The Liturgical Nature of Distributism

When discussing distributism with a friend of mine, it led to a rather interesting discussion concerning liturgy. He was curious as to whether I saw a connection between liturgy and political science. The answer, at least for me, was quite simple. Yes! Liturgy is at the heart of it all, and for a number of reasons. 

As a safeguard of tradition, liturgy preserves those elements of life deemed to be of permanent value. These elements, while increasing in number over time, serve to expand our understanding of both the scope and breadth of its majesty and wisdom. It forms within the minds of men the concept of mystery, of awe, and of wonder. Liturgy teaches the faithful the value of nature, of the arts, and of the senses. Furthermore, it develops within us a sense of place and of purpose. There is hierarchy, their is the individualism of private meditations, and there is the communal dynamic of postures, common prayers, and the Eucharist. Most importantly, it is Christocentric. It places the Trinitarian God and his Church at the center of our individual, family, and social lives. 

This list, while far from exhaustive, is all well and good, but it hasn't explained why you contend that liturgy is at the heart of distributism. 

Distributism not only embraces each of these characteristics connected with liturgy, it is formed by them. It is formed by those things, both old and new, which are of permanent value. As Penty would say:

"Distributists work for a return to the past. But they do not wish to revive every in the past, for bad things as well as good things existed in the past.; nor yet to they reject everything that is new; they see to revive the things which are eternal in the past, the things of permanent value."

This philosophy, unlike the myriad of others, embraces the mysteries of life, the awe of the liturgical nature of days and seasons, as well as the wonder that accompanies the realization that he has placed man here for the purpose of dominion and reconciling all things in King Christ. Distributism embraces nature and its limitations as both inevitable and good. It wishes to preserve the beauty of the arts and crafts, imploring men and women to utilize their gifts and talents for the common good of both those present and those yet to come. The senses are relished amongst distributists, emphasizing on traditional architecture, dance, and song. Distributism places society in an organic context, finding that golden mean between atomism and collectivism. Each person has a gift and talent, and they were strategically placed by God in various communities to better both themselves and their neighbor. It gives men a sense of social placement, to honor both those under them and over them, and to treat their neighbors with charity, striving to ensure that their families and communities have a political economy that benefits both the individual and the common good. Lastly, distributism places King Christ and his Church at the center of social life. This is something that used to be reflected in the parish system and the construction of houses and businesses around the local church. While this may be diminished, or to have disappeared from our visual landscape, it remains vibrant in the hearts and minds of the distributist.

Repeating what I said in the beginning, liturgy is at the heart of distributism. Its incarnationalism results in a view of life that sees mankind as it really is and the destiny of mankind how it ought to be. This is not Utopian. This is accepting mystery, embracing limitations, making use of our God-given gifts and talents, and striving to bring all things under the dominion of King Christ. 

This is liturgical. This is distributism. And while helping Catholics and liturgical Protestants to see this correlation between our worship and our views of the political economy wouldn't fully resolve the difficulties that accompany attempting to persuade one of the wisdom, prudence, and justice of distributism, it would certainly set the ball in motion towards a place where people may be willing to abandon their inconsistencies for a more harmonious understanding of who we are, what we are destined to do, and the best means by which social reconstruction under King Christ may be accomplished.


Labor strategy

Unfortunately for autoworkers, steelworkers and the rest of the country that works for a living, Doug Fraser did not linger long on his promise to return to the labor strategies and tactics of the 1930s.

The UAW turned instead to full-blown, dog-eat-dog, company unionism and conceded over a million of its members' jobs. And they are not done yet.

BUT, getting back to the sitdowns of the 30s, it's still a great idea:

"In July of 1978, Douglas Fraser, President of the United Auto Workers, resigned from John Dunlop's Labor-Management Group in a flurry of publicity. The committee had been set up under the Nixon administration to seek out cooperative solutions to labor-management problems and to pass advice along to the White House.

"Although the group was supposed to reflect the postwar consensus in labor-management relations, Fraser's public resignation and the press conference that accompanied it shredded the fiction of that consensus with brilliant rhetorical barbs that sent shudders of concern all the way to the Carter White House.

"I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country—a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society," he declared. "The leaders of industry, commerce and finance in the United States have broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a past period of growth and progress." Promising to forge a new social movement, he explained, "I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold. We in the UAW intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat-down in the factories in the 1930's and who marched in Selma in the 1960's," Fraser declared."
- Jefferson Cowie


The Big Empty Box (Store)

Stacey Mitchell of The Institute for Local Self-Reliance reports that empty big-box stores are about to join the foreclosed homestead as a defining feature of the American economic landscape:

Within a few months, more than one-eighth of the country's retail space will be sitting vacant, according to some estimates. That's about 1.4 billion square feet, or 50 square miles, of empty store space, ringed by roughly 150 square miles of useless parking lot.

It will be tempting to blame the weak economy for all of this wreckage. But the recession has merely been the trigger. This avalanche of vacant retail, much like the mortgage crisis, has been a long time in the making.

Since the early 1990s, the pace of retail development has far outstripped growth in spending. Between 1990 and 2005, the amount of store space in the United States doubled, ballooning from 19 to 38 square feet per person. Meanwhile, real consumer spending rose just 14 percent.

Stacey Mitchell is the author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses. which we reviewed here.


Passing the word

We live in the country near a town of 13,000, Menomonie, Wisconsin which is served by a bi-weekly newspaper called the Dunn County News. There are some fairly fierce political arguments in Menomonie and the DCN is good enough to cover most of them, at least in their courageous Letters feature.

I sent John's latest blog to them and sort of negotiated the length of what became the following letter to the editor. Unfortunately they had to edit the section on a viable auto industry but this is a farming community, or used to be.

I include the headline note from editor Barb Lyon because I think it is pretty cool. Jake's was my favorite family-owned steakhouse which went under three months ago - a few years after the entry of the usual suspects, McDonalds's
Applebees, Wendy's, Green Mill, Pizza Hut, etc.

