Friday, October 27, 2006

Distributism Without the Cow

In an effort to direct the conversation on distributism, I give you this fine work by John Peterson, who gave this speech to the Chicago Are Chestertonians a while back.

Distributism without the Cow

I've called the peculiar slant Gilbert! magazine takes at Distributism by the name “Urban Distributism,” a phrase Chesterton and Belloc never spoke or ever even heard. It's a peculiar name because ChesterBellocian Distributism was basically an agrarian movement, and “agrarian” is the opposite of “urban.”

Start with a basic definition or description of “Distributism,” which (as you know) was active as a political movement in England in the 20’s and 30’s before it faded from view. The fundamental idea of Distributism is economic independence and economic freedom for families, with the government in a subsidiary and supportive role. It is the concept of Democracy applied to the field of economics.

It's the question of who is in control of our work. The problem with Communism and Capitalism is that the money, property, power, and control associated with economic production tend to become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In other words, Communism and Capitalism are economically undemocratic. Under Communistic production, a few powerful politicians or bureaucrats control the production of goods. Under Capitalist production it’s a few powerful business executives or managers. Under Distributism, the people control the production of goods. The people are in control of their own work.

Read more of the "Distributism Without the Cow" article

Distributism’s economic democracy is based on the wide distribution and ownership of productive property -- property used in the production and distribution of goods and services -- as tools, land, facilities, and machinery. The Distributist believes workers are most free when they own their own tools and are their own bosses. They are least free when they hire out for a wage and work at the command and sufferance of someone else who owns the tools, machinery, and land.

That's Distributism. Now Urban Distributism. This is a Distributist philosophy for those who do not hold out much hope for the triumph of the pure form of Distributism. Those who simply don't expect a full blown Distributist Revolution any time soon. Why this pessimism? For a good answer, we have to consider the strategies and plans of the original Distributists in England. The original Distributist program can be reconstructed -- and it appears to have had these six stages:

1. Promote Distributist ideas in print and in public debate. That was done.
2. Start a Distributist “League” to sponsor activities. That was done.
3. Provide for model Distributist experiments (e.g., self-sustaining Distributist communities). That was done.
4. Form a Distributist political party and elect Distributist candidates. That was done.
5. Influence legislation in favor of Distributist reforms and programs. That was done, at least partially.
6. Achieve majority representation in Parliament and gradually inaugurate the Distributist State. Obviously that was not done.

But five out of six isn't bad. Although this Distributist program is generally regarded to have been a practical failure, in fairness they did achieve much of their aim. Their Distributist ideas are politically influential to this day -- although not usually under the Distributist name. Even though the Distributist political party did not last even two years, they accomplished much, especially when compared to what has been accomplished here.

Compared to the efforts of the original Distributists, the American branch can barely be said to exist. At best we are at the initial phase of the beginning chapter of stage one. We haven't even convinced most of our Chestertonian friends of the worth of Distributism! That fact alone measures how little has been done.

Chesterton's Distributism was an agrarian movement. While not everyone is a farmer in the Distributist society -- there are merchants, craftsmen, doctors, teachers -- most are farmers. Now, I ask you this: how many people do you personally know who are ready and willing to move onto the land and to operate a family farm? As you meet other Chestertonians you discover that most of them have no interest in agrarianism. You discover that many find the idea utterly ridiculous. “Put me on a farm and I’ll starve to death,” they say. “I’m not milking any cow,” they say. “I’ll get my milk at the supermarket, thank you very much.”

Our idea of “The American Way of Life,” is wrapped up in the whole notion of a “Standard of Living.” The “Living Standard” is a measure of consumer spending. It is concerned with how many things we can buy, how expensively we are able to live, what luxuries we might afford. For many (perhaps most) Americans, the purpose of work is to earn a wage or salary in order to support the level of consuming that we believe is right for us and will make us happy. This is light years way from life on a farm.

Even life on the farm isn't life on the farm. The people I know who are already farmers are not Distributists. The farmers I know are all involved in something called agribusiness. They cultivate 800 acres or more of feed corn (and soybeans) using all the latest methods and machinery of mass production. They don't have kitchen gardens or keep a cow for the milk. They buy their eggs at the supermarket, just as the rest of us do.

Most of the owners of small businesses I know aren’t Distributists either. They don’t want their businesses to stay small. They try to grow their businesses as fast as possible to become as big as possible. I have a friend who owns two Subway sandwich shops. He wants to own four -- on his way to owning fifty. I have a friend who owns a carpet-cleaning business. He has six employees and three dozen industrial customers. He wants hundreds of employees and thousands of customers. He's a small businessman but he is in no sense a Distributist.

