As David Deavel points out, free market economists and distributists “are often at each others’ throats.” Deavel is attempting to scrutinize distributism – what it is and what it isn’t – in a series at Intercollegiate Review. He claims that while distributism has its flaws, it has some valid points and there is much good to be found in the arguments of distributists.
So what it distributism?
Distributists like to describe themselves as an alternative or third way that avoids what they describe as the pitfalls of both capitalism and socialism. They also claim that their system (alone, they sometimes say), is faithful to papal social teaching and the Catholic social tradition more broadly. Their goal, they claim, is a society of widely distributed property and widely distributed wealth and power. This differs, they say, from both socialism, in which the state owns the means of production, the vast bulk of wealth, and all power, and from capitalism, which is, they say, a system in which a very few private people own the means of production, wealth, and have the lion’s share of power.
Distributists are opposed to labor unions and believe welfare systems are dangerous both economically and morally.
So what can distributism teach free marketers? Deavel breaks it down into four main points:
- “[D]istributists are right to emphasize the place of morality and ethics in economics and our working lives. We are called to be good stewards of time, talents, and treasure.” While free marketers aren’t soulless (here Deavel mentions Michael Novak), some free marketers get caught up in talking numbers and not people.
- “[D]istributists object to the concentration of power that is so endemic in modern Western economies.” It is good to correct what it abusive in any type of economic system. Whether it is crony capitalism or “managerial capitalism” (as discussed by Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller), abuse causes us to lose faith in our economic systems, and violates morality.
- “[D]istributists are right that a wider distribution of wealth is essential to a healthier society.” We want as many people as possible to be included in the “circles of exchange” discussed by Bl. John Paul II. Economies work best when more people are actively involved in creativity, sharing, and wealth-building.
- “[D]istributists believe…that too much of the modern welfare state hinders the moral and social development of the human person.” There is hardly an economist who believes a safety net for certain dire situations is not needed, but clearly, the abuse of welfare – and its long-term negative effects on individuals and society – are all too clear.
Deavel’s point in this article is not to glorify distributism, but to point out that free marketers and distributists may have more common ground than either side thinks. This is an on-going series at Intercollegiate Review, and next week Deavel will look at the weak points of distributism.