Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where Is Distributist America?

Over at the Cornell Society for a Good Time, Ambrosius writes about Distributism Today. For those of you who have not read much G.K. Chesterton or Hilaire Belloc, please understand that Distributism emphasizes the widespread ownership of economically productive property, for the sake of economic freedom, political liberty, and human happiness.

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.


Anonymous said...

What do you expect from a bunch kids who plan on teaching at some university somewhere where their every need will be taken care of for them by the school?

And it's why distributism will never occur in the US except as it always has, organically by those who get down in the dirt and do it. And of whom virtually none have never heard of the term, let alone know or care what it means.

And as far as housing as ownership is concerned, the distributists I run across generally hate the housing industry because they see it as anti-agrarian, as I take a break reading the net from designing more townhomes in Cherry Creek.

Anonymous said...

I recently checked "Grapes of Wrath" out of our local video library and watched it with the homeschooled teenage son.

There was a scene of an Okie sharecropper being evicted where he was arguing with the man who came to evict him. Now the sharecropper, being a just man, wanted to make sure he was acting rightly so he hesitated before he fired his gun long enough to learn that this man was not responsible, he was just acting on orders (so it wouldn't be just to shoot him), nor was the head of his company responsible because he was just obeying the banks, nor were the banks responsible because they were just acting in the interest of their shareholders.

So when the sharecropper rightly asked in his indignation, "Well then who can I shoot?" he met the response "There ain't nobody to shoot." Nobody was responsible. Through the macinations of the marketplace, nobody did theis evil, at most they merely cooperated with it remotely.

Such is the affect of broad stock ownership--there ain't nobody to shoot. Corporations then fall back on the logic of the market and toss justice and morality out the window.

Remote cooperator with evil

Anonymous said...

The story in Grapes of Wrath remind of a conversation years ago with Fr. Joe Ganssle where someone was complaining about the searches at the airport. Fr. Joe commented that boat sailed when the airlines invited the government in to build their airports for them.

In other words, the farmer should first shoot himself, since he's the one who started the ball rolling by inviting the bank in. All that followed in both instances was a foregone conclusion once the invitation was offered.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Jones,

If by slim chance you don't know who Fr. Joe is, he was the pastor writ large, for most of the orthodox Catholics in the Denver metro area, and the former headmaster at Our Lady of the Rosary Academy in Mountain View until Chaput kicked him out at the behest of the libs.

Anonymous said...


While I would always listen attentively to Fr. Joe, I would ask him if it made a difference that the sharecropper inherited his condition. I believe that it was part of the story that his family had been on the land for something like 4 generations.

This makes sharecropping in this instance more like the manorialist system of the middle ages than modern industry. It was the landlord that invited in the bank, not the tennant.


Anonymous said...


You right,

In so far as they were sharecroppers, the landlord has a responsibility to them.

It was my understanding that the farmers in Grapes of Wrath owned the land as typical today where farmers sell themselves to the banks.

Kevin J. Jones said...

'love the girls' writes:
"What do you expect from a bunch kids who plan on teaching at some university somewhere where their every need will be taken care of for them by the school?"

Though there are many vices in the academic life, contemplativeness is not one of them. There is something to be said for a thoughtful class somewhat insulated from the vicissitudes of life, provided they use their privileges with responsibility and self-awareness.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jones writes: “

The issue isn’t contemplation so much as it’s wisdom which in turn requires experience which the modern academic environment does not provide. And which the members of the Cornell society have proven to be likewise sorely in need of. The latest Cornell society comment on distributism is not only woefully ignorant of the argument, but typical of their of their lack of insight via lack of experience. In other words, invariably they write and think like children, smart children with a bit of book learning, but children all the same.

Insulation is fine within limit, but the intellectual life doesn’t occur in a Cartesian belly button contemplating vacuum. It occurs through contemplation first grounded in observation according to each given science. As DeKoninck so nicely puts it in the Hollow Universe, when we first see a horse running through a field and a rock laying in that same field, what is first grasped by the intellect through observation is that horse is other than the rock in its motion, a motion which is later known as an operation of the soul. Academics have a rather bad habit of not observing except though already blinded by false propositioned eyes. Which is not atypical of my experience dealing with the good time society.

Although I should add, vacuous belly button contemplation is certainly not limited to the modern academic setting, but it gripes me to no end because it should be so much the otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Btw, if you have the impression that I don’t think highly to the Cornell Society, you’re correct. They accused a my wife’s best friend, a mother of nine, and local FSSP parishioner from week one, of being a purveyor of pornography because she didn’t see eye to eye with the Cornell Society’s Jansenist views on modesty. And when she attempted to defend herself, they deleted her comments. And other incidents, but that should serve.

Kevin J. Jones said...

Complaining about college students being inexperienced is like complaining about water being wet. They'll only be able to criticize themselves from some point in the future. Always better to deal with the content rather than the style of a statement.

I hope you will understand when I ask that you voice your grudges elsewhere, possibly on a blog of your own. Much as I enjoy the length of this particular thread, I can't let my comments section turn into a grudge match between two other parties.

Anonymous said...


While I agree that you should certainly be able to moderate your comments as you wish. And that LTG can sometimes be gruff in his generalizations, he thinks with a great thomistic clarity that can often shed light on the issues at hand.

Further, I have been enjoying the very local flavor of this post, considering that both LTG and I live in the Archdiocese of Denver.


Kevin J. Jones said...

Just to be clear, that wasn't a ban warning, just a request to keep things on topic and away from personal disputes.