Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Between Capitalism and Distributivism

I've been glancing over some of what Codg has been putting up regarding distributism. I won't pretend that I perfectly understand it. At a glance, I frankly like it. A lot. I like the focus on the family - the traditional family, even - as the primary unit of society, the idea unit which is kept in mind when policy decisions are made. It's probably the most controversial part of it nowadays, among idiots. (I recall some recent dustup in the UK - apparently some idiot politician was all worked up over the idea of policies meant to encourage and protect families on the grounds that it privileged traditional families over "non-traditional".)

I also like the emphasis on - as near as I can tell - family-owned businesses. Particularly the idea, as I take it, that individuals should be self-employed or family-employed whenever possible, rather than in someone else's employ. It seems like a great ideal to promote culturally, even if someone disagrees with ideas about promoting distributivism through law. (I always, always prefer to avoid legislative solutions when possible.)

And that's what's drawing me to learn more about Distributivism (After Codg kept writing about it). It's not just that the ideal itself appeals. It's also that it seems modest and reasonable enough to be an idea that can be moved forward on in the here and now - the sort of 'reform' that can actually be accomplished. And best of all, a type of reform where a lot of its ends (though by no means all of them) can be managed without involving the government. Really, it seems one can promote Distributivism in part by simply encouraging economic self-reliance and self-employment, and aiming for a family business.

One snag would be that it seems like Distributivism would function best in a city or town or collective of people who had very similar ideas. To that I'd say, I'm surprised that the wikipedia entry on Distributivism doesn't mention the amish at all. I have a hunch that not only is the amish model very similar to what Distributivism proposes (though of course nowhere near identical), but it could actually serve as evidence that the model can work on a certain level. The amish are a lot of things, but 'financially destitute' isn't really one of them.


Drew said...

No one is stopping you from buying your own farm if you really want to.

Crude said...

Yeah. Also, you can get nachos at the 7-11, Drew. You don't have to pass a law to do it, just walk in and buy them.

IlĂ­on said...

I think Drew's point is that -- just with all other variants of socialism -- 'distributionism' would (probably) have to be imposed by force upon a society, and would certainly have to be maintained by force and compulsion.

Also, in the end, it wouldn't work, just as no other variant of socialism does or can.

'Free market capitalism' works by burning through physical resources (which includes 'work') to generate consumable wealth, and it works more efficiently by harnessing "human resources" to continuously find ways to burn fewer physical resources in generating any given amount of wealth.

Socialism, in all its variants, disposes with all that clap-trap and just burns through human beings to generate (an ever declining amount of) wealth.

Crude said...

I think Drew's point is that -- just with all other variants of socialism -- 'distributionism' would (probably) have to be imposed by force upon a society, and would certainly have to be maintained by force and compulsion.

See, I question this - or at least, I question whether the goals of distributivism are such that A) You could make no positive headway without force of government (I say right in the post that it seems like quite a lot of it couple be accomplished without resorting to legislative 'solutions') and B) there are no goals or ideals present in the distributivist model worth admiring or pursuing.

Here's another problem I have: your reply centers around wealth generation. Alright, I can appreciate that to a degree - let's even grant that a distributivist model would not maximally generate consumable wealth. But you cannot be telling me that the maximally efficient generation of wealth is the overriding concern in an economic system, at least for a Christian.

Surely there are conditions where the right thing to do is to bypass the wealth, even if you're going to argue that the bypassing should be performed by the individual willfully, rather than imposed by law.

As for Drew, 'You can buy a farm' is pretty freaking empty and really smacks of someone who didn't even read the post. I emphasized more than once that some key goals of 'distributivism' can be promoted in large part by ways which have little to nothing to do with legislating, and that fact is one reason I'm being drawn to the idea. I think some people forget that one of the benefits of capitalism is the (at least apparent) ability for someone living in the system to make their own choices about how they run their business - and that sometimes that can mean forgoing the profitable thing in favor of a principle.

Drew said...

I don't see anything in the Wikipedia article (or in yours) that explains any benefits of distributivism other than wealth creation -- except for your bald assertion that family-owned business is a good thing. I don't see what is so good about family-owned business. The Bible says that when a man gets married, he should (ideally) leave his father and mother and be with his wife. The idea of keeping the kid around his parents isn't altogether bad in all circumstances, but generally I think it's less than ideal.

Economically, distributivism is obviously non-ideal because if it were ideal, the market would do it naturally. There is a reason why you haven't bought any farms. That reason is called comparative advantage. Big farm make agricultural products more efficiently than you (or your family) can.

Crude said...

I don't see anything in the Wikipedia article (or in yours) that explains any benefits of distributivism other than wealth creation

If you really think that, then you have a reading comprehension problem. It's as simple as that. Well, no, there's an alternative.

Economically, distributivism is obviously non-ideal because if it were ideal, the market would do it naturally.

There is a market for child porn and abortions. As I said with Ilion, market considerations are not the sole concern for a Christian. Performing abortions can make great economic sense for a hospital - does that mean they should do it?