She was also good enough to provide the link to The Distributist Review:

"Tom--I won't have room to run the entire letter, but here's how I've edited it:
Head: Solidarity trumps trend of Robin Hood in reverse

"I thank the Dunn County News for once again providing the community forum for discussion of difficult issues.
There may be no more critical issue today than the debate on our failing economy, an American crisis of epic proportions, and one that promises to leave us with even more radical changes in the way America conducts its business.
It now looks like the most radical change of all might be to certify the “bigness” of Big Business, to make it even bigger and more irresponsible, while continuing the obliteration of small, family-owned businesses, family farms, entrepreneurship and living wages.
It bothers me that John Lynch went under under, while the politicos welcomed and assisted national franchises to come in here and compete with Jake’s. What are they thinking of? Why doesn’t Jake’s get the Big Government support?
It bothered me that Joe the Plumber’s whining about the JUST distribution of wealth got national promotion. And it pains me greatly that a lot of people have apparently forgotten why we loved Robin Hood and have, instead, warmed to Robin Hood-ism in reverse.
It would be good if people would trust their senses. It would be a good thing if we can all return to common sense and agree, for starters, that the sole moral purpose of business is service to the community at a fair profit.
The antitidote for all the global baloney — the massive and crooked banks, the criminal trade deals, and the epidemic of selfishness that has sickened our country and promises to destroy more than Jake’s — starts with family solidarity. The core goodness of America and our communities is in what most of us learn in our families and what we liked about Robin Hood.
Our country was not supposed to be based on philosophy of dog-eat-dog. America is supposed to be about friendship and solidarity. We could see that at Jake’s, at Larry’s Barber Shop, and at all the coffee shops.
But most of us are not so able to put our common sense into words so well as Catholic Justice writer and economis, John Medaille, the leading advocate n the United States for a virtuous, community-based economy. Here’s a brief sample from an article entitled “Too Big to Succeed.”

“Citibank, the nation’s largest bank, has received a $20 billion bailout, along with government guarantees for $300 billion of shaky assets; in addition to giving the bank an enormous amount of money, the public assumes all of the risks of being a banker, while Citibank gets to keep all the profits. That is to say, the profits are privatized, but the risks are socialized, combining the worst features of capitalism and socialism in a toxic combination.
“Citibank is no ordinary bank. Together with JP Morgan/Chase, it owns the controlling interest in the New York Federal Reserve Bank, which in turn owns 53 percent of the Federal Reserve System. This makes the entire banking system sensitive to the needs of two New York banks. The president of the New York Fed has a permanent position on the board of the Federal Reserve. And who is that outgoing New York Fed president? It is none other than the new Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner.”
Medaille points out that most regional banks did not engage in the risky behaviors demonstrated by the New York banks. “They made sensible loans. But Citi had no reason to be sensible; with their size and influence, they knew that they could not be allowed to fail. ... Yet, their actions weakened the whole economy, which is weakening the books of even the most cautious banks; with the economy failing, even formerly reliable borrowers cannot repay their loans.”
Medaille points out, “The solution is not to bail out failure. Rather, it is to ensure that no entity every again can be large enough to hold hostage the public purse. Don't bail it; that just reinforces a power structure that can no longer succeed. Rather buy it up and sell it piecemeal to the regional banks. ... The toxic loans can be sold for whatever the market will bear; the healthy parts will make the remaining banks stronger, but none of them will be strong enough to dominate the banking business. Buy it up and break it up.”
To read the entire article, go to

I’d be happy to pop for coffee or beer with anyone interested in discussing John’s thoughts — and yours.
Tom Laney


Gaza-Israel Crisis in Context

Gaza currently has 1.5 million people running out of food, fuel, and water suitable for drinking. The region has been set ablaze with Israeli attacks, leaving hospitals unable treat the myriad of people in desperate need of care. As a recent editorial in The Nation pointed out, 75 percent Gaza is without electricity and their sewage systems are bordering ruin. Furthermore, the loss of a dozen Israeli deaths and just over a dozen injured, Gaza has been lost over 600, a quarter of them being civilian. To say that this is a mere crisis would be as grave an injustice as the conflict itself.

All of this has created a dividing line in the mainstream media punditocracy. Neo-conservatives, the Israel Lobby, Christian Zionists, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Peace Now have engaged in some of the most vitriolic debate many have had the misfortune of seeing in a long while. 

The worst has been directed towards those seeking a just peace, questioning the actions of Israel and proposing actions, ranging from conventional to the extreme, in hope of bringing this age-old crisis. Neoconservative writer Andrew Sullivan has compared The Nation’s Eric Alterman to the authors of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He writes, “Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young has accused me of blaming Hitler’s victims for Palestinian misery.” Statements just as striking can be found (predictably) in publications such as Commentary and The Weekly Standard.

All of this couldn’t come at a worse time. America is in shambles, and our credibility in the Middle East has been squandered on account of eight years of belligerent foreign policy, unjust wars, wrongful imprisonment, torture, and the perception that the US works only in the best interest of Israel. Attempting to play a vital role as the “middle man” will be take an extraordinary amount of finesse, not to mention the need to send a strong and clear message to the world that we wish only for justice and peace in the region. 

This is easier said than done. The US has a long history of failure in the area of Middle East diplomacy, and this is particularly true in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More often than not, it is that the US and the international community lacks the resolve to implement and enforce agreements, while giving a wink and a pass to breaches of the agreements.

How, then, are we to overcome these obstacles? 

We must first begin with a change in perception. An example of such change would be US citizens overcoming the notion that Israel has for years been sacrificing land for peace. While it is true that land has been transferred, these plots are by no means sacrificial. The regions are settlements, having gone beyond it’s pre-1967 borders. In short, they are returning land that they confiscated and settled upon, forcing an outrageous number of Palestinians from their homes.

Doing this will force the US and the international community to hold both sides accountable for their former agreements. All sides endorsed UN Resolutions 424 and 338, the Oslo Accords of 1993, Bush’s “Road Map for Peace” in 2003, as well as those agreed upon at Annapolis. The only thing at play here is forcing both sides to be implement what was already agreed upon.

Secondly, the US must consistently apply their calls for democracy with the results of the democratic process of elections. The crusade for global democracy has resounded from Washington for some time, but leaders have been very selective when recognizing those democratically elected. If the goal is to have “the people” vote, and “the people” vote for a group that the US doesn’t particularly like (i.e. Hamas), the US must, if wishing to be consistent in their crusade for global democracy, recognize the decision of the people. To do otherwise is to be horribly inconsistent, fueling the Arab world’s impression that it isn’t so much democracy that we want, but rather to put leaders in power that have US interests and secular values at the forefront of their mind. 

It would do us well recognize the fact that without a resolve which favors a two-state solution and a complete (or almost complete) withdraw from illegal settlements, there will be further tension in other areas of the Middle East. Iran, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah have much to gain from a failed peace process. Recruitment will increase, policies will be justified, and alliances will be solidified.

The US must identify and condemn various actions committed by both sides. The difficulty in doing so rests, at least in part, with the fact that we are dealing with two radically different groups. 

Israel is a nation with a capitol, huge military and economic subsidies from the US, as well as a military force that rules the region like a colony, punishing a people collectively. As UN human rights representative of the territories has recently been quoted as saying, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is a “crime against humanity.” Women, children, and the elderly have been victims of attacks from Israeli air strikes. Palestinians are required to carry color-coded IDs and travel permits. Civilians have had their homes demolished. One must also include the barricades, checkpoints, and settler-only roads. 

