Distributism and the Masculine Heart

“Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.” – G.K. Chesterton

What do the great economic theories offer man? Capitalism makes much room for man’s potential but also is too often a great enabler of greed. The de-incentives of socialism leave us to wither in stagnation. Fascism’s greatest gift to man is tyranny. All have been tried and all have left man incomplete. No economic theory can fulfill man, surely, as we cannot live on bread alone, but can there at least be some philosophy of economy that truly reflects the many facets of the human heart?

I believe that there is – but its less of an economic theory and more of a life philosophy. That philosophy is the quixotically titled Distributism. The name is a misnomer for it suggests a socialist ideal. However, in contrast to the passivity resultant in the common man when all the burden of planning is placed upon the aloof ruling elite, Distributism seeks to release man’s inner dynamo. Distributism, in short, frees the masculine heart.

Distributism represents the masculinity illustrated by the economy of Man stemming from the roots of his family. Compare this to mainstream corporate America where the sterile individualism of the Wall Street stock broker is the image of capitalism. Capitalism alone deals with utility; things only matter as they aid as cogs in the great machinations of supply and demand. Unfortunately, when capitalism is divorced from morality, the mores of faith from the cold calculations of reason, mere utility applies to more than to just objects, for even Man in all his wonder is reduced to capital. The beautiful and the miraculous of the world and of all of God’s creatures great and small is reduced to profit: numbers on a ledger and crisp hard cash, sitting pitiless and sterile in its dark vault. Corporatism in terms of the common man may be generalized as the anonymous desk jockey repeating the shifts in a cubicle at a nameless corporation, working with bigger men’s capital, serving his masters. He gets his wages, yes, and certainly they will even be fair, but he does not own his work. The property of his work does not belong to him. It belongs to his boss, and should he be fired, or even should the company relocate his branch or have to let him go in a bout of lay-offs what is he left with? Maybe a severance check if he’s lucky but for all his hard work he has worked to build nothing for himself. Whatever he has exists outside his work – his job merely a means to survive and fund other interests.

Compare this credo of corporatism to Distributism: while growth and production, that is, making a profit, necessitates work it is through full autonomy, unshackled creativity, and ownership – the ability to claim your work as your own – that makes it fulfilling. But what if a man, even a common man, could own his own work? What if he could unleash the full force of his potential as he saw fit and call the end result fully his own? As we were created in God’s image we as men seek to create things in our own. However, this requires property. To be our own masters and live under God’s rule and not man’s requires we own our own means of production so that no matter our industry – whether it be crops or cattle, watchmaking or carpentry, medicine or law – we own our own fate and what we create does not fade away as we spend our paychecks but stays within our grasp to provide for our families and to be passed down as a legacy. This is far more masculine a thing than the property-less wage worker broken like a trained horse. Instead this is man owning his vocation as a father, husband, provider and protector. This is what we were made to do. Distributism attempts to actualize all facets of human nature in its economy instead of the solitary parameter of “profitability”. 

In the words of Thomas Storck, “economic activity is meant to serve the more important aspects of life, our spiritual, family, social, intellectual and philosophical lives.” The principles of economics serve as nothing more than the means towards individual livelihood and social justice. When capitalism succumbs to unjust practices and corporatism results, it becomes worthless. Greed is not manly, it is cowardly; cornering a market and forcing out competitors isn’t clever, its anti-social. Instead, we must marry economics to social justice, adhere to the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and promote a culture where men own their work and recognize that they are producers first and consumers second. The economy that encourages men to forge their own path, own their own means of production and be free in their creativity is the economy that fosters true masculinity, opening the door for self-centered boys to become compassionate men of self-sacrifice.

I leave you with this quote from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on capital and labor, Rerum Novarum:

Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them.

The Face of True Capitalism

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies . . . If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks]  . . .  will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered . . . The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” — Thomas Jefferson — The Debate Over The Recharter Of The Bank Bill, (1809)

Capitalism is the economic model of choice here in the United States and is considered antithetical to other models such as fascism or socialism. However, there is a lot of confusion regarding what constitutes “capitalism,” exactly. And does it even work? Most people think of economic models on a spectrum with socialism on one end and capitalism way on the other side. However, what people don’t usually consider is that maybe there’s more than one type of capitalism. The particular capitalist breed that dominates America is really corporate capitalism. Nothing is local anymore. If a product is tainted the subsequent recall is often nationwide, affecting hundreds of millions of people. This should come as no surprise when you realize that, for example, 5 massive corporations own 62% of the hog industry – and the same consolidation of capital is present across virtually every industry. Compare this to little over a half century ago when that same 62% would have been spread across thousands of local businesses. This trend has resulted in the consolidation of wealth and power to the point that 147 “super-entities,” mostly banks, control 40% of the world’s wealth. Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek argued that socialism and fascism were fundamentally the same in that both were grounded in central-planning – I would add corporatism to that list of centrally controlled systems. Central planning, whether by government or corporate decree, is diametrically opposed to Catholic social teaching as it treats man as mere capital to be controlled by a few ruling class elites thus denying such aspects of human nature like self-determination and, sadly at times, basic human dignity.