Distributists find themselves in a frustrating situation. We have the remedy for our diseased society's ills, but nobody is buying -- because nobody is aware of the pain. We have medicine, but nobody thinks he’s sick. We have a state of ignorance so profound as to be astonishing. The whole of our society is in a state of denial that appears to be limitless.

Here are four common symptoms or side effects of our present system that we do not seem to be aware of.

Two previously divorced people tie the knot. We sit in a church and, as Chesterton pointed out, the two people make solemn vows before God while at the exact same moment they break their previous vows. In a church! We sit still in the presence of this enormous and shocking sacrilege, and smile and go to the reception. We're in denial and we feel no pain.

Second. We live in a society that has enshrined the seven deadly sins as the seven lively ideals. I don't mean that these sins are committed, I mean these sins are recommended. We turn on the television and we watch a funny show dedicated to the glorification of Lust. I don't mean the glorification of sex, because that would be a good thing. But it is Lust that is portrayed as a good thing, as a funny thing, as a healthy thing, and as the standard of good behavior. The same point can easily be made in respect to Pride or Vanity, Envy, Gluttony, Anger or Wrath, Sloth, and especially Greed. We're in denial and we feel no pain.

The third example of what we don't notice is the servility in the workplace. The average wage-paying job in this economic system offers exactly as much dignity, freedom, and creativity as that of a slave. Remember, the mark of slavery is not drudgery but the absence of freedom. The typical job in North America today is computer data entry -- wearing a phone set and sitting before a computer monitor hour after hour, mindlessly entering data. On-the-job freedom and creativity in this and in similar employment is out of the question. And because we are released from the slave compound every night at 5 o'clock, we seem to think the servility of the workplace does not exist. Or we think that servility in the workplace is proper to the condition of work.

Four. The existing economic regime or capitalist “way of life” is destroying the family before our eyes. We are seeing the effects of working moms, two-job dads, abortion to protect a paycheck or a shopping spree, preschool daycare, children brainwashed in compulsory schools, and divorce on demand. We see mindless spending, crushing personal debt, employment insecurity, and preferential turning away from the poor. We're in denial and we feel no pain.

To get off this treadmill, current wisdom offers three suggestions. They are imperfect at best.

First, we have to look very warily at the alternative of small business enterprise as the Urban Distributist ideal. If the failure rate for new businesses is eighty percent within the first five years of operation, then advising the typical wage-earner, to “start his own business” is tantamount to recommending his personal bankruptcy and financial ruin. We might endorse the current system of small business formation, which rewards only those with the entrepreneurial spirit, or boundless good luck, or unbridled ruthlessness. Rewarding the few is called Capitalism; it is the opposite of Distributism.

Second, the alternative called the “Producer's Cooperative” has had very little practical success. In fact, we have to go far afield geographically to the Bosc region of Spain to find a successful example of a worker-owned and worker-managed factory. This is not an encouraging sign.

Third and last, the employee-owned business corporation (e.g., Avis or United Air Lines) is a wonderful economic concept, but it is not a Distributist concept. These employees benefit by sharing in the growth and profitability of the company they work for. But they do not share in the management of the company they work for. They don't run things, they work as hirelings. They do as they are told or they are fired. They cannot be said to “own” the company in the real sense -- that is, the company is their own private property to direct however they choose.

None of that stuff is Distributism. But there is a way for the typical urban American family to enjoy the major benefits of Distributism without gambling everything on some high-risk venture, agricultural or not. That way is simple. We can even say it's easy. It merely requires a single-minded fanaticism about Distributist ideals and a stubborn refusal to compromise with anti-Distributist influences -- which are diabolically powerful.

This fanaticism asked for has been expressed in a ten-point program, which might be referred to as the Ten Commandments of Urban Distributism. But they are more ideals than commands.

1. Everything begins with putting the family first. The first loyalty has to be to the family.

Urban Distributist marriages should include, among the wedding vows, a mutual promise to willingly die for the welfare of this newly created family. Is there a stronger way to put it? Distributism is not about farming-economics, it's about family-integrity. The family has to have stability before it can have economic stability. Therefore, Distributism cannot be comprised of a bunch of wishy-washy, temporary, modernist marriages with spoiled-brat divorces and no-sweat annulments. That stuff is fine for Proletarians but will not do for Distributists. In every decision made by husband, in every decision made by wife, the first consideration must be, “is this good for or bad for my family?” Neither the selfish, “How will this affect me?” nor the unselfish, “How will it affect her (or him)” is Distributist. This commandment is especially true in the sphere of economics. The word “career” has no meaning for a Distributist except as it relates to the economic support of his family.