On the other hand, the Palestinians left with little more than guerrilla warriors and the unconventional tactics often accompanying them. As Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said to Alya Rea of CounterPunch, “Unfortunately the insistence on violent repression by or assailants leads to innocent blood on the streets. Since 1996, 12 years ago, we have proposed to exclude civilian targets from the conflict on both sides. Israel did not respond to that. When Israel insists on killing our kids, our elders and senior citizens and women, and bombarding houses with the gunships, F-16s and Apaches, when Israel continues these attacks, what is left for the Palestinians to do? They are defending themselves with whatever they have.”

None of this is to say that targeting civilians is ethically permissible. All that is meant here is to put the situation into context. One country with a capitol, subsidized military and economy, the ownership of nuclear weaponry and a state of the art military over against a colonized people with little more than Qassam missiles, outdated artillery, and individuals willing to be human bombs in order to settle a score. 

President Obama has a tough road ahead, both on the home-front and internationally. But he must have the courage and wisdom to confront this age-old controversy in a way and with a resolve that former presidents have not. Unless he begins seeing the bigger picture, with all its complexities (i.e. religious, ethnic, economic, and militaristic), he will follow the same path as those who went before him. A path covered as much with the inhumane and unjust as much as it is with the blood and tears of the innocent.


Buy it Up--Break it Up--Fund it Right!

The new president has hit the ground running and I wish him well. But I have my doubts. He is not at all like the stumble-bum he replaces, of course. Rather, he is a thoughtful and intelligent man. And on economic matters, “The audacity of hope” is backed up by an economic team of truly impressive credentials. Indeed, this may be the most highly qualified group of people ever to serve in government.

And that's the problem. All of them are super-competent to be sure, but they are competent in the very techniques that caused the problem in the first place. They will attempt to solve the problem at the level of thinking that created it. Their plan is for a massive stimulus, and it is easy to see why. They believe it will work for the simple reason that it has worked. Indeed, since at least the 30's, and certainly since the 40's, the economy has been dependent on massive government expenditures—a permanent stimulus economy. And in general, this approach worked for a long time; the economy was more or less stable and prosperous, and the periodic shocks were mild and short-lived by pre-war standards. Given that record, they may well be excused for believing that the Keynesian magic will work yet again.

But in truth, it will not work because, for some time now, it has not worked. No one since World War II has practiced fiscal stimulus as much as did George Bush. Think on this: In only eight years, Bush took all that debt accumulated from Andrew Jackson (the last time our debts were paid) through Bill Clinton, and doubled it. He added more than $5 trillion to the debt. Under such a tremendous stimulus package the economy should be booming; there should be labor shortages and resource scarcity and real—rather then merely monetary—inflation. But the economy is not booming, but bombing, and instead of inflation we have deflation, which is far more damaging. Instead of a real expansion, we got a mere credit bubble in housing. People thought they were richer because their homes cost them more, a strange kind of wealth.

In opposition to Obama's plan, the Republicans want more of the same. But the Republican stimulus plan differs only in the details. Stimulus by “tax cut” is still stimulus. And it really isn't cutting taxes because it doesn't really cut spending. It is not tax-cutting, but tax-shifting, from the current generation to the next; it is charging our children for benefits we receive. This is not only uneconomic, it is immoral at the deepest level.

The bubble did not make people richer (save for a few insiders), it just meant they were maxed out. Maxed on their mortgage payments, their credit cards, their car loans, their student loans. Their wages did not keep pace; in fact, the median wage declined and the economy was sustained by oceans of debt. The stimulus plans have introduced structural abnormalities into the economy such that it will no longer respond to stimulus. Reliance on the government as consumer of last resort has resulted in a structure that favored global production over national income, the FIRE economy (“finance, insurance, and real estate”) over the real economy (real production of goods), low wages over fair ones, and gargantuan size over human scale. It is this last point that is particularly troubling, since this gargantuan institutions have proclaimed themselves to be “too big to fail,” and exercise economic blackmail over the whole republic.

The problem with this claim is that it is correct. But the proper response is not to give into the blackmail, not to negotiate with crooks, but to make sure that the blackmailers are never in a position to control the whole economy, to demand trillions in ransom whenever they get themselves (and us) into trouble. Now, it would be mere carping by distributists to point out the problems if we could not offer solutions. But we do have solutions, and it is time to offer them, time to end the era of big business that depends on big government, on subsidies from the general public to private profits. I have nothing against profits—when they are earned; I have everything against profits that are the result of subsidies and privileges. The distributist solution to all of these problems can be summed-up in a few words: Buy it up! Break it up! Fund it right!

Too Big to Succeed

Citibank, the nation's largest bank, has received a $20 billion bailout, along with government guarantees for $300 billion of shaky assets; in addition to giving the bank an enormous amount of money, the public assumes all of the risks of being a banker, while Citibank gets to keep all the profits. That is to say, the profits are privatized but the risks are socialized, combining the worst features of capitalism and socialism in a toxic combination. Citibank is no ordinary bank. Together with JP Morgan/Chase, it owns the controlling interest in the New York Federal Reserve Bank, which in turn owns 53% of the Federal Reserve System. This makes the entire banking system sensitive to the needs of two New York banks. The President of the New York Fed has a permanent position on the board of the Federal Reserve. And who is that outgoing New York Fed President? It is none other than the new Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner.

But the banking system is more than New York and more than the Fed. Most of the regional banks did not engage in the risky behaviors of the New York banks. They made sensible loans. But Citi had no reason to be sensible; with their size and influence, they knew that they could not be allowed to fail. No matter what happens, they must be protected from the consequences of their own actions. Yet, their actions weakened the whole economy, which is weakening the books of even the most cautious banks; with the economy failing, even formerly reliable borrowers cannot repay their loans. The solution is not to bail out failure. Rather it is to ensure that no entity every again can be large enough to hold hostage the public purse. Don't bail it; that just reinforces a power structure that can no longer succeed. Rather buy it up and sell it piecemeal to the regional banks. The market capitalization of Citi was only $19B as of yesterday, or less than they received in the bailout. The toxic loans can be sold for whatever the market will bear; the healthy parts will make the remaining banks stronger, but none of them will be strong enough to dominate the banking business. Buy it up and break it up.

Of course, they may not want to be bought, and if they can find private investors to draw them out of this hole, that's fine too. But I doubt if they can find buyers without the government providing guarantees. In other words, everybody has found out what the distributists always knew: they are too big to succeed without the help of big government. They believe they can blackmail the public, but the truth is just the opposite: they are dependent on us and we may do as we wish.

