Reflections on my first year as a small firm

April 15th 2015 was something of a landmark for me, since i started operations of my own firm on January 15th 2014, and if taxes were going to be the death of that firm, this past Wednesday would be their last chance to prevent me from calling 2014 a victorious year. i’m very pleased to have successfully made every mortgage payment out of the proceeds of a small enterprise, rather than a wage, for a Continue reading

The exploiters

59429374

What does it mean for a firm to have a positive profit? People think of it as some sort of evidence of exploitation for a firm to take $10.00 worth of parts and pay a person $10.00 to assemble them, into a device that a consumer will buy for $40.00 (and boast about his purchase). But of course there is no injustice in this, as long as the person who gathered those parts and sold them for $10.00 voluntarily chose to make that trade, the employee who assembled voluntarily chose to apply for and not quit that job, and the consumer willingly handed over the $40.00 in exchange for the device he wanted more than the money. AND if no alternatives were destroyed, then not a single one of the people in this transaction is worse off than he otherwise would have been.

i anticipate the objection: “Why can’t the consumer get the device for $20.00? Or why can’t the laborer be paid $30.00? Isn’t the rest of the firm just an exploiter, collecting a rent while offering no contribution?” Continue reading

The Moral vs. the Practical

“Bite off a little piece.”

There’s a question in the background of modern policy disputes that was perhaps not present in Chesterton’s time, and the fact that what was, for the early Distributists, a fixed and even undisputed matter, is now a divisive doctrine (though not one people bring up) confuses our reading of the earlier works.

To put it shortly, Chesterton never expected that a morally evil act or a directly unjust policy would fail to harm. And, what is equally critical, he NEVER considered revising his tests of moral good and evil or his standards of justice and injustice because some confiscation or intrusion yielded (apparently) good practical results. This of course is directly contrary to the notion of “Social Justice,” which holds that the use of police power is justified by the importance of the social aims, not by some moral standard as such. The crusader for Social Justice does not seek out the evildoer who impoverished the poor man by his unjust actions, he simply identifies a class from whom he can confiscate funds for his noble purpose. The people at whom the law is aimed cannot defend themselves even by proving their own innocence; it is not a matter of restoring what has been stolen, or else there would be some sort of test of responsibility, an examination of actions. Instead, there is only an examination of finances; the man who actually robs the poor with imminent domain is in no way separated from the man who helps them with job offers. The man who is in poverty because he sold everything for drugs is to be treated no differently than the man who has been literally deprived of his livelihood by a licensing board, or thrown out of his home or shop by some agency. The first step toward “Social Justice” is the abandonment of Justice as a test of where police power may be used. And this very step is the one Chesterton never took.

Chesterton did indeed advocate land reform, a direct, legal confiscation of property from the rich and its distribution among the poor. “There, it’s settled. Welfare is consistent with Distributism.” Well, no, it isn’t. In the forgotten system where the weapons of Justice are just that, where the police and the courts, the machinery of confiscation, imprisonment, and coercion, are recognized as weighty and terrible powers, it is clear that to retask these weapons to some purpose other than Justice is a horrible abuse. The Law can only work two things: Justice, or Injustice. No matter how benign or even noble may be some aim, if it is not itself a matter of moral Justice, to use a tool like force to achieve it is a grave evil. To confiscate back what has been stolen may be just; to confiscate what was justly produced can only be to steal.

The reason Chesterton, who believed in Justice, sounds so similar on topics like land reform to modern reformers, who believe instead in “Social Justice” and thus dismiss the above paragraph out of hand, is simply that direct instances of theft of land and deliberate impoverishment of the public by policy were a blatantly visible reality in his time. The enormous travesties of the Enclosures were before his eyes in the way that TARP and Quantitative Easing are before ours (or should be). For the “good of the whole”, the legislatures and authorities of our countries have acted to grant truly shocking privileges of wealth to a select few at the expense of the many. Now, many historians would question the causal relationship between Manchester poverty and the Enclosures (and the Corn Laws, and the Bank of England, etc.) and put the cause down as some other demographic factor. Chesterton never did. In his mind, the Moral evil produced the public misfortune, but it was the Moral fault that gave license to use confiscation. If the same conditions had been produced by blight or earthquake, this would have produced no cause for Land Reform in the coercive sense. This of course is the opposite test applied by the modern reformer, who merely seizes at random, taking from one “class” to help another. Nevermind that the classes involved necessarily include many non-thieves and many non-victims. The goal is not to restore what has been wrongly done, but to build, from scratch and by force, an outcome that is preferable in the mind of the reformer. And so, the reformer says the exact same words that Chesterton said, about taking land from these people and giving it to those people. The reformer forms the same sounds, but he thinks opposite thoughts, for he says of all property what Chesterton said about stolen property. Chesterton said that the lands that the police had seized and handed over to the families then governing England, should be seized right back and given back to those from whose hands they were taken, or their heirs. Because property is so sacred and inviolable, it was a matter of Justice, of law, a matter well warranting swords and firearms to accomplish, to restore the stolen goods to the rightful owners. In contrast, the reformer thinks that property is so trivial, so artificial, such a petty little impediment to the perfection of the race (or whatever his goal is) that any resistance to his seizing and redistributing it any way he likes is a recalcitrant barbarism. And so these two men, who are enemies on the matter of property as Heaven is the enemy of Hell, end up, because of this modern confusion, saying together “We support land reform” when what they mean couldn’t be more different.