2. The Urban Distributist goal is economic independence for the family.

3. The center of Urban Distributist life is a place -- the home. The place is permanent. It can be changed for weighty family reasons, certainly, but certainly not for mere job transfers or so-called career “promotions.”

4. The Urban Distributist home is an economically productive place.

5. Urban Distributist family members hire themselves out as employees to work for a wage on behalf of the family. The Urban Distributist employees are valued employees. In justice, they give a good hour's work for an hour's pay, but they do not give their loyalty to their employer, they do not pin their hopes on job success, and they have no illusions about their employer's loyalty to them.

6. Urban Distributist families are frugal families. They accumulate savings, which they then invest to provide non-wage family income.

7. Urban Distributist families experiment with home businesses, at first as a learning experience, then as a source of non-wage income, and last as something to fall back on when the wages disappear (as they well may and very often do). Urban Distributist businesses are built around the interests, skills, and creativity of the family members, and are a source of both dignity and pleasure for them.

8. Urban Distributists have extra time. They make more of their time because they do not waste dozens of hours each week on television, computer games, the Internet or other escapist pursuits.

9. The Urban Distributist dollar goes further. Distributists avoid a consumerist life-style with its credit cards, mindless shopping, conspicuous consumption, and keeping up with Jones.

10. Urban Distributist families are hotbeds of economic education, perpetually seeking and learning new and improved job skills, sharper investment techniques, and more profitable business practices.

In summary, the Urban way to Distributism and family economic independence combines

family wages with
investments and
business income.

These economic benefits multiply with Distributist family frugality, productivity, and continuous education.

Maybe Urban Distributism can be explained in terms of the difference between rebellion and resistance. An alien enemy has conquered Christendom and we now live in occupied territory. The enemy has imposed his culture on us and is imposing his rules of law and life. When you are a conquered people, you have three alternatives. You can collaborate, you can resist, or you can rebel. To establish the Distributist State would require a rebellion. Until the Distributist Rebellion, then, we can think of ourselves as part of the resistance.

That's Urban Distributism.

February 20, 1999, Chicago Area Chestertonians
given by John Peterson

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for this!

    What we need are Distributist models for large and small production. Since most industry is urban I think the rebellion needs to include democratic revolution in the factories. The problem is the resistance is very weak because the trade unions have become company unions and have spent 20-30 years attacking the good worker to worker relationships and solidarity.

    I think Distributism is about much more than YOUR family. Working to protect only YOUR family is the Mafia. It's about everyone's family. How do you protect your family if not by working for a system where everyone's family is protected?

    Nancy pointed out earlier that Guild production is different than trade union production, far superior in quality. So, I think we should settle on that and do our best to examine what modern Guilds look like and to do our best to popularize that high quality, high value production.

    I think that might fly in the factories. In order to move from the few resisters we have left, we need communications and conversation to link these folks up. We need local rebel committees to find the other rebels on the jobs and then we need to connect these comittees across the country through Distributist communications like this terrific blog. Instead of turning the Distributist Movement to the black hole of big-monied, electoral politics where we can never win; we should rely on direct action, the General Strike, to win the day for families and Democracy. I think that's what G.K. would like!

    That's Distributist Revolution.

    I just received two books, "Ethics & the National Economy" and "Distributist Perspectives" which has a chapter from Arthur J. Penty who I understand is the last Chestertonian expert on the Guilds. I'm ordering his Guild book today.

    I do believe that American workers and the unemployed are at a loss as to where to go these days for economic relief. I think they would be excited about the Guild alternative.

    Tom Laney

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  2. The essay raises many interesting points, and it is impossible in a short comments to address all of them. I will only pick the key statement and work from it. I disagree that:

    “Distributism was basically an agrarian movement, and “agrarian” is the opposite of “urban.””

    I think the two are not so much opposites as they ought to complement each other. City needs food, farms need tools, machines and chemicals. Chesterton & Belloc thought that the “peasant” was an ideal model for the Distributist worker, because of the profound effect land and farming and gardening has on human soul. One cannot have successful Distributism without addressing this “insanity” causing effect due to the separation from land and nature. (That is partly why Chesterton called his work “The Outline of Sanity”, I think.) The problem goes deeper because, it affects the “ideal” of Distributism, as well as the practical working models. An urban worker or any city dweller, must have recourse back to nature, countryside, farm, and land. There is yearning in all of us for the Garden of Eden, because we are unhappy in jungles of steel and concrete.