The same plan holds true for other enterprises that need bailouts, such as the Big Three automakers. The obvious problem with these companies is that they are too big and there are only three of them. Japan, a much smaller nation, supports nine auto companies. The market price of GM was only $2.1B yesterday. If the public is taking their debts, then let us take possession as well. Buy them up, and then re-sell them to the workers in exchange for some of the long-term commitments. Break them up into the various sectors: engine companies, transmission companies, body works, etc. They could be converted over time into worker-owned companies.

Then, anybody who wanted to enter the automobile business could do so with a comparatively small investment; instead of manufacturing the whole car, they could purchase all the parts and assemble them according to their own designs and perceived market needs. Indeed, the auto companies have already laid the ground work for this by outsourcing so many of their parts and selling off so many of their plants. At some point, the central office losses any real power and its remaining functions can be duplicated by any number of start-ups for a relatively modest investment. At that point there is no reason we couldn't have nine automakers, or 19. Choices would go up, prices would go down, and local manufacturing would increase.

Fund it Right

In our industrial system, government is the consumer/employer of last resort. Government spending is $5 trillion of a $14 trillion economy, or more than one-third. Much of this spending constitutes a huge system of subsidies to large businesses, subsidies that are so in-grained that we no longer see them as such. For example, The “freeway” system is a huge subsidy to shippers and privileges global and national production over local and regional manufacturing. Indeed, without these subsidies, it would be difficult for global producers to compete with locally-made products, even with absurdly low-wages. But the transportation systems are the least in need of subsidies. It is easy to allocate these costs to the users through weight-based tolls. The “weight-based” portion is important because the greatest damage to the roadbeds comes from heavy trucks. With costs allocated to the cost-causers, subsidies disappear, and the dynamics of production change.

The most immediate result of tolls would not be a success, but a failure, namely the failure of the “big-box” retailers such as Wal-Mart. The distribution model of these companies depends on the current system of subsides and would not survive without them (see

This huge system of subsidies also imposes high transaction costs on the economy. Even hiring a nanny requires a vast amount of paperwork and the payment of employment taxes. These transaction costs work against small businesses and in favor of giant ones. The transaction costs make it more difficult for start-ups to get started, but they are a mere nuisance to big corporations. The form an entry barrier which protect big businesses from competition. The greater part of the burden of taxation falls on labor and capital, when it should fall on the rentier (see

But Will it Happen​?

Clearly the Obama administration is not thinking along these lines, and are unlikely to adopt any of the solutions of distributism. Does this mean that the discussion is merely theoretical with no chance of implementation? Not at all. The current system has reached its limits, and the attempts to save it will only make it worse. Distributism, in one form or another, is the wave of the future. The only question is how long and by what means will we get there. Distributists need to organize now, and to join whenever possible with similar and allied movements like Mutualism, Georgism, coop movements, and the like.

The current system has no future, and attempts to “stimulate” it will only result in an economic monster even more unstable than what we have. The “bail-outs” will only subsidize failure, and cannot long endure. There will undoubtedly be a time of great turmoil, with all sorts of solutions proposed. In such times, nearly anything can happen, including many unpleasant things. But we need to be in a position to show the nation the way forward, the only way that will work.


Auto Corps

(Note: Santino Scalici works on the line at the Kansas City Ford Assembly Plant. He continues to stand up in his factory against the UAW/Ford Dog Eat Dog program. I am proud to call him my friend.)

The auto companies are enemies with an incontestable history of working against the Common Good for over 100 years. At the turn of the last century, Henry Ford established himself fuhrer in an automotive empire employing the very same tactics of the National Socialists in 1930's Fascist Germany. He ordered the beatings and murders of organizers of industrial democracy. He worked fervently for the re-institution of slavery officially declared illegal only fifty years before. He created a world image based in his likeness, where deviation of any sort was punishable in a most exacting form. With the assistance of his own private/public police force, he (along with other like-minded industrialists) turned Detroit, Michigan and in fact, the world, to a Kingdom of Fear.

All this came to a head in the middle 1930's when the collective and organized voice of men and women "standing on their hind legs," some for the first time, formed unions for the purpose of formally and legally instituting democracy in an industry in the grips of an Evil Emperor.

It would benefit us a great deal to recall the origin of this foul and antagonistic labor/management relationship. We would be well served to assess the responsibility accurately and reasonably- ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE CAPTAINS OF INDUSTRY. They are Ruiners of All Things Good and Decent. These rabid animals, in conjunction with Money-Grubbing Freaks of Nature on Wall Street, have singularly destroyed an industry upon which many of our nation's citizens rely for employment and transportation, by scrambling for the quick dollar, forsaking the long-term viability of the industry and the overall health of the nation's social and economic security, measured by how the least among us are faring.

Speaking for a moment only of the production workers- A Very Fortunate Lot indeed! We signed up at these companies to do hard, monotonous work for a period of thirty years, to be remunerated in a manner commensurate with our value, to provide a relatively comfortable life for ourselves and our families with a little withheld for a measure of security in our old age. From the start, one would be suprised to learn that such a life was not guaranteed. Playing by the rules would earn you a sure reward, we reason. From the moment you pass through the razor wire gates to your first factory job to your final day- the company takes from you. It takes your youth. It takes time from your family, never to be returned. It takes your vigor and vitality through long and repetitive hours performing compartmentalized, menial tasks, wreaking havoc on both body, mind and spirit. It chips away at your health benefits, turning wellness from a "right" to a "privilege," retractable at any time the market deems necessary to remain "competitive." Wages which allow you to live above mere sustenance are beginning their downward spiral. Industrial "Engineers" roam the aisles with their soft hands and softer heads to look for inefficiencies (like catching your breath or having a drink of water on a hot day) in your production process that might be shored up to meet some new and arbitrarily prescribed standard every year. It is called "rebalance" at Ford's Motor Company- a misnomer really, as it implies there was balance before, which is nonsense. A simple stroll down any aisle of an auto factory would no doubt prove that autoworkers are unnaturally busy people, stretching human capacity to near breaking point. The hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, back, knee, feet, hip surgeries are also a pretty fair indication of the absurdity of our workloads, saying nothing of the mental abuse of working under such conditions, and the various means we employ to cope, ranging from therapy, drugs and alcohol, to even more destructive displays of hatred and anger.

Yet we try to be good people and decent fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, citizens and friends in spite of the depraved ferocity which consumes us most of our waking lives within the four steel and concrete walls of the factory. Peace is the sweetness of a kiss on our babies' heads at night when we come home and they are already fast asleep at four in the morning, wondering if they remembered to say prayers before bed. Humanity creeps back in the warm embrace of your loved one happy to see you after so many hours away. Pride is knowing you can take the family out for a night at the movies and dinner and that you have enough money in your wallet to pay for it. Freedom is escaping to the woods with your rifle and pals with not a care in the world beside bringing down that elusive animal with a fair and clean shot, or racing down the highway at top-speed on a Harley Davidson, or standing up for your rights at a large gathering of your peers in an UnGodly January Day in Detroit, just outside a convention center where the Masters of The Universe are congratulating each other on putting out the Latest and Greatest in Fashion and Prestige at the International Auto Show.