Also, people who say 'if there was a demand for it the market would have made it' are pretty deluded. This sort of crap was thrown at Steve Jobs more than once. "People don't buy phones for apps. There's no market for that." "Why is he launching a low-priced tablet? On iOS even? Tablets have been around for years, no one wants them. People want keyboards." The idea that sometimes a market is what an innovative (capitalist!) person creates, at least in part, utterly eludes them.

There is a reason why you haven't bought any farms.

One: you don't know anything about where or how I'm employed, so whether or not my employment follows a distributivist model to whatever degree is utterly unknown to you. As it stands, I'm self-employed.

Two: when you natter on about 'duh, buy a farm', you start to give the impression that you think distributivism is all about farming. Which in turn just highlights A) that you either didn't read the wikipedia entry with any care, since what it stresses is self-ownership of the tools used to make money with farm ownership versus working on a farm being used as one example of the model, nor my entry since I say dick about farming, or B) that you're being kind of a moron and just can't grok some pretty basic concepts.

No, Drew, distributivism isn't all about farming. I'm sure at some point someone used an example of a distributivist model of farm ownership to explain the concept to you, but it was just that: an example. Rather like how when you learned in kindergarten that 5 apples minus 3 apples leaves 2 apples, you learned a general mathematical concept. Not "Oh wow, I learned how to subtract apples! I wonder if they'll teach us how to subtract pears next."

Drew said...

One, your post says almost nothing about what distributism is. Two, if you reject the concept of comparative advantage in general, then it makes sense to grow your own farm products, build your own cars, and make your own iPods. The logical end of distributism is stagnation instead of trade. Three, although you compare capitalism to abortion, you haven't yet explained how failure to possess your own means of production -- or to have a family business -- is in any way immoral.

Crude said...

One, your post says almost nothing about what distributism is.

Yes, I did not go into distributivism in much depth - I merely mentioned that some of the ideas appealed to me, and then stressed that what appeals to me most is that I think the ideals could be pursued and achieved with zero government involvement. It was a pretty banal post.

Two, if you reject the concept of comparative advantage in general,

First, who says I reject it across the board? Second, no, it does not 'make sense' to do that because even under distributivism you're not dealing with a situation where every man or even family is 100% self-reliant.

Three, although you compare capitalism to abortion,

No, Drew. I pointed out that even a capitalist is not required to pursue each and every act that would boost his profit. Are you one of those freaking people who hears someone say 'Well, capitalism isn't a perfect system' and decide 'Well crap, he must be a communist then!'?

My point stands: no, just because it would make bottom-line economic sense for a hospital to perform abortions does not, for any serious Christian, mean that the hospital should perform abortions. If you think the refusal to perform an abortion even if it would be profitable is anti-capitalist, then holy hell, I'm an anti-capitalist.

Second, I did not claim that 'failure to possess your own means of production' is immoral. I spoke in terms of ideals to work towards, and reasonable cultural values to aim for. You, however, repeatedly demonstrated you thought distributivism is all about freaking farming.

And really, a lot of this is coming across as 'Drew heard distributivists are critical of capitalism. People who are critical of capitalism are dirty liberal hippies. Crude said he likes some of what he read about distributivism. That's all I need to hear to know this is communism and that I need to attack it.'

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Crude, ol' boy, once you get a taste for distributism, you also better get used to the Hatorade. I love to hear how "idealistic" distributism is, followed by admissions that neoclassical (and especially Austrian) economics, as an 'exact' science, is based on idealized theories and models. ALL ECONOMICS––ALL SCIENCE––IS IDEAL. At least distributism recognizes that the economists' pretense of doing "hard science" is basically methodological penis envy. Here's a riddle: if econ is an exact natural science, and if there are inviolable universal economic laws, what are the units of measurement? Time? Well, "time is money" (which is literally axiomatic to Austrian econ), so I guess econ measures units of money, call them "monits". But, then, money is only a means to swapping utility (pleasure). So utility is the fabric of the economic universe. How large or small is a "util", though? No one knows. Thus, not even the most basic element of this exact 'hard' science can be known, much less calculated. Utils only emerge from human interest (i.e. marginal utility), but that totally refutes the idea that economic laws and entities exist naturally and universally apart from 'soft' human biases. Distributism recognizes that econ is a *humane* science and traces econ's core back to its essence, the very word "economy" being "household management". I'll be posting more in the coming days and weeks. If by some means I can get an email from you, I'll send you a must-read book. Meanwhile, don't feel bad for liking a doctrine that explicitly tries to obey official Catholic teaching! ;)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

As for comparative advantage, sounds great, as long as we ignore reality. Landholding and self-sustainable practices are outlawed in most of the USA, so it's hardly a neutral market. It's amusing to see libertarians rail against government intervention, and howl with dread at how "distribution" would be accomplished, all the while seemingly oblivious to the endless miscegenation of lawmaking and economic benefits therefore. Those OWS hippies are just nuts. Yep, it's totally natural for so few to control the means of production for so many. Yep, that ther's a fair and free distribution without a drop of government meddling. (Yep, sher iz. Phew, I'm thirsty, time fer sum Starbux!) Maybe it's because my uncle, who was voted employee of the month twice in the last two years, recently got canned that puts me in a bad mood, but I'd really like to see how Wal Mart does one (hypothetical) year after the freeway transport taxes and zoning laws were tweaked back to being less in its favor.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

As for learning what distributism is–– if this is a genuine desire of Drew's, for example––there is my blog and above all http://distributistreview.com

Crude said...

