Sunday, February 26, 2012

Distributism - first impressions

(Today Michael posted a very interesting question about "Distributism" under my frustrated rant about the Syrian disaster (check it out by clicking on the link above). First, I began by replying to him in the comment section, but then I found the topic so interesting that I decided to turn my reply into a separate post. So here we go:)

Michael, I did look at the sites you recommended and then I even went further and looked at the Wikipedia article on Distributism. The list of its composing ideas was, in particular, very interesting and here is what it resulted in for me:
  • Private property: check, with a caveat (see below)
  • Guild system: check, with a caveat (see below)
  • Banks: check, with a caveat (see below)
  • Anti-trust legislation: check
  • Human family: check
  • Subsidiarity: check
  • Social security: disagree (see below)
  • Society of artisans: check
  • Political order: check
  • Political parties: check
  • Just War Theory: check
Private property: While I do very favor private property rights on a family, community and even corporate level,  I strongly feel that the state should have control of *strategic assets* such as, typically, energy or military-industrial production. These vital high value resources must at all cost be owned collectively by the the sovereign people and not by any private interest.

Banking: I favor a single not-for-profit state bank whose sole task would be to make investment available where it is needed. So on these matters I am far closer to classical socialist or Marxist political economy theory than to Distributism.

Social security: I have come to fervently believe that a minimal yet decent social safety net should be considered as a human right. In other words, I believe that each and every member of society should be guaranteed housing, food, medical care and the constituent components of "dignity" (which are different in each society) regardless of his/her contribution to, or status in, society. Even a criminal who refuses to work on principle and who openly declares that he hates and rejects society should, in my opinion, be granted all these rights. The issue of "dignity" is the hardest one to harness, but it is very important. Let me give you an example:

In the rural parts of the Balkans, you always welcome visitors to your home by offering them a cup of coffee and a glass of water. Even if you are very poor, the ability to offer that type of hospitality is most important to many people. Hence coffee, which in other parts of the world might be considered a luxury item, becomes a crucial commodity for which even other, clearly essential, goods might be sacrificed (meds or food for example). I believe that the local governments should therefore make it a human right to have access to cheap or free coffee for these people (I just can hear the horrified exclamations of the proponents of "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps with the help of the "truly laissez faire free market economy's invisible hand" of the anarcho-libertarian fairy tale" - I don't care :-P)

To be absolutely clear: I am not saying that everybody 'deserves' something. What I am saying is that any society which accepts that somebody would not have access to these socio-economic minima is not a civilized society. Think about it: why ban torture, and yet do nothing against social, economic "torture"? Why would a government protect its citizens against external aggression or natural disasters and not against economic distress or disease? 

This makes absolutely no sense.

So here is my key conclusion:


Think about it: do the powerful even need a government? Of course not! They are protected against external aggression by their own security forces, they are protected against natural disasters by their wealth, they are protected against societal abuse by their lawyers, they can take care of their own health, etc. So the only people who need a government are the weak. Conversely, all these Austrian, laissez faire, libertarian, anarchist, anti-"statist" theories in reality all serve to protect the plutocrats, the 1%. No wonder the Koch brothers finance it. Michael Hudson very succinctly explained it all when he said: "Every economy is planned. This traditionally has been the function of government. Relinquishing this role under the slogan of “free markets” leaves it in the hands of banks.

When he says that planning the economy is the function of government he clearly does not mean planning the economy for the better interest of the plutocrats but rather for the better interests of society as a whole. I think that he would agree if I suggested to him that those who most need that kind of regulation of the economy are the weak. Now let's turn to a related point,

Guild system: I like guilds, and I think that they should contribute to society, but I find unions absolutely essential. The Wiki article says "labour unions are organized along class lines to promote class interests and frequently class struggle", but to this I would reply as Michael Parenti does that the rich VERY much are organized according to class lines and that they conspire against the rest of us. Check out this website: in general and the following lectures in particular:
  • Ideology And Conspiracy
  • Political Liberties and Economic Democracy
  • Capitalism's Apocalypse
  • Conspiracy & Class Power
I have always found the entire concept of class consciousness and, even more so, class struggle absolutely distasteful. And yet, to my absolute dismay, I cannot deny their reality any more. For decades I tried to find other plausible mechanisms explaining what I observe, but now, at age 48, I find myself compelled to admit that both class consciousness and class struggle are not Marxist myths, but observable realities which must be addressed.