Yet their appetite for Blood and Money will never be satisfied. These freaks have not yet had their fill and surely they wait for the day when the US Congress makes wallets and purses illegal- this way the working class won't have anything to complain about- if there are no wallets then there is no need to put anything, like money, inside.

God Help who is ever at the receiving end if and when the anger of the laboring classes becomes too great to bear.

Yours truly,

Tino Scalici


Should Distributism Be Given a New Name?

A rose is a rose by any other name... if only social theories were the same.

The topic of distributism comes up frequently in my day-to-day life. The word's use in my daily conversations would land it a place it somewhere between the words "and" and "the." While I may wish to chalk it up as the result of people clamoring over my views on the political economy, I fear that it has more to do with my being a blabbermouth, unable to stop talking about those things I hold near and dear.

This pleasant addiction to discussing distributism with friends and strangers alike has been accompanied with a great deal of inquiry and feedback. I often have people accuse me of being "a socialist" or advocating "Robin Hood economics." This is all too typical, particularly from those who have never heard of, or who have never read material pertaining to, distributism. It wouldn't be a fool's wager to bet the farm that many of you have been accused of much the same.

The question, though, is why people would accuse us of such things. In my humble estimation, it has more to do with the word distributism than with the actual substance of the economic system itself. People hear the word distributism and they immediately connect it with the redistribution of wealth, particularly at a federal level.

While these people certainly miss the mark, there is little room for doubt as to why they would harbor such an assumption. Words, like slogans, are tricky. This is especially true of political and economic schools of thought. Take just two examples: Conservatism and libertarianism. People don't have to be political wonks or economic gurus to have a general impression of what these words mean. Conservatives want to conserve something, being (at least historically) traditionalist in nature. Libertarians, though far less familiar to the citizenry, would deal with liberty or freedom. Both of these words have positive associations, dealing with things people generally like to identify with. The designations Progressive or Constitutionalist is much the same.

So what of distributism? Well, for better or worse, as was stated earlier, people associate the word with redistribution of wealth. While putting an economic system in place, as well as a political structure in order, where the wealth of the nation would be redistributed away from Big Business to local businesses would be a good thing, this is not the common perception of what we are hoping to achieve. Rather, they work under the definitions and intellectual framework provided for them by pundits and talking-heads hailing from both the Left and the Right. Both sides generally refer to the concept as the federal government taking money from the little guy in order to pay for an array of social programs and line the pockets of special interests. 

All of this has led me to a few conclusions. On the one hand, distributists can retain the name, only then to spend large amounts of time clarifying themselves and attempting to tear down walls of defense and skepticism surrounding those who otherwise be open to our ideas. Or we could consider formulating a new designation that would bypass negative connotations, saving us plenty of time and making our mission all that much easier.

On a personal note, this idea is not at all foreign to me. Back in 2002 I became frustrated with designations I would use when describing my personal political and economic beliefs. At the time I was still a Protestant, and I held to a hybrid of positions commonly found within Christian Reconstructionism (Theonomy) and paleoconservatism. To say that these didn't roll off the tongue with the greatest of ease would be an understatement. Christian Reconstruction was just far too long. Theonomy placed me (wrongfully so) alongside the ecclesiocrat ayatollahs. And paleoconservatism had a number of difficulties. People typically identified my conservatism with the likes of Bush, Limbaugh, and Hannity. Furthermore, for those who had an inkling of an idea as to what it was, they associated me with racialism so often found amongst its adherents. In short, these designations would not do.

So in hope of distinguishing myself from these groups, I began using the term paleocrat. A simple combination of words. Paleo meaning old or ancient. Kratos meaning rule or law. So there it was. I was an adherent to "the old rule" or "the ancient law." 

The problem, though, was that I was left having to explain not only what the word meant, but also the substance of that philosophy. For this reason, I chose to use the designation as little more than an internet identification. It was an experiment that fell short, but an experiment nonetheless.

Whether distributists choose to retain the name or look towards formulating a new one that steers clear of negative association while also providing people with a positive and familiar connotation is yet to be seen. It appears that there are those within the movement who are willing to discuss such an idea, and their motivations may be similar to those I've discussed here. My hope, at least for now, is to have stirred the imaginations within minds much brighter than mine, so as to begin a discussion that may be long overdue.


Chapter XV: Taxes, Economic Rent, and Externalities

What Should We Tax?

We began our examination of government by looking first at proposals to reform the tax system and noting their deficiencies. We then looked at both the purpose and cost of government and noted that government has exceeded its legitimate purposes and hence its reasonable costs. We can now return to the question of tax reform, and determine how this should be done, because at the heart of governmental reform is tax reform. It is evident by now that the “starve the beast” strategy was a failure; under this strange diet, government “bulked-up” rather than “slimming-down.” Only by identifying the proper sources of public revenue, and insisting that government stay within these limits, can we hope to achieve any real reform. So the central question is, “What should we tax?”

There is a bromide about taxes that goes, “If you want less of something, tax it.” Currently, the burden of taxation falls on capital and labor. Now, I can't think of any reason why we would want less less labor or less capital; therefore, the fairest and best tax on labor and capital is a flat-tax of zero percent, with some notable exceptions, discussed below. But if we eliminate taxes on labor and capital, is there anything left? Is there anything in the economic universe that we want less of? I believe there is. In fact there are two things that can be taxed, one with no impact on economic development, and the other with the deliberate goal of limiting adverse impacts. The first thing is economic rent and the second is taxes on externalities.

Ground Rent

I repeat here our discussion of economic rent from Chapter X: Economic rent is an amount paid to a factor of production that is more than necessary to keep that factor in production in its current use. It is the very essence of economic inefficiency. For example, the price of steel must be enough to pay for the raw materials in the steel and to compensate the labor and capital that went into making it. If, however, the price rises very much above this amount, then steel claims an economic rent. This rent acts like a tax on all users of the steel, a tax that really doesn't buy anything, but only transfers money from one group (the consumers) to another (the owners). In the case of elastic, reproducible commodities (like steel), this is only a short-term problem, since (in competitive markets) the higher prices attract more labor and capital, the supply is increased, the prices fall, and the economic rent disappears. In the short-term, and for normal commodities, economic rent serves a purpose.

