Distributism in the Populist Moment

Life is full of pleasant things, regularly coming at times when they are least expected. Today just so happened to be one of those days. As I went out to check the mail, I noticed that my edition of The Week magazine had arrived. And there, on the cover, was a splendid picture of people rioting around the idol (i.e. the statue of the bull) in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The people with their fists in the air, shouting at the symbol of swinishness, pulling it down from its pedestal in a way reminiscent of the famous topple of Saddam’s statue, and the words “Populist Uprising” gracing the bottom of the page. The image beautifully captured the sentiment, and the words accurately reflected the image. It was spectacular in the truest sense of the word

Unfortunately, as with many articles of this nature, my joy was quickly and significantly diminished. The story was on page 18 in the Talking Points section and it only consumed the larger part of the upper-half of the page. That aside, the article was concerning to the $500,000 salary cap Obama has issued for all bank CEOs to receive per-annum. While I should have paid more attention to the cover of the magazine (which has the words “the new, $500,000 limit on CEO salaries” as the tag line), I figured that the story would deal with… well, the overall uprising of populism.

It was the earlier portion of January, 2008, when I began speaking more about populism, and in particular what I saw as the rise of populism in America. The populism I predicted was relatively moderate. I insisted that it would be a hodgepodge of ideas derived from what is typically referred to as the “right” and the “left.” People would be generally conservative on abortion, homosexual marriage, and a host of other “culture war” issues. On the other hand, people would still support public schooling. Very few would want to rid the system of Medicaid. Unemployment and welfare benefits would remain. They’d stand by the notion of Social Security. If trends continue to go in the direction they appear to be going, people maybe even endorse some form of universal health care. Furthermore, I believed that we would see an outcry against Wall Street, CEO salaries, and mega-monsters like Wal-Mart.

I still stand by my predictions, and I believe most of the indicators are pointing in that direction. Sadly, I don’t see this rising tide lasting too long before it breaches.

People are angry, this much is sure. But they either don’t really know why they are angry or they are taking it out on the wrong things. A casual conversation with Johnny Q. Public will get you an earful of emotionally charged tirades concerning the salaries of CEOs, how Scooter’s Hardware is going out of business because they can’t compete with Wal-Mart, and how the average Joe just can’t make the kind of living he used to with a hard day’s work. In all likelihood, you’ll even hear them talk about the hucksters and swindlers in Washington and Wall Street.

None of this is necessarily problematic. What is problematic is how this tirade is followed up with the same old song and dance that got us here in the first place. The very same person will go to the grave defending state capitalism, quoting “the ole Gipper” by saying “Government is the problem.” This person may be on their way in (or even out!) of Wal-Mart, while Scooter’s is just one mile up the road. He’ll stand by the wage-slave concept, decrying a Living, Family, Just Wage or vocational organizations as socialism. And he’ll probably tell you (depending on how the next few years go) that all we need to do is get more “conservative” Republicans like Sarah Palin in office to begin “taking care of business.”

If you haven’t been formally introduced to this person, or the mass of individuals he happens to represent, you haven’t been in the US very long. Or maybe you just haven’t been paying attention. At any rate, intellectual schizophrenia is the way of the day, and apathy runs thick through Main Street.

This isn’t to deny the ray of light peaking through the clouds. Not at all! It is simply admitting that, as of yet, it is little more than a sunbeam piercing through the clouds of convention tomfoolery. It’s a mere acknowledgment that the masses aren’t as angry with the socio-political apparatus as they are with who may be in control at the time. It’s a blame game, with all their bets being on top-down measures to make all the difference.

Yet even here it is not entirely doom and gloom. This underlying sentiment is real, it is emotional, and it is angry. What is required is good old distributist education. While a large portion of the populace may be experiencing frustration with the status quo, they need to realize that the answer is not found in merely tweaking the status quo, or even crossing their fingers in hope that those on Capitol Hill who just so happened to micromanage the status quo will make all the difference.

Distributists, then, are living in a time of great opportunity. People are dissatisfied, and they are willing to listen to “new” ideas. Better yet, most do not realizing that those “new” ideas are far from being “new.” Capitalists have had their chance. Socialists have had their chance. Now it is time for distributists to have their day in the sunbeam.

How long this uprising lasts is unknown. But it would be foolish not to take advantage of a brilliant opportunity to direct this populist moment towards a more humane political economy.


Unknown Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 11:18:00 AM CST  

Exactly, spot on. People must learn to first identify the problem. Unfortunately the pundits are at it again, and partisan allegiance trumps any serious discussion of the issues.

It is the parlor trick of today's status quo to confuse and monopolize the conversation. In order to prevent future Colombine attacks, we ban trenchcoats. Abortion is reasoned as a matter of choice instead of life. Because the poor want something better and take a mortgage they shouldn't have, we blame them instead of looking at the bigger picture.

It's modernity's sleight of hand.

Luckily, Distributism is rising and exposing the magicians.

Danby Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 1:48:00 PM CST  

The pain hasn't really started yet. Right now people are just fearful. When even the people who have good jobs a struggling because they're supporting friends and family who are out of work, when there is no hope of government handouts because the government can't even pay it's light bill, when TS really hits the fan, then is the time that people will be ready to accept that the two competing ideologies they have been presented with are BOTH lies.

Right now we need to be getting our message in order, maybe developing a few good slogans, rather than trying to build a popular uprising.

By all means, spread the word. Just don't expect a ready reception quite yet.

Roy F. Moore Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 5:55:00 PM CST  

And to back up what Danby just said about "not expecting a ready reception", here's how bad the potential receivers are viewing Distributism.

Some think it will lead to Fascism -- even though we're already living with it since FDR's New Deal.

Here is the link to the discussion board talking about this falsehood:


Anonymous,  Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 9:44:00 AM CST  

To Roy, thank you for the website. I went and encountered the same arguments I find when I raise distributism among, say, my old school chums. "It's socialism!" or "It's fascism!"

The best argument against either one is practical means to achieve broader ownership without seizing private property--and this is possible, isn't it? I have seen it discussed in terms of say tax incentives that make it more profitable to sell off concentrations or monopolies, and rather gradually, like, over several generations. Is there a place one could see a collection of just such solutions? And what about coops? Could the development of the new oil reserves be done by an energy coop that we all have shares in? Real alienable shares? This blog doesn't have that 'notify me of followups' feature, so could you answer me at my blog?

Anonymous,  Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 12:48:00 PM CST  

Distrbutism is not sufficient. It is, and ought to be, first and foremost an economic system. In order to be implemented in part or in whole (I tend to think "in part" is the way to go) it must first be fit into a larger socio/political puzzel. Integralism anyone?

Danby Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 2:38:00 PM CST  

The way to overcome the "fascism" trope is to start provding concrete legislative proposals. It's very easy to call some abstract "ism" as equivalent to fascism. It's much harder to do that with a specific and targeted slate of bills. Can anyone tell me the differences between Friedmanism and Fascism? Not unless you know a lot about both Friedmanism and Fascism. But looking at a slate of bills, i can judge them on their merits, rather then on their adherence to a political/economic philosophy.

As an example, let's consider a bill that would make the tax breaks given by states and local governments to big box stores taxable. In other words, when the state give Wal-Mart a $3 million break on sales tax for building materials, the money not collected by the state government would count as imputed income to Wal-Mart.

You could argue for or against this measure on many bases, but no-one could call it Fascism.

So how do we go about formulating a national legislative agenda?

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