    If a large family is “distributed” between countryside and city, it may work out OK, city folk and children could go back to the farm for weekends and vacations, they could help the farmers, they could engage in countryside “recreation” like fishing, hunting, hiking, horse riding, etc. In fact, that is precisely what is happening in such large distributed families. Farm folk could come to the city to seek the “city values”, culture, art, wholesome entertainment, skills upgrading, trade, etc.

    This country-city distribution is not possible in many cases where the whole families and generations live in the city and don’t have access to land. (The reverse is not really true, since there is and perhaps will be a constant drain from the county to the city.) This is one crucial challenge that must be overcome, and it ought to be possible to do something on the larger “church” scale, since all Christians ought to be like a large family. There could be programs where country and farm families and Christian communities intermingle with city families and parishes. This could be started by cultural exchanges via pilgrimages to country shrines, country camps for children, festivals, religious or cultural events in the city to which the country families would be invited, etc. This would lead to more trust and intimacy, followed by economic interactions, such as city folk investing in farm cooperatives, helping them set up the technological aspects of modern farming , (I am told farmers need help with computerized equipment and electronics, and I have seen farm machinery wired in such a way that it might kill somebody), or farmers getting involved in city cooperatives and business initiatives (design and production of machinery, chemicals, etc.) There should be no need for huge factories in the cities, where possible, it would make more sense to distribute smaller factories around the countryside. (This is a tricky area, since things like cars or airplanes cannot be successfully manufactured on a small scale, but, do we really need all of these mega-items manufactured in the mega-factories?)

    There could be direct mini-markets opened between the city and farm folk, with good wholesome food, not “mad” meat or vegetables, full of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics, genetically modified, or even cloned products. (Recent news reported that the US will soon approve meat of cloned animals for human consumption.) Financial and banking institutions could be set up along the same lines.

    Perhaps this will help to move Distributism from an unknown and little understood underground resistance to an open economic and cultural rebellion, at least on a regional scale.

    Wild Goose

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  3. There are many popular Distributist-like grassroots movements. The thrift movement. The voluntary simplicity movement. The small is beautiful movement. The European slow food (vs. fast food) movement with its off-shoot slow cities. The downsizing movement. Birding. The home schooling movement. Organic farming. Farmer’s Markets. Vegetable gardening. Even garage sales.

    None of these movers is aware of Distributism or Chesterton/Belloc (except for Schumacher, whose working title for Small Is Beautiful was Chestertonian Economics). However these is widespread dissatisfaction with the rat race, consumerism, overloaded schedules and hurry, monolithic agribusiness, the devotion to “stuff,” and so on.
    ~ John Peterson

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  4. Wild goose:
    Might I challenge you to discuss with us something of John's essay with which you agree? And why you might agree with it?

    I would be interested in hearing that.

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  5. Hello Mrs. Brown,

    I think the point of any serious discussion is disagreement. I agree with most things other Chestertonians believe or think. That is why I consider myself a Chesertonian as well. I hope your blog does not shun honest disagreement.

    Distributism, or the social justice and economics within the context of politics, has been a hot potato since day one. (Really throughout the history.) Due to the complexity of the problem, there have been many disagreements between the Distributists. There were deep disagreements even between Chesterton and his brother Cecil. They were all very sincere and serious, but they all disagreed about some key issues.

    Considering myself a Chestertonian, I am quite disturbed by the fact that no real progress has been made in this area at all -- after almost 100 years of debating and arguing. (And consider that the Church and the Magisterium considers this to be a crucial problem as well.) The world is not getting closer to the Distributist ideal, or to social justice, but farther away from it, and the Church and the popes are directly challenging all of us to do something about it.

    Considering Chesterton one of the wisest and brightest persons who ever lived, I am disturbed when I find that other Chestertonians misread, misunderstand or misrepresent his ideas. I don’t claim that I have the truth, but when I object to something, I usually have some supporting facts and quotes. If I am wrong, prove me wrong. I won’t get angry or upset about it, I will thank anybody for correcting my mistakes.

    I do agree with Mr. Peterson’s previous post - there are many grass roots movements which are Distributist in nature, and none of them are aware of Chesterton and his ideas. However, once they discover him, if they do, they may raise the same questions I am raising.

    Wild Goose

    “Catholics know the two or three transcendental truths on which they do agree; and take rather a pleasure in disagreeing on everything else. (The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic.)

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  6. Hello Mr. Peterson,

    I agree with what you have said in the previous post. There are many grass-roots movements. This distributism (with small “d”) is happening because human nature cannot take the capitalist & socialist abuses any more. There is a larger problem in the world, which pope Benedict called “relativism”, and some of these movements, like home schooling, are opposed not so much to economic problems, but to moral and intellectual abuses.