But this does not happen in the case of land; there, the rent is chronic and distorts the returns to both capital and labor. Recall the discussion of the law of ground rents from Chapter IX. Ground rent has the first claim on all incomes, and returns to labor and capital (“the wage line”) can only be paid after ground rent is satisfied. Moreover, this ground rent represents unearned income. Property increases in value because of the growth of population, improvements in technology, or off-site improvements. None of these things are attributable to the land owner; he merely reaps where he did not sow. All ground rent is economic rent. Land costs nothing to keep it in production. Capital and labor are consumed in the process of production and must be replaced; the land endures.

Consider a case where a landowner leases out a piece of property to an entrepreneur to build a factory. The factory lasts, say, thirty years, and at the end of the time it is “used up.” It is torn down and hauled away. But the land remains and is ready for the next use. All this time, the landlord has been receiving an income, and all the while the property has been increasing in value (assuming an increase in population and advances in technology). Yet the landlord did nothing to earn this income; it is strictly a reward for owning the property, not for using it. The income is due to the community, and by rights should go to the community.

Note that we are speaking of taxing only the ground rent; the improvements would not be taxed at all. The improvements to the property represent capital and labor, and their work should not be taxed. Only the ground rent, the portion provided by the community, would be taken, and taken at something close to 100% of its value. This is not a new idea. It was the form of taxation favored by economists from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman. It was most famously popularized by Henry George, a name that is forgotten today, although he was the most well-known and popular of the economists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some measure of his popularity can be gathered from the fact that at his death, 100,000 people filed past his coffin, and thousands of others waited outside and could not get in to pay their last respects. Can you imagine the general public lining up to for the funeral of any other economist?

George's theory is often called a “single-tax” theory, because it reduces all taxes to ground rent alone. However, this is a misnomer, since it should be called a “no-tax” theory. A tax is a cost added to a price or subtracted from an income. A sales tax is added to the price, an income tax deducted from the income. And these taxes tend to get passed along to the final consumer. But the Georgist “tax” simply appropriates the income of the rentier, the person who lives off other people's work. Nor can this “tax” be passed along. Ground rent already tends to absorb all values over the margin of production; the price cannot be increased beyond this.

The major question is whether such taxes are just, whether the major burden of taxation should fall entirely on the rentier. Two points are important here: One is that the value of ground rent is due to the community, not the owner (Chapter IX). It is but justice that the community be funded from its own natural revenues. The second point is that ground rent always represents wealth without work, the primary source of both economic inefficiency and economic injustice. Wherever one person gets wealth without work, another must provide work without wealth. Clearly this is unjust, but it is also inefficient. The maldistribution of incomes affects such technical measures as the velocity of money and the incentives to invest, and thereby destabilizes the economy. But further, it leaves the community without a source of revenue for public purposes; the community therefore has no choice but to go after the returns to labor and capital, which negatively impacts both. Taking the ground rents impacts neither—any further than rent does, anyway. Therefore, we can assert that ground rent is the natural income of a community. Rent derives its power strictly from a legal claim to property; that is to say, it is a creation of government power, a power that recognizes no limits to property. But property, like any other natural thing, has natural limits. And the natural limit to property is that one should profit from its use and not from mere ownership.

Taking ground rent would have profound macroeconomic consequences. For one thing, land speculation would be unprofitable. The only way to make money off of land would be to use it, to employ it in providing a useful good or service to one's neighbors. The whole problem with the speculative rent line and the resulting land bubbles and subsequent contractions would disappear. The economy would be far more stable. For another thing, wages and investment would get their full return; both are now burdened by both rents and taxes. Without taxes on either, the work and investment climate would be very much improved.

But is it Enough?

Although many economists generally concede the superiority of ground rents, they also doubt that it is adequate, especially when the total government expenditures come to $5 trillion. In this critique, they are absolutely correct. It is unlikely that ground rents could support a government establishment that takes one-third of GDP, an amount that is growing, especially during this current crisis. But that is not so much a critique of the land tax as one of its greatest advantages. Under a land tax, the public revenues would be fixed and known. Government at all levels would be confined within the limits of their funding. But how much would that funding be, and is it adequate to a reasonable level of government?

Empirical studies are hard to come by, since local taxing authorities are not overly concerned with separating the price of the land from the price of the improvements. The best studies suggest that ground rent revenue would come to about 20% of GDP, or about 60% of funding at all levels of government.1 This would certainly leave a big hole in the current level of government, but this might not be as big a problem as it appears at first glance. It would force government to consider what should be funded from general revenues, and what should come from user fees. We have already discussed how the highway system is the obvious example of an expense that can be moved from general revenues to tolls. But there are many items in the budget that are in fact services to particular clientèles. For example, the Food and Drug Administration is a service to the pharmaceutical firms, among others, and its entire budget should come from user fees. By cutting the bloated defense budget, going to debt-free money, eliminating useless departments such as education, charging public works to the properties that benefit from them, and such like measures, the federal budget could easily be cut by 40% without compromising any current services.

I suspect that the same rules would apply to state and local governments. The lion's share of these budgets are consumed by an ever-more-expensive education system. However, while it is certainly a duty of government to ensure that every child has the same opportunities to get an education, there is no reason for the state to actually run any schools, a task which they do not do well. A system of vouchers to parents would likely bring both great diversity and great economies to the educational system, while allowing the public to recoup their investment by selling the schools and putting the land back on the land-tax rolls. Support for education should also include some modest support for home-schooling.

Political Effects

Political power tends to flow to the greatest funding source. When the Federal Government gained the power to tax incomes, power naturally flowed upward, so that today senators and presidents routinely handle matters that are best left to the town council or the statehouse. A land tax, however, is most efficiently collected at the local level. The apparatus for doing so is already in place, since localities collect property taxes, though under widely varying rules and rates. The rules and methods would have to be standardized across the nation. But a land tax would entirely change the nature of government in the United States. With taxes collected at the local level, and divided in a fixed proportion among local, state, and federal authorities, we can expect that power will begin to flow back to the states and cities. And with a fixed budget, it will be easier to confine the federal government within its constitutional limits.

I suspect that the two great debates in a land-tax system will be how to split the revenues and which programs should be funded or subsidized from general revenues and which should be funded by user fees. As matters currently stand, states and cities have an incentive to “kick problems upstairs” to the federal government, where the money is. Relying on the federal budget allows local entities to claim a bigger share of the income taxes their citizens pay, and to isolate the local tax base from these responsibilities. But a land tax reverses these incentives; since the tax base is the same for all levels of government, only the division of the revenues is at issue. Local entities therefore have an incentive to accept greater responsibility and hence claim a greater share of the revenue.

Further, they have an iron-clad argument when dealing with the federal government; they merely need to ask about any particular program, “Where in the Constitution is this authorized?” Of course, they have that argument today, but they are not inclined to use it because the funding argument will always trump the Constitutional one. Under a land tax, both arguments will work in favor of the local entities. The land tax will therefore advance the distribution of power which is an essential part of distributism. It will also encourage leaders at all levels of government to offload as many programs as possible from general revenues to fee-based services.

