain myself clearly. I am at a loss, when you quote me back word for word and nonetheless assume I am saying things I did not say, and not hearing things I do say. As I explained before, when Sam did this, I thought he was doing it on purpose to irk me: in hindsight, that is a foolish thing for me to think, and I am sorry I let him get to me.

          I did not write to Sam because you told me he was going on a trip or something, so I wanted to wait a period of time before writing. If I misunderstood, or waited too long, I apologize for that as well. No malice was involved, merely absentmindedness.

          I also wanted to try harder and longer to overcome my anger toward him, which, since you now accuse me falsely of ignoring you and not answering questions, I am finding quite difficult.

          You then accuse me of being unchristian and you assume I will insult you. I am sorry that I have behaved in a way where this is a reasonable expectation.

          It is not an insult when I say you are saying false things, but a statement of fact. I have nothing against you personally. The frustration I feel at this continual carousel of mutual incomprehension is my fault alone. However, you have my solemn promise that I will answer honestly and fully and politely, despite that frustration.

          I will write Sam this evening and offer my apology. If he is like you, he will reject it and make false accusations against me. Your mind is poisoned against me, and that is also my fault, and that is something for which I also apologize.

          Now, is there any question in the current letter that I overlooked or did not answer? I never again want to be accused by you of ignoring you.

          • Comment by Finlay:

            Mr. Wright, I asked where you said that Distributism was not an economic system but an ethical norm. I do mean where. Which sentence, which paragraph did you say that in? In the original essay or any of the comments prior to ChevalierdeJohnstone’s. If you have not changed you argument, this should be easy enough to find. I would think it rather odd that you managed to say this in your essay or comments without the use of the word “ethical.” But that must be an issue of style.

            Why on earth would you think that my reading again of what I quoted would make any difference to how I understood it? I reread your essay yesterday and what I took from it was that you said Distributism is socialism and that you compared it to mass murderers.

            “What happens if it is enforced is socialism. Socialism in reality causes mass murder.”

            And… this is different from calling it socialism… how? If Distributsm is put into practice, it is socialism. Is that not what you just said?

            This, however, raises an interesting question. How do you know that “enforcing” Distributism is socialism? Has this ever happened? When and where? If not, what evidence leads you to this conclusion? I really would like to know.

            “What happens if it is enforced is socialism. Socialism in reality causes mass murder.”

            Unless you have evidence to back up this claim, this statement is a strawman. I do not say this to be insulting. You said it is polite to point out that you are saying false things. I will use your definition of polite and I say this with every intention of being so. What I said in the previous comment was intended in the same way. You cannot expect that only you are allowed to point out the faults in arguments. I am simply doing so in the way you think appropriate.

            The questions that I asked, the ones that were ignored, were the ones you deemed “rhetorical.” These questions were not answered. So how is it a false accusation for me to say that questions that I asked were not answered? (Do I need to tell you if this is a rhetorical question or not?)

            There’s no point in beating a dead horse. So why must you repeatedly bring up that Sam “provoked” you or that some incorrect manner of argument on his part “defeated [your] patience”? Your enemy has been defeated in this forum. A gentleman would not need to keep harping on this. Let bygones be bygones and mention it no more. If you had not mentioned it again, I wouldn’t be here. I would have deleted the automatic comment-email-thing and gone back to reading my history books, but you just had to say something more about Sam.

            “If he is like you, he will reject it and make false accusations against me.”

            Throughout this entire discussion you have repeatedly jumped to conclusions that are either erroneous or uncharitable. I have known Sam my whole life and I don’t know how he will respond to your apology. You cannot judge Sam’s behavior based on mine. I am not Sam. Sam is not I. In fact, he is rather more mild and kind than I am.

            The accusation of false accusations on my part, unless you can cite evidence, is an ad hominem attack. Also I find it odd and slightly insulting that you would tell Sam that I had refused your apology. You apologized for your behavior towards me, for calling me names, and I accepted it. We are dealing with a separate issue here. I say again, if you had not mentioned your “interlocutor”, I would not have come back and commented. I would have been quite happy to ignore the reanimation of this thread.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              M’am, I already answered that question of where. It is in the word you yourself quoted. I apologize if it was unclear.

              “What happens if it is enforced is socialism. Socialism in reality causes mass murder.”

              And… this is different from calling it socialism… how? If Distributsm is put into practice, it is socialism. Is that not what you just said?

