Like many of the happy few who have heard of Distributism, Ambrosius tries to identify the aspects of American life most appealing to the Distributist mind.
I myself believes America best exemplifies distributism in her entrepreneurial spirit. Distributist thought exalts the small proprietor, helping instill productive impatience among perpetual employees, thus spurring the drive to economic independence. One still senses these impulses in various areas of American life.
But I question Ambrosius' identification of Distributist America. He writes of the ownership society:
Right now, about half of all Americans own corporate stock, largely through retirement accounts and mutual funds. Major US employers — Wal-mart being the most notable example that I know of — provide their employees stock in the company for which they work, precisely because of the incentives that ownership offers that Belloc and the Distributists identified.
I do not think it is stock ownership that makes a society more distributist, but rather the ownership of one’s own home and especially one’s own business--that is, proprietorship. I doubt stock ownership as ordinarily practiced can be considered a part of or a step to a distributist society.
First, buying stock can be regarded as purchasing the productivity of other men, rather than laboring oneself. As I recall, Belloc’s The Servile State was particularly suspicious of systems where many work for the economic benefit of someone who does not work.
What’s more, wise stock investment is generally distributed across several companies or industries, leaving the owner little connected to–dare I say alienated from–the actual labor involved.
Further, employee ownership in America often results from last-ditch efforts to keep a foundering company solvent. Many times I have suggested to others the benefits of employee-owned corporations, and the name “United Airlines” would soon pass the lips of my listeners.
Even stock options are generally a white-collar phenomenon, and only available early in a company’s existence. I also doubt their effectiveness in encouraging responsibility in employees of large enterprises. An individual’s contribution to the worth of his company’s stock price will be minimal–perhaps not even one hundredth of one percent. If responsibility is encouraged, it is not rational self-interest that drives the success of such programs. Perhaps instead such success is driven by irrational self-regard.