    But, most of the movements you have mentioned are on the economic and common sense “survival” level - that is why the “green” and “environmental” movements are becoming so popular around the world. One of our challenges, as you have perhaps tried to hint at, is to direct these movement towards the real Distributism. And here we will have to defend the larger issues of morality and “property” - property as opposed to prostitution.

    “Property is a point of honor. The true contrary of the word “property” is the word “prostitution.” (Outline of Sanity, The beginning of the Quarrel, Collected Works p. 52)

    Wild Goose

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  7. Naturally, we welcome you here, Wild Goose, and thank you for your thoughtful comments, and hope you will continue visiting and commenting.

    You are right, there is plenty to be learned if there is a disagreement, and the two sides can hear each other out. And learn from each other, and decide where they do agree. If we perpetually disagree with people, we aren't becoming more intelligent, we are simply becoming isolated and disagreeable.

    The point of disagreeing is to figure out just what exactly is the disagreement, and then ask questions to draw out the other person. Half of arguing is listening to the other side; and not listening with half an ear formulating one's response while listening, but listening wholeheartedly, chewing on it, and then formulating a response.

    I would love to hear what you are doing about getting distributism more well known in the world, and how you are implementing it in your corner of this world. What one person can do if often all that can be done...however, it is easy to sit around the bar and complain that the world is getting further from the ideals of distributism, if one enjoys that sort of thing. In what ways, then, are you putting distribustism's ideals into practice in your life? In your work? In your home? Are you writing letters to the editor? Are you writing letters to your congressmen? Are you attempting to influence those you can who can do something about it?

    We can talk about ideals, and we can talk about how to implement them. But ultimately, we only have control over ourselves, and perhaps a small band of people called family around us. As you said, the pope and Church are asking us--challenging us--to do something...what are you doing?

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  8. Speaking as one who has foolishly fallen victim to the credit card companies and gotten into serious debt three times in his life, I would like to emphasize that a clearer understanding of the evils of usury would go a long way toward filling in the outline of sanity. The Protestants have begun to become aware of this. Dave Ramsey, a popular radio talk show host, has begun an outreach ministry at many Protestant churches across the country, which feature 13-week classes that train families how to get out of debt and stay out of debt - even including car and mortgage debt. And though it's all tied in with that Post-Calvinist "God will bless you with money if you follow Him" theology, still it begins with the Catholic recognition of the sin of usury (though they don't realize it's an inherited Catholic teaching and they don't call it usury).

    We could easily live on half of what I now make were it not for our combined debt - mortgage, car, credit cards. And think of insurance alone - this quasi-scam of insurance - how much do insurance premiums of various kinds rob from the American household? Just moving away from usurious debt would go very far toward establishing distributism; in fact, I can't see how a family can be distributist and in debt to the usurers at the same time.

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  9. Good points, Kevin. I recommend The Banker's Secret, a book which uncovers the usury at banks in terms of them lending money, and the unbelievable way they cheat Americans who dream of owning a home. Home loans have got to be the major cause of Bank wealth...look at how they charge the interest! Highway robbery. Making you pay it all up front, so they get their cut, then later on, when you could pay down the debt, they still have all their money, and you are out $100,000 or more.

    Real estate agents play into it as well, helping couples all over America buy homes they can't really afford, and locking them in to wage slavery for the next 30 years. And Americans are duped by the "Got to have a big home" "got to keep up with the Gates's" etc. mentality.

    My husband, luckily, read that book either at the beginning of our marriage or before, we are on our third home and each home has been paid off with a few years due to his diligence and hard work, and our combined frugality, as most of that time I have been at home raising children and homeschooling them.

    Last year, we took a further step, and left corporate America for a self-sustained lifestyle, which I know you do, too, Kevin. Being free from under that tyranny is wonderful and terrible: those benefits, and as you mentioned, insurance for the self-employeed is outrageous. Well, it's outrageous for all of us.

    Being out of debt is huge. It doesn't happen overnight. You have to be totally committed to it. We still have, for instance, the same furniture from our apartments before marriage. Two couches that don't match. But we can live with that, we have for 20 years, and we have no debt. We save for the vehicles before we buy them. Etc.

    There is a Catholic guy out there, who sounds like the Dave Ramsey equivalent. His name is Phil Lenahan, he has a book, and a bunch of articles here:
    http://www.catholicexchange.com/vm/archives.asp?vm_id=94&aut=733

    It is wrong for banks to charge interest the way they do, but we have to educate ourselves about what they are doing, and stay away from those theives.

