Stop Calling Me a Commie!

I can’t seem to go to any Catholic website or forum and talk about Distributism without at least one person accusing me of being a communist.

So, I post this not only for myself, but for anyone reading who is also sympathetic to the idea of spreading, by voluntary means, greater workers’ ownership of the means of production throughout society. Keep these in mind if you ever find yourself backed into a corner.

Rerum Novarum, 46 & 47. Excerpt:

“We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

Quadragesimo Anno, 65. Excerpt:

“Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received.”

Mater et Magistra, 75-77. Excerpt:

“[I]t is especially desirable today that workers gradually come to share in the ownership of their company, by ways and in the manner that seem most suitable.”

Laborem Exercens, 14. Excerpt:

“We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with every one else.”

If this is communism, then the Church is the original communist international, and the Bolsheviks were just wasiting their time. Or, maybe, the people who call these ideas ‘communist’ don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s probably that.

18 Responses to Stop Calling Me a Commie!

  • Eric Brown says:

    Joe, my apologies. I agree with you the vast majority of the time. Your position often seems quite reasonable.

    Anyone who posts after me, exercise courtesy and charity. Otherwise, I’ll delete your comment. We’re adults here, I really wish we’d act like it.

  • Dale Price says:

    Distributism = Communism? Somebody let GKC know.

    That said, I sorta see the argument (without considering in the slightest any distributist a commie), at least to this extent: it would take a massive state intervention to reorder the economy along distributist lines. And it would likely require considerable statist oversight to keep it running that way, short of a serious cultural conversion which would cause people to maintain the system voluntarily.

    But the commie charge is a grenade intended to end the conversation (and the distributist, at least in the rhetorical sense), and you are right to object. Strongly. In my book, communist is just as much a conversation ender as Nazi.

  • John Smith says:

    “If this is communism, then the Church is the original communist international.”

    Original? What was the date of the Communist Manifesto? What are the dates of the documents you cite?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    I can’t seem to go to any Catholic website or forum and talk about Distributism without at least one person accusing me of being a communist.

    it is not your distributist proposals that people attack as communist or socialist… it is your endorsement of government economic intervention, through ownership or excessive mandates, government control of healthcare, etc.

    While it is not immoral to advocate those policies, to my understanding they are not related to distributism. If you want to be attacked as a “distributist” rather than a “socialist” speak the language of GKC and Belloc.

    Instead of a defensive post why not outline the basic principles of distributism?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    John Smith,

    It was a joke. Though the ‘First’ International as it is now called pre-dates Rerum Novarum, all that encyclical did was formalize what the Church already believed. I don’t think it stated anything that was radically new.

  • Foxfier says:

    If it’s voluntary, it’s not communism.

    Only when the gov’t comes and forces it does it get bad.

    I *like* credit unions. I *like* ranches that are able to offer the hands beef– a part of the company. I like farms that do versions of the same.

    I don’t trust the gov’t to promote this without making themselves get paid first, and generously.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Foxfier,

    I think the government can promote it without controlling it. There’s a key difference. I’m for offering positive incentives for distributist alternatives, not negative incentives against non-distributist models.

    More firms can move towards a cooperative model without penalizing firms that don’t.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Matt

    “Instead of a defensive post why not outline the basic principles of distributism?”

    I’d have to make a defensive post eventually, so it’s out of the way now :)

  • e says:

    Foxfier,

    “Only when the gov’t comes and forces it does it get bad.”

    Do you really buy all the florid rhetoric that would have you believe that the kind of distributist program folks are advocating here would not actually devolve into some tyrannical “even distribution of property by force of law” that becomes the inevitable result?

    People might regard the Chester-belloc view in this regard as profoundly “infallible” and even practically possible; however, not all are so naive as to think that it won’t ultimately turn out to be yet another of those damnable tyrannies imposed by the State.

    Although, I’m not surprised seeing how these moderns are the very same who rather unwittingly appeal to the Federal Leviathan to liberate them from their ills by essentially contributing to its further monstrosity, sustaining the very force fundamentally responsible for the atrocious oligarchy wherein only monied elites prosper!

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    I think the government can promote it without controlling it. There’s a key difference.

    No history of this ever happening. Promote is different from “incentivize”.

    I’m for offering positive incentives for distributist alternatives, not negative incentives against non-distributist models.

    They already do and the result is generally not positive, it’s called the “Small Business Administration”.

    More firms can move towards a cooperative model without penalizing firms that don’t.

    Here is were we may diverge on distributist ideals. It seems to me that the distributist ideal is not the cooperative, but any form where the owners are the workers. I’m self-employed (well technically I am employed by my wife) that is a distributist model. Law firms and other professional partnerships are distributist. Small businesses with employees orient towards distributism by spreading the ownership of the “means of production” among the largest number of people. Even moreso, where those small businesses, offer shares to employees, as many do. In fact, the only way for distributism to be successful in the real world is many, many, small businesses with employees, ideally who are offered shares. The idea of everyone being their own boss is utopian, as not everyone has the wherewithal to run a business. The cooperative is only one entity which can support a distributist principle, but frankly, it doesn’t necessarily do so. Distributism is not just about ownership, it is also about control. I can own many shares of a co-op, however, control is tightly held by the board (not unlike large corporations).

    What government interventions or what have you have been proposed, that I agree with?

    let’s move on from that.

    You don’t seem to understand that the issue of Distributism is separate from the issue of government regulation.