The Land Tax and Distributism

In advocating the land tax, I am not advocating something without historical precedent or current practice. In fact, the majority of tax systems before the modern age were based on land. The English feudal system was essentially a land-tax system. And in the modern world, highly successful states like Singapore, British Hong Kong, and Taiwan are “Georgist” land-tax states. However, these states also indicate the problem with the land tax. In theory, the value of land should be easy for the authorities to calculate, since there is always an active market in land. And this is true, so long as there are no tax implications in separating the price of land and the value of the improvements. Two problems arise: One is that since improvements are not taxed, there is an incentive to attribute as much value as possible to the improvements and as little as possible to the land. The second is that when land ownership or control is concentrated, the landowners exercise considerable influence in setting the rules. Thus, a “pure” land-tax system has been difficult to establish or maintain over time. It tends to degenerate into a mere property tax which is insufficient to fund the state and becomes supplemented by income and other taxes (although usually at a much lower rate than in non-Georgist states). Large landowners like to see other taxes, because these are easier to avoid or to pass on to the final consumer.

The land tax works best where ownership is well divided and property not concentrated into large estates or tracts; in other words, in a distributist state. With land well distributed, political power is also well distributed, and the incentives to “off-load” the taxes from land to labor are decreased. On the other hand, a distributist state needs the land tax to prevent property from re-aggregating; without a land tax, the distributist state tends to degenerate into a capitalist state, and no one is better off. Therefore, a Georgist polity needs distributism for its implementation; distributism needs Georgism to maintain itself.

Other Forms of Economic Rent

Land rent is not the only form of economic rent, even if it is the most obvious and important one. Other rents arise from monopoly or oligopoly control of economic resources, from patents, from control of scarce commodities, and from occupying positions of power with large institutions, mainly the corporation. This rent manifests itself in various ways, but the most obvious way is suspiciously high returns to capital. To deal with these other forms of rent, I suggest that the corporate income tax be maintained, but only assessed when the return to capital gets to be outsized. I suggest that we adopt some figure as a “normal” return to capital, say 8%, and start a modest tax when double that return is reached (16%), a high tax when it is tripled (24%), and a punitive tax when it is quadrupled (32%).

This would not impact the willingness to invest. While in general high returns attract investment, such returns, like every other economic quantity, have a “marginal utility.” That is, at some point, higher returns do not attract additional capital, and at a higher rate, the returns actually act as a perverse incentive to discourage further investment. This is especially true in monopolies or oligopolies. When returns are so high, why invest to increase the supply and thereby lower the returns?

In the same vein, high-level executives often collect an economic rent in the form of perversely high salaries and bonuses. These salaries seem to be paid whether or not the enterprise is successful, and indeed some of the highest bonuses are paid for failure, such as when a CEO with a “golden parachute” is fired. These bonuses come out of the rewards that rightfully belong to the workers or the investors. One or two generations ago, a CEO would typically make 20 to 40 times what the line worker made; now CEO salaries run 300 to 500 times that of the line worker. The simplest solution is to require corporations to pay a tax penalty for such salaries. When a salary reaches some multiple of the line worker's salary, say 40 times, the company would pay at least a modest tax, a tax that at some point, say 200 times the average, becomes punitive, in the 75-90% range. Note that this tax would be on the company, not the executive. It would entirely change the nature of the negotiation with that executive, would be certain, and would be easier to collect.


Aside from wealth without work (economic rent), the other great economic evil is forcing some portion of the costs of a transaction on some third persons who are not a party to the transaction. Firms, and especially large corporations, do their best to externalize as many of their costs as possible. The obvious example of an externality is pollution, by which a company will treat the common air, streams, and ground as a free sewer. This sewer will have no cost to the company, but surrounding communities will pay the cost in declining health, increased medical expenses, and shortened lifespans.

Externalities take many forms. One common form is subsidized infrastructures. The “free” transportation systems, for example, are actually subsidies to businesses that depend on wide distribution and supply networks. These subsidies work to the disadvantage of local businesses and suppliers, because they unfairly lower the transportation costs of national and international competitors. “Big-box” stores like Wal-Mart could likely not survive if their transportation costs were not subsidized. This is especially true since the greatest amount of damage to roadbeds is done by large trucks. If there were weight-based tolls for using the roads, it is likely that the Wal-Mart model would simply be uncompetitive with local and regional producers and retailers.

Externalities distort the price system and give companies that can externalize their costs a competitive advantage over those who cannot. As it works out in the real world, it is large, international companies that can more easily take advantage of externalized costs, leaving small and local competitors at a disadvantage.

Aside from going to fee-based services, like tolls, government should use its taxing power to force companies to internalize all of their costs. The current “big idea” for controlling pollution is “cap-and-trade” systems. But such systems convert pollution into a property right, and then give the right to the wrong people, to the polluters rather than those harmed by the pollution. Clearly, if you want more of a thing, turn it into a “right,” especially a marketable right. You may take it for granted that the producers can produce more forms of pollution, and therefore more property rights, faster than you can print the new deeds. The best method is a scale of taxes on pollution that increase over time so as to “encourage” a firm to internalize all of its costs.

In general, government should be vigilant to detect and eliminate externalities. No price system can function properly if firms are freely allowed to externalize their costs either to government budgets or to the public “commons.”

But Should We Cut the Budget?

We have assumed throughout this discussion that cutting government expenditures and eliminating economic rent and externalities are good things. The reality, however, is a bit more complex. The current industrial system actually depends on large government expenditures, economic rent, and the ability to externalize costs. So while cutting the budget in the abstract would be a good thing, in reality it would destroy the current system of industrial production and global trade.

So before we take our scalpel in hand to perform surgery on the budget, we need to understand what we are doing and where we are going. We need to couple fiscal reform with a reform of the industrial system itself. Otherwise, our surgery may be successful but the patient will die. What a new industrial system could look like, one not dependent on government largesse, is the subject of the next chapter.

1Fred Foldvary, “Intellectual Tyranny of the Status Quo,”


The Paleocrat Tribune's New Site

The Paleocrat Tribune has created a new site. The idea was to consolidate our YouTube, Paleo Radio and The Paleocrat Tribune. The new site contains a blog (most of the blogs from our previous site have been transferred, though without the comments). It includes a comment section, podcast capabilities, links, contact information, as well as photo and video storage. It even has a quote from John Medaille on the Front Page!

So please, visit the site and tell us what you think. Contact us. Leave comments on the blog. Subscribe to the RSS and Podcast Feed (which will be quite active shortly). Your input will be greatly appreciated.