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  10. " I can't see how a family can be distributist and in debt to the usurers at the same time."

    That is so true, Kevin. Like you, we had to learn that the hard way, I'm sad to say. We have no credit cards now, but we're still paying off the old ones.

    Nancy, how was it you guys were able to pay off your homes in just a few years? Did you not deal with banks, or did you have a lot of money socked away that you were able to toss at your bank to get out from under its thumb. I know this is a personal question, so if you don't want to answer, fine. I'm just curious.

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  11. Hello Mrs. B.

    Again, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about agreement and disagreement. However, it is easier to discuss and argue in private, in good company of friends, over a pint or two. It is a lot more difficult and time (and keystroke) consuming to do it in public in a more formal way. That is why I usually try to go straight to the point, even though a slower and more personable approach would be often more appropriate.

    What can one do to promote the cause of Distributism? Well, to start with, one should try to live it the best one can. Further, spread ideas about Chesterton and Distributism as much as you can (friends, neighbors, co-workers, parish members, club members, priests and bishops, mention GKC in emails to friends, during lecture question periods, meetings, etc., whenever appropriate.) Write articles or letters to the editor, give website addresses of Chestertonian organizations. Buy some Chestertonian books or magazine subscriptions for your parish library, if you have one. If you don’t have one, start one and stock it with Chesterton’s books and videos. (Glue in a short note about why Chesterton and this particular book is important. Include website addresses of Chesteronian organizations.) Offer to buy the Collected Works for your local college, university, or seminary library. (You can try your Public library as well.) Start a local Chesterton society (not an easy task, it may take years, but I haven’t given up yet.)

    Wild Goose

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  12. OK, let me try this again by uploading the note instead of typing it into the blog. Kinda frustrating when it flies away somewhere. Great stuff here!!!

    (In the earlier topic whioch is buried now): As for reforming the UAW as Goose suggests, or buying the corporations as John suggests, I don’t see how that works.

    The problem with Capitalism is its basis in dog eat dog competition, the constant grinding on workers to work harder and faster to eliminate other workers and eliminate the competition. According to the U.S. Catholic Bishops dog eat dog has now relegated 37 million Americans to poverty. Workers purchasing the corporation really doesn’t address the problems of overproduction, overwork and what productivity should mean in terms of quality of product and work life. Corporations can only be democratized by first eliminating Capitalism. No one is going to revolt against Capitalism however until they see a better alternative. In union life, whenever groups of workers bring themselves together to fight back, the alternative is always posed as Communism. And then these tiny movements fall apart.

    Catholic social teaching says we should be fulfilled by our work, even inspired by it. But the only things inspiring the workers today are the profound friendships they form and enjoy on the job. Their work gets increasingly hard. Small business people, office workers, nurses, teachers are increasingly stressed. Factory workers are increasingly injured by the intensity of their work. But the relationships that most workers enjoy beyond the family and neighborhood are the friends they have on their jobs. These ordinary, extraordinarily good folks are not connected outside their workplaces. To the extent now that there are connections, appointed favorites, true believers in the dog eat dog philosophy communicate between plants. They stay abreast of the “lean” production philosophy as it develops in other plants and communicate those fearsome developments to their own shop floors. The message is always creative job loss at another location threatens our jobs. The answer is always either match the job loss and raise them more job losses or none of us have work. These communicators are generally more articulate than the elected leaders, one reason they’re appointed. The dearth of principled debate within the local unions over the past 30 years means that dog eat dog and all its fear-mongering has won out over solidarity within the union. The on the job solidarity that gave autoworkers a modicum of control over their work, was systematically attacked and practically destroyed by the UAW’s favoritism and isolation of our local unions. Here and there, when workers were still able to organize themselves and strike, the UAW put down their strikes. Strikes at Caterpillar and Accuride and GM were actually destroyed by the UAW. Hard lessons for the fighters.

    Still, within every plant, most people continue to do their best for each other. There are still fights against speedup and battles against outsourcing. Occasionally workers attempt to reach out beyond their own plants in little solidarity movements. We still have some magnificent people on the jobs but it is harder than ever to get together because the local unions are competing against each other and the UAW sees all the good workers as troublemakers and radicals. The UAW does it’s best to separate and isolate these good workers. And I am not just picking on the UAW here. All the big unions do the same thing. They keep workers divided in order to sell the dog eat dog. Nothing can be done to reform this because the UAW and all the other big unions long ago abandoned the internal democracy necessary for reform. They continue meetings and conventions and delegate elections and appellant processes but all these things are carefully controlled and limited by the porkchoppers. Every trade union action is surveilled now. Every worker who stands up for someone else, or fights for a job, has a high profile within the UAW’s bureaucracy. Small fights get started but it is just about impossible to make them larger.