What's getting me here is I'm not exactly a die-hard distributivist. I just like some of what I'm reading, and what I've liked thus far has largely been due to my liking the principles and social aims - utterly divorced from any question of legislation.

And nah, I don't feel bad. A little bewildered, and not even that.

I'll fire you an email soon. I'd just post it here, but I'm wondering if spambots still do their thing.

As for the 'means of production', that's one area which I'm curious about - if only because it seems like it's now easier than ever to get one's hands on some serious means of production on a certain scale, without any recourse to legislation. Of course, that's on a market by market basis.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Truth be told, I'm not a committed distributist myself. I'm still very much on a quest and find the edifice of neoclassical/Austrian liberalism impressive and compelling. There really is a paucity of distributist *economics*, which is something critics love to tease them about. John Medaille is doing great work remedy the balance the scales. At the end of the day, I think libertarianism and distributism have more in common than the debates commonly suggest. Small government alone puts them in the same general camp from the get go. There's a mountain of stuff to learn here and I just find the whole thing incredibly exciting.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I'm going to post comments from this thread here, since it's apt and you might not go back to that thread: http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2012/01/too-much-capitalism-means-too-few.html

I agree, and you've noted a crucial factor, namely, that capitalism never exists in purely theoretical Platonic void: it is inescapably shaped by and formative of its social milieu. That was a key point for Marx, for example, that it was disingenuous of capitalists to abhor public education, since, he argued, the bourgoisie's educational influence had been public all along. One factor I think you should take more seriously, is that capitalism actually is nothing more than its 'users' (i.e. capitalists). The rational perfection (i.e. its utility derivative) of capitalism requires perfectly rational users if it is to perform in accord with its own model of itself (so to speak). The typical defense is that defections in rational utility do no more to falsify the capitalist "model" than adultery explodes the institution of marriage. Two faults arise, however, first that the model can't be claimed to be an *empirical* model if in the same breath proponents admit "no one ever really does x y and z", and, second, adultery is not an admitted (but regrettable) feature of marriage in the actual world, whereas the horrid "mixed economy" of capitalistic scorn is, as just mentioned, an inescapable defect in the actual 'usage' of rational utility.

A similar attack cannot be made on Christianity, at least not a robustly sacramental theology. Christians defect from the faith all the time, and people assume this "falsifies" Christianity, though it does not, for it is the supernatural efficacy of the sacraments themselves, even apart from defective participation in them, which grounds the truth and existence of Christianity. This is not to say the Church's holiness exists in a theoretical Platonic void, for it is precisely as sacraments (i.e. as 'clumps' of actual material spacetime with a divine power) that the sacraments are salvific. Indeed, if Christianity lacked sacramental power, such as in Protestantism, it really would be falsified by Christians' sins, for on an anti-sacramental theology, there is no other channel but believers (or rather the instrument of faith within them) by which God saves the world. This is basically Manicheanism, though, and the Christian origin of Protestantism keeps it effectively sacramental (viz. God speaks directly and infallibly by means of the Bible). Further, the existence of saints shows that perfect sanctity is possible in this world. The same does not hold for "perfect rational utility" or a "perfectly free market" or "perfectly free exchange", since, again, the scourge of mixed economy is granted by all parties.

Crude said...

I agree with you about that hard science envy with some people on these subjects, by the way. I've encountered some people who have tried to argue that their humanities degree was actually in a science ('See, I'm an english major, but some of what I do involves gathering data and forming hypotheses, so really I'm a scienetist.') My response is always the tame: go look a physicist in the eye and tell him "I'm a scientist too". That's who you're trying to imitate here. Enjoy the condescending response, if he can stop laughing long enough to do it.

I expect that the saner economists will just say that there are some reliable-enough behaviors and forces at work in a market economy to draw some broad conclusions and to take into account. 'Establishing price roofs on this commodity will result in a thriving black market.' Also, we can bet the really fat guy who just walked into the restaurant will be getting the all-you-can-eat crab. It's some kind of knowledge, but is calling it science reasonable? I'm not convinced.

I agree, I think, with the point about capitalism being 'its users'. I just wrote up a long post about my thoughts regarding capitalism in particular and where I think the conversation breaks down with many capitalist Christians.

Crude said...

Gah, spelling errors. Time for bed.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Interestingly enough, I have seen Feser (in a review some years ago of Tom Woods' well-known book on these issues) bag on distributism, and he's generally not a big fan of Chesterton, as you should have noticed by now. He denies he is a libertarian any longer, so I'm extremely curious what his views are.