Learn Distributism. Love Distributism. Live Distributism.

Jeremiah "Paleocrat" Bannister
Editor of The Paleocrat Tribune and host of Paleo Radio


Why Distributism Can Work (For Us, Right Now) Part I

John F. Triolo, Editor for The Contrarian’s Review, recently invited me to respond to his article, “Why Distributism Can’t Work (For Us, Right Now)” (click here for part 2). I want to thank him for the opportunity to respond to this very important topic and share it with our readers at The Review.

Before I begin, I wish to offer a word regarding Mr. Triolo’s perspective on Distributism. Mr. Triolo is sympathetic to Distributism and he understands it well enough to avoid the pitfalls of unmerited debate. From his perspective, Distributism may be implemented and work well. His opposition is limited to a distributist solution for our current turmoil, and his concerns over an immediate implementation of Distributism given particular complications at present.

If Mr. Triolo is so kind to indulge me, I would like to begin where Mr. Triolo ends. The second half of his article tackles the spiritual difficulties of our present societies and Mr. Triolo’s pessimism about building a new structure demanding self-restraint.

In his essay, Mr. Triolo states what I believe is the centerpiece of his argument.

He says,

“It is even true that an economic system can help to impress upon a people the special dignity enjoyed by every man as the child of a loving God. This can only be done however to a willing populace.” (Emphasis mine)

Mr. Triolo and I both agree that an abrupt and radical adoption of Distributism would harm rather than cure, and, if I understand Mr. Triolo correctly, would result in a centralized governing body forcing Distributism on the uninitiated and unconvinced. It is easy for me to concede this particular point as neither the early distributists, nor we at present, believe Distributism could be implemented through force, but instead should begin as a popular movement.

Distributism is only radical to the extent that it is fundamentally opposed to Capitalism and Socialism. We do not advocate an overnight transformation of society, as attempts to drastically remodel by any socio-economic ideal leads to tyranny. Instead our approach is one of urgency, as Distributism is a scheme we believe to be significant towards economic equilibrium and the common good. Belief in this proposition led the Distributist League to make haste during what they considered an opportune era for civilization to change course and avoid catastrophe. We too face a transitional period today as the populace hesitantly sways in the direction of globalization while attempting to make sense of bailouts for millionaires, over consumption, under production, waste, and other matters. Although there exists a growing intuition that both Capitalism and Socialism have died a natural death, we refuse to simply skate onto the scene, and instead choose to discuss what society ought to do and lead by example.

Mr. Triolo acutely recognizes the “limits of any economic system to make men better.” Once again, to his credit he avoids the Utopian accusation against Distributism often used by opponents who uncritically accept our present circumstances. The distributist’s teleological approach to economics is underlined by the belief that man, by reintegrating justice into the marketplace, will progressively improve his spiritual life and conduct within the realities and confines of his fallen nature.

During my time in the Marine Corps, I recall the saying, “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out.” Of course, this is repugnant. It is also shocking. Yet, today we endure decadent systems rewarding the gradual abandonment of virtue, applauding self-indulgence with a prevalent attitude that denies our purpose in the temporal order. In other respects, this shedding of our moral and ethical responsibilities rejects human cooperation in God’s work, and dismisses as irrelevant the supplication for graces instrumental in the alteration of civilization. Distributists recognize the limits of any material benefits to mankind because we contemplate the ends beyond this life, while the capitalist and socialist substitute the pursuit of goodness with the pursuit of happiness, whether in the form of a worker’s paradise or the acquisition of goods.

With this in mind, Mr. Triolo rightly points out the world’s obsession with unrestrained freedom and license. As if drawn from a Chestertonian paradox, man has experienced so much freedom that he has shackled himself into slavery. Distributists do not believe liberty commands the greatest distinction in society, but rather virtue does, and justice in particular. So, when a distributist speaks of liberty he means independence for the family from the concentration of power, whether bureaucratic or commercial interest. He means an interdependent community accountable to a system of law as well as individual self-limitations. We encourage this approach for the future direction of our nation, recognizing society’s present conflict and its capability to undergo cultural conversion.

Cultures have historically adapted to various modes of government and economic shifts. Indeed, as cultures have changed over the course of their histories, the Church wisely avoids embracing particular forms of government and opts instead to champion universal principles, which nations and their citizens should follow to carry out a just and ordered society. It is true that today’s Christian is typically ignorant of these teachings due to several factors. One of them is their infatuation with wealth expansion, and another is the disappointing socially minded counterrevolution, which has largely remained absent outside of the Academy for the better part of the 20th century.

Our recent cultural shift tends to obscure our memory of this nation, which was built on the small farmer and small business. People frequented mom and pop stores and carefully spent their pennies on reliable, repairable goods, which were manufactured and sold within the local community. Parents sacrificed for a stable life not so their children could have more, but so their children could be more. I’m not suggesting this nation ever was truly distributist, but it was closer in many regards than it is today. I believe distributists have successfully tapped into these recollections not only in the United States but abroad as well, especially in nations where our ideals have deep roots.

Mr. Triolo ponders the obstacles facing such a movement in a nation accustomed to instant gratification. To this I can only respond that our primary concern does not rest with those who are predictable enough to join us once the groundwork has been strewn. I say they are predictable because hindsight has shown us that progress in any movement persuades the skeptic. We are very much aware that the work ahead will be paved by the devoted and the diligent.

Consider the work of Una Voce, a lay organization whose mission, according to their website, “…has been since its founding in 1964, the promotion and support of the traditional Latin Mass within the Church, in union with Rome,” and how it played a considerable role in the liberation of the Tridentine liturgy. Una Voce succeeded because it was a populist movement. It spread across the world by recruiting, educating, and proselytizing their position among the Catholic faithful. Ordinary laypeople founded local chapters supported by the Una Voce Federation, uniting for the common good (in this case due to the perception that the older liturgy was good for the souls of Catholics). Regardless of where our readers stand regarding the Tridentine Mass, it is clear the determination and long-term vision of Una Voce paid off. It is also noticeable that what began with a pocket of members grew into a worldwide organization.

Thus far, Part II of Mr. Triolo’s article, “Why Distributism Can’t Work (For Us, Right Now) leads us both to be wrong and to be right. Mr. Triolo is correct that we won’t necessarily see, save for God’s grace, a Distributive State by the end of the fiscal year. I have no doubt Distributism will require hard work and God’s grace. My argument is that Distributism can work for us right now, because by starting our movement today we lay the building blocks for tomorrow.

In Part II of my response to him, I will discuss the particular problems he raises with the viability of a distributist economy. In the meantime, all of us should pray for the future of our society by taking the advice of an Irish priest who said, “I don’t get up in the morning, I get down...on my knees.”


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