    Reform suggest to me that things are just a bit off, maybe there are some corruption problems that can be fixed by removing an individual, maybe some guy doesn’t really understand the union’s constitution of the principles and virtues of common men and women and we could educate him to the right thing. Reform doesn’t work because the questions about the UAW’s change are really questions about its philosophical revolution. The UAW, and all the big union shave revolted against the philosophy of the common good. All the big unions have rejected the idea that every person has a right to decent work and a happy future for their children. They have fought against the idea of solidarity and community and all that we have in common for the tragic philosophy of “diversity” ….the lie that our differences make us strong. While they throw millions of people into poverty, they worry about the complexion of the remaining workers. Instead of the idea of the fully employed community at good work, they give us the “realism” of the unfree market.

    We can do better than that.

    I am presently passing out copies of “Globalist Weeds” with an invitation to join The American Chesterton Society. I plan to do the same thing with the “Capitalism vs. Distributism” piece from the current Gilbert. One of the leaders of the local Pax Christi group told me yesterday it was the first he’s heard of Distributism and the first time he’s visited the G.K. site. I hope he joins this blog. Although I’ve given it to a number of workers, I haven’t received any feedback from them so I’m going to start interviewing some of them next week. I think people who have been involved in so much loss over so many years may be reluctant to join anything anymore. We’ve certainly had some severe lessons.

    I do believe however, that the cheerful goodness of Chesterton and Belloc’s clarity of where we could go, is going to bring some good people together in a truly common sense battle for our society.

    About eight or nine years ago, when I was running out of gas as a UAW rep, my friend Jeff James suggested I get a copy of “Orthodoxy”. I had to read it three times, maybe more, to get the gist of it. The paradox style was hard on me in the beginning. A couple of years later, after a few more GK books I asked Jeff if GK ever wrote anything about economics? Then he told me about Distributism. Much later I saw that Belloc and Chesterton had a good position on the Guilds. And then Jeff told me he’s not a Catholic. He’s a philosopher who reads Catholic writers because they make so much sense. And now he’s a UAW rep in Ohio, undergoing the difficulties of his factory closing. His interest in Chesterton is helping him through these times. He’s devoted to finding the truth of things and does his best to pass them on to others. A great man. Another friend is Larry Solomon, a devout Christian, not Catholic, who was one of the most courageous UAW leaders during the Caterpillar battles. A man very much like Martin Luther King, Jr. Larry is retired but continues to fight for solidarity and recommends in the way of direct action, a return to the Holiday Movement. He suggests we will win if we can just organize a few million workers to take it easy on the same days. That will work. But we need to settle on what the thing is that we are fighting for and the idea that the people who own the tools own the business is a pretty good answer. Another guy like Larry is Billy Robinson, a good ‘ol Kentucky boy who led the strike at Accuride that was attacked & traitored away by the UAW. Billy continue the good fight even though he has a bad back that’s extremely painful. These guys prove that any good person can arrive at the sensibility of worker ownership and control. You don’t have to be Catholic to believe in that. You don’t even have to be Christian.

    Most of my friends are people who are the best friends to people in difficulty and celebration. They have helped me through all sorts of problems and made all the best times better. I have seen them do wonderful and unselfish things for all kinds of people over the years. They are the people who retain and defend our union if you think of a union being virtuous people helping one another. It pains me to see that we have no organized way out of what we face and into a drive for a truly happy society and world.

    I think we could have that way just by distributing the principles of Distributism before most workers. (Some are always going to be a problem.) The Guild philosophy should resonate with factory workers at least. A union that is truly a family, that operates democratically to unite the complete workforce from design to production, that operates without competition, with the highest regard to quality specifications and value and does it’s utmost for the quality of work life; that idea has it all over the dictatorial, inhuman, massive state/rich productions systems of Left and Right elites.

    Sorry to run on like this but this is exciting, inspirational stuff that will take off if we can just get it in front of enough workers. And small business people and family farmers of course.

    I have a friend who runs a grocery in my hometown who epitomizes citizen commerce. But that’s another story.

    Tom

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  13. Tom,
    You are inspiring. Thanks for everything you are doing to get Chesterton's ideas out there, and for promoting the Chesterton society. And for telling us these stories of great men who are living authentic lives, giving workers hope, treating people as people ought to be treated.
    Thanks for this.