    This is exatly what I’m saying:
    I’m sure you see MY point, if the biggest defender of distributism is seen as a big defender of government intervention in economy, that some readers may get the mistaken notion that distributism is like socialism. I’m suggesting that that this conflation be disavowed.

    I believe that some of the opposition to distributism here is because they’re confusing your fondness of government regulation with distributism. I am not confused, but others might be.

    If we had an economy based on workers cooperatives, if the majority of firms were structured in just the way I think they ought to be,

    This is utopian. If the majority of firms could be operated by the workers they would be. Most workers are not capable of running a business in a simple system, much less the highly regulated one we have now. Hence my proposal of the small business with employees being offered shares as the ideal of distributism.

    even then I would STILL be for government regulation and oversight. Why?

    First of all, because I’m a Catholic and I believe, as Pope Pius XI wrote, that the economy must be ordered and guided by an effective principle – an ethical principle, the common good. The economy exists to serve man and not the other way around. Government regulation of the economy is completely and wholly endorsed by CST and does not negate the principles of Distributism.

    Meanwhile economic liberalism – the idea that the economy should not be regulated, that each individual has unlimited economic freedom, that their cumulative efforts over time will generate the best economic result – has been unambiguously, clearly, condemned.

    Can you provide citations? While it’s clear that the Church demands that standards of ethical behaviour must be enforced, not only for individuals but businesses, it does not seem to dictate that people who earn their money ethically should not have the legal right to spend it as they see fit, while maintaining they have a moral obligation to serve the common good. I should think businesses belong in the same category.

    The key as always is finding a balance – between economic anarchy and command economies. The most powerful economies the world has ever seen have existed because of extensive private-public collaboration. This ‘free market’ doesn’t even exist, it never has existed. We know that because its most ardent defenders, whenever markets are blamed for any problem, immediately step forward and declare, ‘that’s not the free market’. Ok, so where is it? What does it do? Nowhere and nothing.

    And yet you decry the imbalance in this most powerful economy that ever existed despite the private-public collaboration.

    For me the choices are not ‘free market’ versus distributism, but rather economic oligarchy in a state-capitalist framework, or economic democracy in a distributist framework. The ‘free market’ isn’t an option, a totally deregulated economy isn’t an option and most of us do not proceed on the naive assumption that it is.

    I agree that our current system leans far more towards a state-capitalist oligarchy than free market (I think I’ve said this). But I see distributism as a free market system, and that does not mean total deregulation, but natural law based ethical regulation, less government interference.

    To be clear though, distributism does not call for, so that’s a separate topic altogether.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “No history of this ever happening.”

    And you know this because you’ve studied the history of the world?

    It happens in Europe all the time, and it is beginning to happen in the US – the government is taking an interest in promoting cooperatives. I’ve seen no evidence that anyone has even been forced to participate.

    “They already do and the result is generally not positive, it’s called the “Small Business Administration”.”

    I’m talking about cooperatives, which may or may not be small – usually medium sized firms, depending on how you measure.

    “It seems to me that the distributist ideal is not the cooperative, but any form where the owners are the workers. ”

    I would call practically any business where the workers are owners a cooperative of some kind.

    “The idea of everyone being their own boss is utopian, as not everyone has the wherewithal to run a business. ”

    Good thing I never proposed anything remotely resembling it. To say that this is what cooperatives are is the same as saying that democracy means everyone is the president. It’s absurd. In a sense workers should be ‘their own bosses’ in that they should have a say over the affairs of the company, but that doesn’t mean that every business decision has to be subject to a vote. The general idea is – people should have a say in what affects their lives. The particulars are for each firm to work out.

    You also underestimate the extent to which business management is a science. Yes I know, I’ll be jumped on for ‘simplifying things’ and degrading the important role of the ‘decider’, but really there is no reason why cooperatives can’t hire market research firms, technical specialists, and other services that actually inform the executive class today. In fact, that’s what they actually do, that is, the thousands and thousands of cooperatives that actually exist in the real world right now.

    “Can you provide citations?”

    Can I! There are dozens and dozens of them, but I’m not going to track them all down right now. You can try, I think, paragraph 88 of Quadragesimo Anno or something around there, though if you read the whole encyclical you see its repeated a dozen times.

    “And yet you decry the imbalance in this most powerful economy that ever existed despite the private-public collaboration.”

    Because that collaboration on its own is not sufficient to create a just economic order. Duh.

  • Foxfier says:

    e-
    I believe that gov’t will take a mile for every inch given, and fight for more.

    That would be why I reject gov’t force.

    It’s similar to why I do not want the gov’t involved in general welfare programs.

    A should: people should take care of each other.
    A should: folks who give their lives to a work should get something out of it.
    A should: basic manners.

    A should doesn’t mean the gov’t should enforce it.

    Incidentally, giving an advantage to some but not all businesses is gov’t support of X business, by removing costs. Similar to how Gov’t encourages marriage by removing tax burdens. (I know you didn’t mention it, just putting this out there.)

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Joe, I’m confused. A cooperative is an organization whose owners are not so much its workers as its customers. Are you really talking more about businesses that are widely owned by employees?

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Thanks, Joe. It was the vocabulary that confused me. I am familiar with many companies substantially owned by employees. None of them consider themselves cooperatives, though many would satisfy a wiki definition. In the US the term “cooperative” seems largely limited to customer cooperatives, concentrated largely in agriculture. Credit unions and mutual insurance companies are also customer co-ops, but don’t use the term.
    In any event, employee ownership is very common in the US, but somewhat risky since it can tend to concentrate a worker’s wealth in a single enterprise, something no sensible financial planner would recommend.

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