For the rest of it, I by and large agree with all the Distributistic theories above which I marked with "check".

My strong feeling is that coming from early 20th century Papist circles Distributism is an attempt to find a third way between rabid capitalism and the kind of equally rabid Socialism and Marxism which was prevalent at the time. A full century later, I think that the proponents of Socialism and Marxism have changed a great deal and have learned a lot of lessons from their countless and often monstrous mistakes of the past.

I mean, only the DPRK is still stuck in doubleplusgoodthinking rigid Socialist and Marxists ideas, made even worse by the addition of the home-grown idea of Juche. Even Cuba has changed a great deal in recent years and I would argue that both Iran and Russia are, de-facto, shall we say, "neo-Socialist" countries both in their economic structure and in their social values (Did you notice that Putin's recent article on economic issues entitled "Building Justice: A Social Policy for Russia" began with the words: "Russia is a welfare state"?).

21 century Socialism and Marxism are very, very different beasts than their ideological forerunners and I do not feel the same urge to absolutely avoid them as, I think, early 20th century Papists did. I don't believe that any Socialist or Marxist party nowadays proposes to return to the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" or "Military Communism" and even though a majority of Socialists or Marxists are probably not religious, I know of no Socialist or Marxist activist who would seriously defend militant atheism or, even less so, "Godless Five Year Plans". All these abominations were still the order of the day for Socialists and Marxists when Distributism was invented and I think that this explains some of its weaknesses.

My personal views on economics are therefore much closer to Socialist and even Marxists views than to Distributism as such. Its the loaded social ideological aspects of modern Socialism and Marxism which I am really fed up with. I am sick and tired of Amy Goodman reporting every time about what she would call " LGBT civil rights" and I even stopped sending any contributions to the ACLU over their constant promotion of an agenda to which I comprehensively object: the recognition of sexual pathologies as a civil right. As Michael Parenti humorously said in one of his speeches - its all very fine and dandy to defend the sexual preferences of group XYZ, but that does nothing for those who come home from work too exhausted to have sex...

The same goes for those uniquely American ideological debates about abortion or gun control where I equally hate both sides of the issues and just feel like telling them to go and finally kill each other somewhere else...

And then there is the pseudo-Left. In the USA its called "liberal" or even "progressive" and it is just a spineless, toothless and thoughtless pseudo-left who does not have the balls to openly attack capitalism and its absolutely flawed assumptions.

But shoving all those rigidly ideological idiots aside, there is a great deal of good and healthy "hard-Left" (for lack of a better term) activism out there, and a lot of very sensible thinking. Unsurprisingly, I am particularly encouraged by the dialog between "hard Left" and religions like Islam or Orthodox Christianity. 

No, I am not at all a supporter of the 20th century "theology of liberation" (my big bone with it is that it was exactly that - a "theology"), but once that nonsense about a "Socialist Jesus" is set aside, there is a very interesting dialog possible not about how to transform theology into political activism, but about what religious dogmatic anthropology (teachings about "man" and "his" nature) implies about what would be a just social and economic order.

In this context, I think that some of the ideas of Distributism could be very useful in "polishing" or correcting some of the ideas of Socialism or Marxism, just as I believe that a open and constructive dialog between religions such as Islam or Orthodox Christianity can also be very useful in modernizing Socialism and Marxism.  In Latin American and Russia such a dialog is already very much under way.  Sadly, this otherwise useful dialog is very much corrupted by the fact that in Latin America the Papist clergy is very much under the control of the amazingly corrupt and hypocritical Papal curia of Rome while in Russia the Orthodox clergy is very much under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate, also amazingly corrupt and hypocritical organization which has never been purged of its old KGB-controlled elements and which is run by one of the most corrupt Mafia-dons in Russia: "Patriarch" Kirill (who, at least, did not cover up for pedophile priests like his friend and colleague "Pope" Benedict XVI).

So these are my first impressions and thoughts while going through the articles on Distributism.  I would be very interested in hearing everybody else's reactions, thoughts and comments.

And if its off-topic - feel free to also post it :-)

Cheers (and thanks again, Michael!)

The Saker