Corporatism is the end result of capitalism that allows for unjust practice. The capitalist alternative then is distributism which seeks to establish a “society of owners” and thereby decentralize wealth and power. This is not socialism which demands redistribution of wealth to everyone equally to create one solitary economic class (indeed, the term “distributism” is somewhat of a misnomer). Instead, according to distributist theorist Hillaire Belloc, the distributive state contains “an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production.” This distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property, namely, the things needed for man to survive including land, tools, etc. Thus, each man can be alloted what he needs to make his own livelihood. This is less of an economic system to be enforced like socialism or corporatism and more of an individual and cultural aspiration.

It would be both wrong and ineffective for the government to attempt to instill a distributist society as it might a fascist or corporate one because unlike fascism or corporatism it is not a systems-oriented economic theory but an individual-focused theory, deeply grounded in the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. Instead, the role of government should be to enable distributism through several different means. First, the government must remove the obstacles to a truly free market that it has created. This means no more bailouts, ending the treatment of corporations as people, and eliminating the bureaucracy which CEOs manipulate to regulate industry in such a way as to stifle emergent entrepreneurship. Secondly, our government must return to its original purpose of defending individual liberty in order to eliminate the unjust practices of “greed is good” corporatism. Our government must especially take a stand in defense of the individual’s right to property, including ending the property tax and prohibiting anti-production investments meant to stop competitors. These interventions will then grant a greater freedom of choice by individuals to control their own production in the form of wealth-producing property if they so choose – because ultimately distributism must be an individual choice and a cultural movement towards a different way of life. This isn’t just about economics, this is about affording a lifestyle that incorporates all aspects of human nature. Thomas Storck argued that “both socialism and capitalism are products of the European Enlightenment and are thus modernizing and anti-traditional forces. In contrast, distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life”. The capitalism of faceless corporation is failing, so let us turn instead to the true capitalism of the family: distributism.

The Distributist Review

Check out the Distributist Review today! This website is a great resource for information on distributist capitalism. This is “capitalism” without all that “greed is good” bull that is so troublesome for us Catholics. While in essence distributism is a capitalistic system it is in reality abundantly different than the “crony capitalism” or corporatism which plagues our country today. Instead of the capitalism of a sick republic which revolves around faceless corporations in bed with corrupted and overreaching government this is about a capitalism that enables the self-expression of each man’s unique talents and interests and allows each of us to exert our independence in a world where we depend on everyone for everything. More to follow on distributism, but until then check out the Distributist Review and enjoy.

The War on Drugs and Catholic Charity

The War on Drugs is a tricky issue. On the one hand, drug abuse is dangerous and wrong just as murder or assault is wrong and therefore it makes sense for our government to intervene. However, some people such as Congressman Ron Paul and the late economist Milton Friedman argue that the War on Drugs does far more damage than good and therefore must be repealed and drugs legalized. As a senior nursing student I am well aware of the adverse health effects of drug abuse and have witnessed their effects first-hand in some of my patients. However, I also believe that Ron Paul and Milton Friedman make a strong case in favor of legalization so I would like to present their argument and how, as I Catholic, I think this dire issue can be resolved.

First, its important to establish that the War on Drugs, like any government intervention, has unintended consequences. Since drug prohibition is likened to a war I would first like to compare it to Catholic just war doctrine to ensure that this really is a just war. The principle of proportionality states, “The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms.” Therefore, if the harm created is disproportionate to the sum of harm prevention and good brought about than the war is unjust. Sure enough Milton Friedman does argue that, indeed, the unintended consequences of the War on Drugs far outweigh any good that it may have done. I’m being somewhat facetious of course; just war doctrine doesn’t really apply to drug prohibition but my point is illustrated.

Friedman argues that drug prohibition is hardly any different than the prohibition of alcohol that was repealed in 1933. Alcohol was readily available during prohibition and bootlegging was common – just as illicit drugs are readily available today. Worse, however, prohibition of alcohol fueled organized crime leading to Al Capone and the mafia and an era of hijacking and gang wars – ultimately, prohibition was a bad deal that lead to more harm than good.

Criminalization of drugs has had the same effects today. Interdiction essentially drives people from mild drugs to strong drugs. The reason being that mild drugs like Marijuana are bulky, difficult to smuggle and easy to interdict. More potent drugs, however, are less bulky, easier to smuggle and thus more profitable (and, additionally, far more dangerous). Marijuana was made more expensive which creates an economic drive to make more potent marijuana and a drive to market more potent drugs like heroin or cocaine. In fact, Friedman argues, crack never would have existed except for drug prohibition which made cocaine more expensive thus necessitating a more potent version.