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  14. God bless you Nancy for your work in beginning this blog and for your wonderful encouragement!

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  15. Hi Tom,

    I also lost two posts to this blog, so you are not the only one. The best thing is to write the comment in the word or text processorm, save it, and then copy & paste it into the blog comment.

    I have read your long message in the Cow thread and I will respond.

    Wild Goose

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  16. Hello Tom,

    Fist to clarify, I understand the UAW cannot be reformed, only perhaps influenced to a certain degree if enough workers are behind these Distributist oriented initiatives. (But, like Belloc, I m not optimistic about that.) Since all actions are surveilled within the UAW, those interested in Distributism must associate outside! The solidarity has to be built outside of UAW, and then ‘action’, regardless of surveillance, will be carried into it. (Think of it as a quasi-secret society working within the UAW. :-) But, just like in Poland, the solidarity has to be within the wider context of Distributism, religion and the Church, as even the early Distributists realized. The main action of you association of sympathetic workers thus will be outside, not inside UAW, working on the “revolution”, while the inside action will deal with the contemporary issues UAW deals with. I don’t think you can turn a union into a family-like organization, unless you have like-minded membership that is willing to sacrifice. (But then it may become an exclusive club or society that will prevent the outsiders from joining in and enjoying benefits like secure employment, family benefits...)

    I know the early and contemporary Distribustists recommended purchasing & owning corporations, but I see problems with this. I agree that “Corporations can only be democratized by first eliminating Capitalism.” But this is where the real problem is - How?

    A new concrete and practical vision would be nice, but I think even the early Distributists realized that proposing something concrete is next to impossible. (Hence the “gradualist” approach, but not “evolution”!) However, what Distributism proposes is the whole spectrum of ideas and sub-ideals (or partial ideals) that will work within the scope of main ideal, no matter how fuzzy or complex it may seem. The important thing is, as I have been harping on, to agree on the ideal we should all, (all people of good will), be striving towards.

    In any case, the theoretical simplification of all activities and processes is necessary to see more clearly what it is these partial ideals are. Using technical jargon, we need a large scale blueprint showing the whole thing and outlines (and no large scale drawing will have everything shown with all details), then we need details of important parts and assemblies of society.

    The preference for a particular life-style depends on the individual psyche and mentality of each family, but, as I said earlier, there have to be concrete partial ideals to choose from - farmer, trader, worker, teacher, engineer, scientist/researcher, physician, pharmacist, etc. I still think, like Chesterton and many others, that all these should be somehow centered around land ownership and there has to be a tie back to nature & land in some way for all people, like in a large occupationally distributed family. The city people need to understand and be interested in (even financially) in the country problems, and vice versa.

    You mentioned the Guild idea, and I teased you a bit about it. There is a reason - I don’t think the guild will work until the larger scale problems are solved. The reason is simple - the guild has to be in charge of the whole sector of its production, price controls, etc. The early Distributists proposed some regional models, such as with in the scope of a self-sustaining village, but I hope you can see the problems of such an arrangement, especially for larger & complex manufacturing (of cars, farm machinery, etc.) That is why the early Distributists focused on simple living and handicrafts that could be done within this “village” model. And that is why these bearded unshaven “fanatics” were considered cranks. Some proposed “national” guild systems, but that never happened, it was all just wishful thinking, and it will be next to impossible to achieve world-wide due to globalization. It would be nice to have a modern version of the guild system for each industry, but I just don’t see how it could be done. (The rapidly changing technology adds to the problem.)

    Unfortunately, Chesterton did not write anything “technical” about economics. Economics is a rather difficult area, and our problem is that the “liberal” ideas and theories starting with Adam Smith completely detached the higher purpose (religion, ethics) from the economic processes. However, Belloc wrote an “economics” primer called “Economics for Helen,” and it is interesting reading.

    Wild Goose

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  17. OK, thanks Goose. I have "Economics for Helen" here somewhere. I may not live long enough to read all this stuff tho.

    Belloc suggested downsizing franchises by taxing them progressively so that owning more than five of them would cease to be profitable. That would work when the government becomes democratic.

    As for large production Guilds and what they might look like today, let's take a look at the Navy's Nuclear Sub program. The Chief Scientist of the Navy, at the direction of Rickover, assembled the greatest artisans and tradesmen in the country - in an inspirational rather than competitve environment - and built a product of such incredible quality, the military had to lie about it's superiority. Same thing with the space program. Auto production could easily be run by the same type of organization.

    But as Belloc said, people have to really want this, really want things to change.

    Tom

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