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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Distributism in Modern Economics

Distributism in Modern Economics
The past week, on this blog, I have explored the economic philosophy known as Distributism, specifically through the principles of Father Vincent McNabb. 

There are many economic perils in our world: poverty, injustice, lack of economic freedom, the impersonal and sterile nature some work can take on.  And, of course, there are many approaches at solving them.  We tend to fall into two camps: small government, free market enthusiasts; or big government, high regulation enthusiasts.

The Distributist speaks a very different language than these two groups, but he can often be easily dismissed by both.  He can be seen as overly romantic, nostalgic for a bygone era, and utterly impractical.  However, there is still much that Distributism can add to our modern economic conversation.

At this point I must remind people that I am far from an expert in this subject.  In fact, this post can be taken as nothing more than my thinking out loud.  Anyone whose interest is piqued would do well to seek out more learned sources.

However, it seems to me that the essence of Distributism is ownership.  It is based on recognizing the value of the widespread ownership of productive property. 

We often lament the widespread economic dependence of modern man.  Applying Distributist principles to modern economics would mean creating an environment friendly to small businesses and supportive of small farmers.  Mass production is often seen as necessary to sustain the world’s population, but often it only sustains a wasteful, consumer mentality.

As Catholics we are called to shun avarice.  Thrift is a virtue, though society scorns it.  Perhaps the widespread economic downturn of recent years will inspire people to examine our spending and consumption habits. 

We must take a spiritual approach to our work.  Certainly that can be done with any work, but work in which we produce something of real value, and in which we are personally invested in the big picture, is often the most satisfying.  For example, a craftsman is more invested in his work (emotionally and spiritually) than a worker on an assembly line

There are also interesting business models in which workers in a company also have an ownership stake.  Creative business people have realized that when a worker has “skin in the game,” it is easier to get an honest day’s work out of him.

All of these things would be celebrated by Distributists.  If some of these principles take hold in our collective values – ownership, thrift, the spiritual value of work, self-sufficiency – perhaps they can begin to shape government policy, personal habits, and even our spirituality.