Friedman continues by offering his expertise in economics by predicting that legalization of drugs would result in half the number of prisons, half the number of prisoners, 10,000 fewer homicides annually, inner cities in which there’s a chance for poor people to live without fear for their lives, the assurance of quality of drugs (illicit drug use kills less than 1,000 people a year – compared to 40,000/year from alcohol – but with higher quality drugs that number may drop even lower), and no criminalization of otherwise respectable citizens. Also note that the 10,000 fewer homicides Friedman mentions is within US borders. Legalizing drugs in the states would bring drug cartels in Mexico to their knees, a huge blow to the Mexican drug wars, drastically reducing violence outside US borders as well. Also not mentioned, legalization of drugs would drastically reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

So, lets take a closer look at some of Friedman’s claims. Most arrests are of possession by casual users (often marijuana) – these people are imprisoned where they are exposed to inmates convicted of violent crimes and these people who were, prior to imprisonment, respectable citizens come out and are much more likely to become violent criminals themselves. According to Friedman, criminalization of drugs helps drug cartels by making the business excessively costly. Only massive drug cartels have the capital to run an effective business model. In turn this leads to drug wars between cartels – competing illicit businesses each fitted with essentially their own private armies. As with any war, there is collateral damage and it is in no way uncommon that the neighbor kid minding his own business down the street gets shot. Additionally, by keeping goods out and arresting local growers authorities keep costs high in the favor of the drug cartels – what more could a monopolist want?

The only possible negative feature to drug legalization that Friedman notes, is that there might be additional drug addicts. However, despite the prohibition, more than 40 percent of Americans over age 12 have tried marijuana and were subsequently willing to say so on a survey – so its hard to argue that the War on Drugs is even reducing drug use now. Additionally, Friedman points out, a drug addict is not an innocent victim – it is immoral, he argues, to inflict hefty costs on society – costs in lives in addition to capital – in order to protect people from their own choices. This is not an economic problem but a moral problem – the economics is only tertiary. Its about the harm that the government is doing by enabling drug cartels, causing an additional 10,000 homicides a year and making criminals out of otherwise respectable citizens. Fundamentally, the case for prohibiting drugs is exactly as strong as the case for legislating overeating – except that overeating causes more deaths per year than all drugs combined. Ron Paul had this to say on the War on Drugs:

On the issue of drugs, we have spent nearly five hundred billion dollars on the War on Drugs, since the 1970s. Total failure. Some day, we have to admit it. Today, we have the federal government going into states that have legal medical marijuana, arresting people–undermining state laws–arresting people who use marijuana when they’re dying with cancer and AIDS, and it’s done with, as a compassionate conservative. And it doesn’t work.

What it does, it removes the ability to states to do their things, and also introduces the idea that it’s the federal government that will get to decide whether we get to take vitamins, and alternative medical care, or whatever. Most of our history, believe it or not, had no drug laws. Prohibition has been an absolute failure for alcohol. Drug addiction is a medical problem. It’s not a problem of the law.

However, while legalizing drugs would save lives, reduce the cost of our justice system and law enforcement agency, and create an additional estimated 75 billion dollars in government revenue there is one issue that Milton Friedman does not address, although I think Ron Paul hints at it. As Catholics we have an obligation to promote the common good within our society which means that, while drug abusers are not innocent victims, we have a responsibility to reduce drug abuse and help those who abuse drugs. Drug abuse is a disease and can be debilitating and even deadly. So, how can we avoid the terrible consequences of the War on Drugs and actually help those suffering from addiction? Instead of inflicting draconian punishments on drug users we can save money and lives AND help people overcome addiction by instead offering these people community support and medical intervention (according to one report, jail sentences do nothing to help addicts while treatment is the most effect way to reduce drug use). The War on Drugs has proved to be a direct obstacle to people getting help and this needs to change. By removing harsh prison sentences and redirecting the additional revenue from drug legalization to rehabilitation and prevention of the disease of addiction we can promote the common good without having to sacrifice thousands of lives and billions of dollars to do so.

Daniel Wolfe, director of OSI’s International Harm Reduction Development Program stated that “the global war on drugs has devolved into a war on individual drug users and their communities. While the drug trade continues to thrive, families across the globe are being torn apart by HIV, draconian prison sentences, and wholesale police abuses.” The War on Drugs does not care about public health issues, its job is not to promote the common good. The job of the War on Drugs is to wage war on individuals, arbitrarily selecting them from other criminals. We as Catholics are not called, however, to wage war against our fellow man. We’re called to promote the common good for all our brothers and sisters in Christ to benefit and that means that, in the context of drug use and abuse, we help these people seek treatment, not accelerate their journey down the path of ruin and vice.