Distributism Fails For The Same Reason That Socialism Does

Cucking is a state of mind. When we live in a Leftist time, where most of what we hear from others repeats the dogma of our era at us in innovative new ways, most people just want to get along with the rest of the group, which creates a massive market for ideas that seem to be “different.”

Invariably these ideas break away from the mold on the surface but are structurally identical to the dominant paradigm. They appear to be new or different, but boil down to the same options we have known for ages, or worse, produce the conditions of those same options without it being apparent that this would happen.

The stress of being outsiders to the mainstream drives us in a perpetual search for a compromise position in the hopes that then we can be “normies” and still keep some vestiges of our beliefs. That was what drove Conservatism, Inc. toward neoconservatism back in the 1960s, and even further back, made it accept the welfare state.

As people look for alternatives to both capitalism and socialism, distributism appears in more conversations. It seems like it has the advantages of socialism, without being socialism. Is this true? As Varg Vikernes would say, “Let’s find out!”

Distributism grew out of a Catholic doctrine that it is better for the wealthy to independently support the less wealthy than it is for the state to intervene. A philosophy advanced by Trad-Caths Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, distributism combines formalized charity with union-style worker ownership:

Put simply, the principle of subsidiarity rests on the assumption that the rights of small communities—e.g., families or neighborhoods—should not be violated by the intervention of larger communities—e.g., the state or centralized bureaucracies.

…Unlike the socialists, the distributists were not advocating the redistribution of “wealth” per se, though they believed that this would be one of the results of distributism. Instead, and the difference is crucial, they were advocating the redistribution of the means of production to as many people as possible. Belloc and the distributists drew the vital connection between the freedom of labor and its relationship with the other factors of production—i.e., land, capital, and the entrepreneurial spirit. The more that labor is divorced from the other factors of production the more it is enslaved to the will of powers beyond its control. In an ideal world every man would own the land on which, and the tools with which, he worked. In an ideal world he would control his own destiny by having control over the means to his livelihood. For Belloc, this was the most important economic freedom, the freedom beside which all other economic freedoms are relatively trivial. If a man has this freedom he will not so easily succumb to encroachments upon his other freedoms.

…In practical terms, the following would all be distributist solutions to current problems: policies that establish a favorable climate for the establishment and subsequent thriving of small businesses; policies that discourage mergers, takeovers and monopolies; policies that allow for the break-up of monopolies or larger companies into smaller businesses; policies that encourage producers’ cooperatives; policies that privatize nationalized industries; policies that bring real political power closer to the family by decentralizing power from central government to local government, from big government to small government.

Distributism sets up a few contradictory goals for itself: freedom, decentralization, and yet, redistribution of the means of production much as socialists advocated. Like other hybrid systems, it is searching for holy grail that will satisfy both Left and Right.

Chesterton made it clear that he had objections to both decentralized and laissez faire economic systems, which he saw as impediments to traditional life:

Chesterton’s “distributist” project tried to chart a middle course (but not “Third Way”!) between laissez faire capitalism on the one side and state socialism on the other. The problem with the former, as Chesterton wrote in The Outline of Sanity 10 years after the Russian Revolution, was that “The practical tendency of all trade and business today is towards big commercial combinations, often more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth.” While of the alternative, Chesterton said, “the point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets.”

…For Chesterton, ownership is a self-evident good, which therefore shouldn’t be abolished but widely distributed. Similarly, profit is a good thing, in fact too good a thing not to be shared. Accordingly, what Chesterton took issue with in the then-current defense of capitalism was that it was a “defense of keeping most men in wage dependence; that is, keeping most men without capital.” This conviction compelled Chesterton to lambast big business (which backfired when big chain of news stands refused to sell G.K.’s weekly); to monitor and oppose mergers; to advocate independent proprietorship; and to pronounce on every possible occasion that “small is beautiful”.

…Take a rural example: I have a friend who has made a significant amount of money, with which he has purchased a farm. But instead of working the land for him, the worker keeping the pigs will run the business with my friend, will co-farm, and will then share the profits.

With that excellent example, we see the ideal of distributism: everyone owns a business of some kind or another and receives the profits from it. This modifies the socialist ideal of workers as shareholders in a collective business by splitting that business up and making them, essentially, sole owners of a business that is then partially owned by the larger business.

In a factory, Joe the worker would own a business of making electrical harnesses and take home half of the profits of those harnesses when installed in a car made on that line (assuming that we can factor in a profit to a part of a larger object). On a farm, Jane would own a pig-keeping business, and share the profits with the owner.

While this sounds like a nice theory, we must apply the test that every conservative uses when a “new” idea crops up: if this idea is so great, why did it not turn out this way? Was the idea unknown, given that we have centuries of workers as shareholders? Or was there a reason it was rejected?

