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Monday, February 10, 2014

Distributism - A Third Way

Distributism – A Third Way

About 100 years ago, some of the greatest Catholic minds – G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and others – were espousing an economic system known as Distributism.  Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to explore some of the principles of Distributism, and what practical contributions it may have to make to modern economics.

What is Distributism?  Simply put, it is a system in which there is wide distribution of productive property.  In a Capitalist society, the means of production, capital, is generally held by a relatively few number of capitalists, while most people work as laborers for a paycheck.  In a Socialist system, of course, the means of production are even more concentrated, in the hands of the government.  Capitalist societies are generally characterized by political freedom, whereas Socialist societies are not.

In a Distributist society, however, the means of production would be in the hands of many.  Most people would be self-sufficient.  It would be characterized by an overwhelming number of homesteads and small businesses.  Wealth would be measured by real goods rather than by tokens (paper money).  And the economy would be characterized by “economy” – thrift – not over-consumption and waste.  It is also a society with political freedom.

With almost all of the modern world vacillating between socialism and hyper-capitalism, a Distributist society is almost unimaginable, though it characterized much of the Western world for centuries.  But is it even practical today? 

Many believe the principles of Distributism still have much to offer to 21st century economies.  Over the next few days, I would like to consider some of the fundamental principles (many of which will sound very challenging) and explore Distributism’s practical relevance.

Note:  I am quite inadequate to do this topic justice.  The most I intend to do is pique interest.  For a more thorough and intelligent treatment of Distributism, I recommend Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State, or more recently, Beyond Capitalism and Socialism, a series of essays on Distributism compiled by Tobias Lanz.