Will The Real Utopians Please Stand Up?
To follow up my last post on the Papal defense of Distributist ideas, I think it is also time we cleared up this notion of ‘what can work’ and what actually does work.
Distributism, if it is practically defined as a set of social or political initiatives that encourage greater ownership of property, and specifically, worker ownership of the means of production, does exist and does work.
Here are some regional facts to consider:
“In Canada, there are distinct trends in worker co-operatives in Québec and the rest of the country. From 1993 to 2003, there was 87% growth in Québec and 25% growth in the rest of Canada.”
The United States
” In 2004, there were 300 worker co-operatives and 11,500 ESOPs covering over 8.5 million participants and controlling about $500 billion in assets.”
“Spain is home to the world’s oldest and most famous worker co-operative, the Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa (MCC), established in 1956. In 2004, this group located in the Basque County, had sales of 10.4 Billion euros, 10.0 Billion euros of administered assets, with a workforce of 71,500.”
This website also has graphs for the UK and France.
One may be tempted to ask at this point: if Distributist principles are being more widely applied today, why are you so vocal about them?
Because the truth is that while the principles are spreading they still haven’t gone far enough to address the major global problems of our time: over a billion people living in absolute poverty and many more living in relative poverty; global diseases that threaten many more lives; ecological sustainability, etc.
Is there a magic cure to all of these problems? No. These problems will continue to challenge humanity for some time yet to come, regardless of how ownership is distributed and structured. The difference is that moving closer to economic democracy through Distributist principles, more people are empowered to directly affect their situation. There is less of an urgent need to beg for help from big business or big government, and more freedom for those most directly affected by problems to address them themselves.
What we may begin to see is more meaningful and reasonable public-private collaboration, which is a good thing when both parties respect each other’s boundaries. I look forward to a time when government leads instead of commands, and I think it will have a much harder time commanding communities of ownership than it will a society that resembles the Hobbesian state of war.
On the other hand, where is this ‘free market’ that supposedly ‘works’ and renders Distributism unnecessary? People continually point to countries as examples of the wonders of free markets that actually relied heavily on state direction of the economy for most of their development – Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. No one believes that America has a ‘free market’ either, and everyone knows that supposedly ‘socialist’ Europe, in spite of its economic problems, is still a better place to live than anywhere in the Third World.
The ‘free market’ stands in a mythical nether-realm, where it is held to be responsible for every good thing that happens in the economy and yet shielded from all responsibility for anything bad that happens. It is an untestable, unverifiable hypothesis. At best people can point to certain effects achieved by certain individual policies, but within a long-term historical context about the only thing laissez faire policies lead to are economic crashes and world-wide disasters.
The choices we really face are either more Distributism – which has different variants going by the names of ‘social economy’, ‘mutualism’, etc. – or more state-capitalism. Economic power can either be diffused and granted to more people, or it can be concentrated more greatly in the hands of big business and government.
This might be the last of my successive blog posts for a few days since I’m going to be busy until next week. Just throwing it out there so no one thinks I’ve vanished I’ll try to comment for the rest of today.