Let us look at Jane. Jane receives land on which she can raise her pigs, and presumably a source of food for them in the vegetable waste produced by the farm. She benefits from the structures on that land. What percentage, then, should she receive of the profit, given that the farm owner could hire someone to keep the pigs and take full profits?

The brutal answer from the markets: she takes as much as a worker would take, possibly a little more, but not a whole heck of a lot more, because her competition — unless distributism is every bit as much enforced at the point of a gun as Communism — is what it would take to hire another worker.

Where distributism shines, in my view, is that it is not a union. Unions are collective reward schemes: the worst worker gets rewarded alongside the best worker simply for being part of the union, and the union is not responsive to the market but to an audience of workers, none of whom are competent at starting or running businesses.

On the other hand, for distributism to work, it will require us to divide up property by some kind of force, and then use force to ensure that shares are higher than wages, which then penalizes those who own farms in a method similar to the wealth transfer and collectivization we know from the Left.

This returns us to the Leftist goal of social engineering, or changing the rules by which we survive from those of nature to those that fit what humans want to believe, and throws us into the spiral of enforcing against reality and against our people so that we can pursue a Utopian goal of progress.

In other words, distributism may be a hybrid, but it is more Leftist than Right.

Capitalism receives a good deal of negative critique. The same power that crushed the Soviet Union also made a wasteland of fast food, strip clubs, mediocre high-priced products, corporate jobs of infinite tedium, environmental crises, commuting for hours to avoid living in a ghetto, and a negative effect on our souls where we become not just materialistic, in the sense of seeing the world as if material objects were all that mattered, but also bourgeois, or Nietzschean last men oblivious to everything but their own material comfort, convenience, wealth, social status, and power. We have become tyrants in a world that reduces everything to jobs, buying, selling, and usury.

But was that capitalism? Can we claim that it is capitalism that opens borders and pays welfare to people who then go purchase lowest common denominator products? It makes no sense, either, to blame capitalism for the maze of rules, entitlements, and legal threats that turn corporations from merely self-interested into selfish, or self-interested to the exclusion of all other values. Nor could we credibly blame capitalism for the effects of diversity, anti-discrimination law, wealth redistribution, and wars for democracy.

If capitalism has an epithet, it will be “last man standing,” because every other economic system has wrecked things more. Outright socialism turns people into zombies; even mild Euro-socialism, which is essentially a market driven welfare state, seems to take the heart out of people, make them into meek soyboys, and then so wreck their spirits that they no longer reproduce at replacement rates. Capitalism at least focuses on possibilities and a can-do attitude, where socialism turns daily life into an obsession over other people: do they have enough, are they all happy, even if they are mostly illogical and often self-destructive.

The Left hates capitalism because it is a form of sorting. If nature has a fundamental process, it is sorting, or the recognition that we cannot in advance plan for every possibility of interaction between a planned design and reality. Imagine designing cars: to sit at a table and consider every situation that the car will be in over its lifespan requires processing power and time that does not exist. Mathematically, that dog will not hunt, and in information science terms, it creates the possibility of lock up or permanent loop. Nature came up with an alternative, which is to make many variations on an idea and see which of them hits all of the functions it needs to; this list of functions, taken in parallel, defines the next iteration of the idea. This system always works, and capitalism implements by testing after the event by looking to what survives and thrives; socialism and every other economic system tests before based on predictions, which cannot plan for every possibility and therefore become increasingly unrealistic as they iterate.

Sorting leads to hierarchy, just like standards. If your society is designed around the high jump, the highest jumper is your king and the runners up are your aristocrats, generals, business leaders, reverends, and police. If you remove those standards, then everyone gets to be king for a day whenever they say or do something that delights the crowd, and you get celebrities out of those who delight the crowd the most.

Mob rule however enforces a downward motion in quality. It rewards those who specialize in the trivial. Over time, the people who thrive become the thoughtless, vapid, and insincere, and then society takes on those traits. Without natural selection and a strong morality, human societies self-destruct, time after time.

Distributism does not address this issue. No matter how it is initially intended to be implemented, it will end up with a centralized authority for managing the economy much like socialism; over time, this will behave like a union, subsidizing the weak along with the rest. Over time, those weaker people will predominate because life for them is easier and more certain than for those who are more ambitious.

If we had to describe distributism historically, we would say that it was feudalism for everyone, except that instead of paying rent to his lord, the serf shares profits with the lord. At least, until the lord realizes he can hire someone for a fifth of what he is profit-sharing with the serf, which would cause distributism to revert to capitalism very quickly.

It is beyond doubt that G.K. Chesteron and Hillaire Belloc were very intelligent men. They have each done very great things. Distributism is not one of them.

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