What is Free Market Distributism?

Distributism is an economic strategy founded on Catholic social teaching and the writings of GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. It is virtually abandoned. It holds the dignity of the individual to be the chief aim of any social effort, and embraces a Dickensian concern for the poor. It seeks to substitute for the massive collectives of modern Capitalism and the inequitable distribution of wealth in Socialism a large number of separate, independent economic units, each controlling its own private property. No I mean a really large number, like one per family. There is nothing incompatible in this vision with the ideals of Free Markets, though people seem to think there is, to the extent that Left Distributists often say that it cannot be achieved without confiscation…which is to say that it cannot be achieved at all: Property received through state redistribution is held implicitly at the whim of the state. But it is possible, by reshaping patterns of consumption and saving, and at the same time tearing down state-enforced barriers, to establish, one by one, the small, resilient, flexible family firms that can produce greater security than can either the wage market or any of the Socialist schemes. They can also, by substituting market coordination among separate actors for the top-down command and control of internal corporate operations, produce greater long-term economic growth and productivity, which would of course also be equivalent to an increase in real wages in a system of universal (separate) proprietorship. If you think that’s impossible because of economies of scale, I’ve got some blogs for you to read…

Libertarianism is a political philosophy founded on powerful thought in the time of the American and French revolutions, and carried forward by a series of idealists such as Frederic Bastiat. It is  also virtually abandoned except for its remarkable prominence among economists, and its powerful, if often nameless, connection between the hearts of the American public and the heart of Thomas Jefferson, the spiritual father of all Americans. Foreigners marvel at the public resistance to free-lunch welfare programs (admittedly today taking on something of the character of an underground resistance) in this country, for the same reason that all nations marvel at the carefree spirit of India. India has never known the yoke of Calvin or of Confucius; it will be a thousand generations before such a cultural gap is entirely erased, before the world agrees as to whether the universe is laughing or weeping. Likewise, the sons of Jefferson will never be of one mind with the lands where Bastiat’s voice became that of a clique, and not of a nation. We will cease to stubbornly reject dependence when we cease to be American at all.

It is my position that the first dream, of universal security and ownership in the means of production combined with market efficiencies improving millions of processes that now stagnate under the command and control of the managerial revolution, is prevented by the state interferences that raise the costs of creating new firms far more than the actual resources, expertise, and work naturally involved, combined with cultural prejudice in favor of the wage market as the natural mode of economic life. I believe that by administering our law according to the advice of Bastiat and Jefferson, and conducting our private affairs according to the principles of Chesterton and Belloc, we may achieve such economic success that the influence of Marx and Keynes may at last be extinguished, as the world recognizes that wealth and stability come not from any innovations of confiscation or manipulation, but from hard work, restrained consumption, and planning for the future. As Henry Hazlitt said in The Conquest of Poverty, “Hence “society” cannot solve the problem of poverty until the overwhelming majority of families have already solved (and in fact slightly more than solved) the problem of their own poverty.” The family, not the corporation nor the state is the primary unit of humanity. It is the success of the family upon which the success of humanity rests; you can no more build a victorious humanity out of broken families than you can build a victorious humanity out of broken individuals, and in fact, the attempt to do one is inevitably an attempt to do the other. The efforts to use larger institutions to serve the purposes originally served by the family have been a laughable failure, especially given the extraordinary power of those institutions…yet the laughter is not without bitterness. There is real tragedy in the fate of those who are in the hands of the state, and if I were a Steinbeck I’d turn every heart to rage against the monster that has deprived humanity of so many of the natural gifts of God. There is real blackness in my heart when I talk about the school shootings…how far would Adam Lanza or Eric Harris get, trying to take those children from their fathers? How unnatural is the vulnerability of the citizen of a modern state, who has surrendered to the government his right of defense, and surrendered to perpetual landlordship his security against the elements, and surrendered to the wage market (and its innumerable weapons) his economic power of production? Every dog, pig, sheep, cow, etc, is equipped within its family both with the full powers of harvest necessary to sustain its existence merely on the casual bounty of nature, and with such horns or teeth of defense that we know it to be unwise to approach a bear’s cubs or a ram’s or boar’s or bull’s offspring. Only Man, it seems, has been so fool as to construct for himself institutions which actually reduce his security below that provided by the bare tools of his birthright. Only Man enters into an agreement with other men, that they all may be mutually crippled and made helpless against those dangers and needs which his powers of ingenuity and hard work made subject to him, if only he himself were subject to no one.


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