              It is different in that Distributsm is an ethical norm that is not enforced by law. If it is enforced by law, it is socialism.

              Your other questions and comments I cannot answer now due to lack of time. Again, if some of your previous questions were sincerely meant, but I took them as rhetorical, I would have thought they were statements in the form of a question, requiring no answer.

              I am sorry for losing my temper and offending Sam. I am not saying any facts have changed, or that the false things he said were true, or that the irrelevant things he said were relevant. I am certainly not saying that identifying logical flaws, such as using a strawman argument, is justified: you keep harping on that.

              If you cannot discuss these matter without getting offended, you should stop.

              • Comment by Finlay:

                I must say the fact that the comment sent to my inbox and the comment here are different is rather annoying. I have wasted some perfectly good time writing an answer to a comment that essentially doesn’t exist. Ho hum.

                That wasn’t just unclear; it was incomprehensible. And I am not sure, even now, that I understand you. Are you saying that the sentence “Chesterton’s solution for this was non-political” is the same as saying “Distributism was not an economic system but an ethical norm”? Because even adding in the rest of that sentence, it contains no reference to ethical systems of any sort. “Non-political” says nothing other than it isn’t political (which one might think would mean that Distributists wouldn’t be keen on dictators or mass murder). Owning one’s tools is not an ethical norm. Perhaps you are confused as to the meaning of “ethical”?

                “It is different in that Distributsm is an ethical norm that is not enforced by law. If it is enforced by law, it is socialism.”

                That is a distinction without a difference.

                Also ethical, political, economic, religious systems, you name it, do not work like that. It’s like saying that Islam is Christianity unless it’s enforced by law. The tenets of a system are the tenets of a system. What the system is is evident from looking at those tenets. The tenets do not change completely when enforced by law. Now, perhaps you’ll say Distributism doesn’t have any tenets. You have said that it is “nondoctrinaire” and “unclear.” Okay, let’s say that’s all true. Well, then you have nothing to base your claim that enforced it will be socialism. Because if it is too vaporous to have a doctrine or to be defined even, it is too vaporous to do anything at all. And if it is too vaporous to do anything, why are you so vehemently opposed to it? (This is not a rhetorical question just so we’re clear.)

                “Your other questions and comments I cannot answer now due to lack of time.”

                Then why comment? I’m certainly in no hurry. I won’t be upset by a day or even two passing with no reply. I would much rather have an actual answer to
                my comments rather than “oh, don’t have time right now.” Which sounds like a brush off even if you did not mean it as one. But I understand the problem of having little time so as for questions I will simplify a little; the only one from the previous comment I want answered is this: Do you have any evidence that proves or even points to the notion that Distributism when enforced by the law is Socialism?

                “I am sorry for losing my temper and offending Sam. I am not saying any facts have changed, or that the false things he said were true, or that the irrelevant things he said were relevant. I am certainly not saying that identifying logical flaws, such as using a strawman argument, is justified: you keep harping on that.”

                I did not ask for any further apology on this count. I asked you to let bygones be bygones and stop going on about it. So… you go on about it some more. Regrettably, I can’t comment as to the rest of the paragraph. I assume you wrote it in a hurry because I don’t understand what you were trying to say.

                “If you cannot discuss these matter without getting offended, you should stop.”

                Well! That is an actual polite, yet condescending, way of telling me to shut up. You don’t know me. You don’t know what offends me. Very clearly you do not understand what makes me angry either. But why would offence be a reason to be quiet? Quite the opposite. Abortion offends me. Anti-Catholic screeds offend me. Oh, dear. I guess I shouldn’t stand up and defend my position on these things because I’m offended. If you didn’t want a debate on this subject, you should have locked the comments.

                It doesn’t matter. I will reiterate: I have one question I want answered. Do you have any evidence that proves or even points to the notion that Distributism when enforced by the law is Socialism? Take your time.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  I retract my offer to answer your questions. Your ears are so full of hate, that you can neither hear my arguments, nor my polite comments. Instead, all you hear is attacks.

                  I will utter no more of them. My God bless you, and please do go away from here.

                  • Comment by Finlay:

                    Thank you, sir. You have answered my question. And thus I will take my leave. (Unless of course you say anything more about Sam, in which case I will come right back.) God bless you and all health and happiness to you and your family.

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