Distributism: Novel Economic System


I have never written much about Distributism because, to quote Gertrude Stein, there is no there, there.  Chesterton and Belloc I think used Distributism primarily as a springboard to attack the capitalism they both loathed.  The details were kept vague because it was obvious that, unless humanity were suddenly to become exempt from sin, the implementation of such a system, if it could be implemented at all, would require a very powerful state indeed, something that Chesterton and Belloc both loathed just as much as they loathed capitalism.  Thus Distributism was something to be trotted out in their writings periodically, but neither Chesterton or Belloc made any attempts to seriously implement it in the real world, and of course one would not expect a pair of writers to do so.  That would be done, if at all, by those inspired by the concept.  However, although the concept evokes a lot of sturm und drang on Catholic blogs, attempts to implement it in reality have been precious few and far between.  It is therefore only appropriate that a science fiction novelist, John C. Wright, has examined a concept that I think will always remain firmly ensconced in the fictional realm:



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. Continue Reading



(Content advisory to the above video.  A few of the Rules of Acquisition are off-color.  You know what the Ferengi are like.)

We have been having a debate recently on The American Catholic between Austrians and Distributists.  As a devotee of free enterprise with as little government intervention as possible, I have found some wisdom in the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition as set forth in one of my favorite fictional realms:  Star Trek.  Many of the Rules of Acquisition of course are merely for entertainment purposes and would lead to immoral results, if not bankruptcy or prison, if attempted in reality.  However,  after a quarter century of running my own business, I believe these rules are insightful:

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Is the Means of Production an Obsolete Idea?

The “means of production” (which may be defined, roughly, as consisting of capital goods minus human and financial capital), is a central concept in Marxism, as well as in other ideologies such as Distributism. The problems of capitalism, according to both Marxists and Distributists, arise from the fact that ownership of the means of production is concentrated in the hands of the few. Marxists propose to remedy these problems by having the means of production be collectively owned. Distributists want to retain private ownership, but to break the means of production up (where practicable) into smaller parts so that everyone will have a piece (if you wanted to describe the difference between the Marxist and Distributist solutions here, it would be that Distributists want everyone to own part of the means of production, whereas Marxists want everyone to be part owner of all of it).

Where a society’s economy is based primarily on agriculture or manufacture, thinking in terms of the means of production makes some sense. In an agricultural economy wealth is based primarily on ownership of land, and in a manufacturing economy ownership of things like factories and machinery plays an analogous role. In a modern service-based economy, by contrast, wealth is based largely on human capital (the possession of knowledge and skills). As Pope John Paul II notes in Centesimus Annus, “[i]n our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources.”

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Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

I am going to provide everyone with a nice blast from the past- everyone I know respects Pope John Paul II- most orthodox Catholics refer to him as John Paul the Great. So I think what he thought officially as Pope on the question of Capital/Labor/State as part of the tradition deriving from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum- is incredibly interesting and relevant. Here is Chapter One of Centesimus Annus with no personal commentary- let the “man” speak without any interference from me:

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