Distributism part 2

I missed a thing or two in my last post about Distributism, in order to conclude on a hard hit. I’ll sum the whole issue up in a few words, even though in my experience that’s the least effective way to make yourself clear; I have no idea why, since most of the time I wish long explanations were so condensed. To each his own, I suppose. Here’s the few words: The efficiency advantages of the giant corporations, and thus, their “natural” place in the market, is a false generalization. The reason for this is that the actual production methods that benefit from scale are relatively few, compared to those which only benefit from scale through regulatory and tax advantages. As a consequence, many, many huge organizations are really wasteful superstructure attached to a relatively small core of productive activity.

We are familiar to the comparisons between Distributist production and Capitalist production; the dozens of workshops versus the singular factory, the kitchen of every home versus the commercial kitchen, the five hundred farms of three acres each versus the single farm of fifteen hundred. But what if these aren’t the things we should be comparing? When we compare workshops and factories, we are not, almost by definition, comparing complete enterprises. We are comparing the productive cores of two enterprises, which is a very different thing when you consider the resources which are consumed in the other activities of the firm that owns that factory. Narrowing one’s focus to look exclusively at one of GM’s factories is to look exclusively at the most efficient part of the operation, and to disregard major forms of inefficiency, even those inherent even to the factory itself. Continue reading

The formula for unhappiness

Let us address the problem of the real misery of vast numbers of men in the modern world. I’m talking about the prevalence of despair among citizens of modern societies, particularly male, but both wealthy and poor, successful, religious, nihilist, blue-collar, white-collar, healthy, unhealthy, really of all stripes. Unhappiness is a net drawing in all kinds, remarkably, all kinds who are secure against the miseries that attended the lives of their grandfathers. Why do suicide and alcoholism prevail to such a great extent in lands where starvation and exposure are all but eradicated? How is it that men have been saved from destruction, and ushered into a paradise of luxury and ease (relative to the hardships taken for granted a few generations ago) only to be cut down instead by an epidemic of self-destruction? How is it that every misfortune that afflicted our forefathers may be avoided, and a thousand satisfactions unavailable to them may be put before us, yet it is our generation’s lives that must be escaped in hard drink or shotgun blasts?

One idea would be that ease and luxury are unmanageable for men; that hardship is our natural environment, and we are lost without it, like salmon trying to fight their way upstream but finding no resisting current. This is to some extent true, in the sense that the satisfaction of contention is unique and essential to our life, but it is not unique to the struggles of our grandfathers, nor to the kind of hardships that are forced upon us by outside circumstance. Rather, in an individual life, we often see that escaping from a struggle with starvation actually opens the way for greater and more satisfying struggles, as of creative work or some personal, well-chosen mission. Depriving men of insecurity in their food supply or their shelter has not taken away from them the satisfaction of contending against obstacles, instead, it has set before them a choice of obstacles, whose overthrow will grant generally still greater satisfaction than the bare subsistence obtained through more basic labors in the face of a harsher world. By putting the struggles of Earth under men’s feet, we only place in their hands the struggles of the stars, if struggle is the desire of their hearts. Continue reading

Distributism: The impossible utopia of the reasonable.

Management

Chesterton used to say that funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. His point was that the truth is funny, and that its hilarity is no excuse for ignoring its seriousness. Above is the reality of corporate operations. And public-sector operations as well. I could spend a million words trying to explain it, brilliant satirists could (and do) tackle it, economists could take their blinders off and start analyzing the incentives within firms rather than treating firms as singular, profit-driven units, but in the end, the damn picture tells the story, and you already know it’s true if you’ve worked under this system. You probably know it even more acutely if you feel a pang of guilt, recognizing your place in the outer ring. Continue reading