Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Brief FAQ

From the Distributist Yahoo Group

1. What is Distributism (or Distributivism)?

Distributism (or Distributivism) is an economic system in which private property (especially the 'means of production') is well distributed, so as many people as possible are actual owners. Its co-founders were the English writers Hilaire Belloc and Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

2. What is 'The Means of Production'?

According to Belloc, wealth (in the form of valued goods or services) are possible only by the combination of all three: a raw resource, labor and the 'means of production'. The 'means of production' are the capital, land and/or equipment necessary for labor to process a raw material into higher value goods. (e.g. Wheat is the raw material, a grind mill is the means of production.) One is the master of one's fate, but only if he owns his own means of production. In Capitalism, any man may - theoretically - own either resources or tools. Yet, only men of exceptional talent and/or opportunity ever have a chance at this. Most men will look for employment among increasingly fewer owners, selling the one commodity they do have: their labor. A Socialist state is identical to a Capitalist state, save in this: the government is the sole owner of capital.

3. Is Distributivism a 'liberal' or 'conservative' political philosophy?

The problem about the terms 'liberal' or 'conservative' is usually in reference to the person using the term. The common use in the American press is labeling people either as 'liberal', 'moderate' or 'conservative'. Liberals are usually Democrats, conservatives are usually Republicans. Moderates are people who haven't made a political committment. Distributists, by their nature, reject these labels.Why? Because we reject the materialistic mindset of those modern political movements these labels represent.

4. Does this mean that you are Communists?

No. A proper expansion of the term Distributism would be 'permanent distributive decentralism' (or 'permanent distributive subsidiarity'). Taking apart this term, distributists believe in the basic decentralist philosophy of having most organizational functions (whether business, goverment or labor) occur at a local level, with as small an organzation as possible. Distributive in that the ownership is held by the worker or workers creating or selling a product. Permanent in that institutions such as guilds and governments are there to insure that imbalance occurs where people would centralize that would damage the society as a whole. Instead of the state, workers would own their businesses via the family or worker-owned farm or shop.

5. So you are Capitalists then?

If you mean that we support the idea of everybody owning the capital of their own business, the answer is yes. But if you mean do we support unfetted ownership of capital, the answer is no. Capitalism - as it understood today - means a system in which people try to maximize the return of their investments, and treating all capital as investments. We reject this concept that all capital is the same. We think capital that you own in your own business must be treated far differently than capital you own or loan to another.

6. What is this 'guild' thing you talk about? It sounds like something from the Middle Ages.

The last time Western society had something like the guilds was before the Protestant Reformation. The guilds were a combination of today's unions, professional associations, chamber of commerce and vocational school. In America today, there are very strong unions (NEA) and professional associations (AMA), but they are a ghost of what the old guilds did. First, guilds were primarily local, rather than national organizations with local chapters. The guild would make sure that there were enough skilled members of a trade to exist in the area. If not enough members existed to meet demand, membership would be expanded to an apprentice of the guild to be a full member. The apprentice would pay back the investment made in his training by either a lump payment (which might have been already made), or by garnishment of wages for a predetermined period of time.

7. But why should we have Guilds?

Many of our problems in the modern world stem from the way we create professionals and tradesmen. In looking at both medical and legal expenses in today's America, one is struck by how much of these costs are from very large college bills, combined with a lack of control over the amount of admitted professionals and where they can practice. For example in law, there is a gross oversupply of lawyers, yet they still have to pay back absurd college loans and fees. So lawyers are tempted to go "ambulance chasing", or else engage in frivilous lawsuits, expecting insurance companies will settle out of court. If the ABA was a guild, it would actually run the law schools or create apprenticeship programs, so that the supply of lawyers did not exceed demand. Since they'd be responsible for collecting tuition, it would be reasonable.

8. But wouldn't we go from having a surplus in some fields to having a shortage?

First, since many professionals wouldn't be allowed to practice in markets with extreme oversupply, we would have them move to areas where their services were needed. But any guild system would have oversight to prevent its members from restricting supply in order to boost prices. That could involve either regulation from town councils, or perhaps an elected position of Guild Sheriff.

9. So, would unions cease to exist in a Distributist society?

When the big corporations are dismantled, most unions will have long since been transformed into guilds, as would the professional associations.

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