09 October, 2009

Is It Practical to Start Living According to Distributist Principles Right Now?

I often see two things in my perusing of various distributist discussion sites: calls by fellow distributists that we actually start living and conducting business in a distributive manner, and criticism by non-distributists that we are not doing so. It is high time that we start responding to these calls.

Unfortunately, true opportunities to implement distributist principles into our daily home and business life are limited; not because the principles don't work, but because the laws of business have been established to favor big business and monopoly. This was a critical point in Hilaire Belloc's “Essay on the Restoration of Property.” Some critics may be tempted to interject with an “Ah HA!” at this point, but that is only because they have never leaned the history of the economic transformation from the medieval form of distributism to the monopolistic capitalism we have today. It involved changing the laws, which had favored a distributist style of economy, to favor the burgeoning monopolistic capitalism desired by its proponents. Therefore, it should be no surprise that a large amount of time is spent by today's distributists trying to influence public opinion to favor distributism. Ultimately, without a change of law, distributism won't survive any more than capitalism would have if the laws had not changed those few centuries ago. Without the support of public opinion, the laws won't change.

It would be difficult, for example, to establish a distributist “enclave” in some area of the country without running afoul of the law. What happens when large chain stores start to move into the area? Is it legal in any state of the U. S. to pass a law only allowing locally owned businesses? I believe an attempt to do so would invoke federal jurisdiction under the “Interstate Commerce” clause. It would also be illegal to restrict property ownership and housing to those who agree with our economic views.

What about the local currency movement? Many distributists think that is a great idea, but what backs that currency? If it is not backed by some commodity that can hold its value, it is no better than the fiat currency we already use. Even if we attempted to back it, the U. S. Constitution grants Congress the exclusive authority to mint money and regulate its value. Yes, I know that they have unconstitutionally abdicated that authority to the Federal Reserve, but that won't stop them from stomping on any group that actually tried to establish a competing currency within the country. The only option that is consistent with distributism seems to be direct barter, but then we must be prepared to face the difficulties that will come up when it's time to fill out our Income Tax forms!

The point is that we cannot succeed in establishing distributism in opposition to the law, nor should we even attempt to do so. We are law-abiding citizens who want the law to change so we can live in the manner we prefer. Until that happens, we have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. Therefore, we must continue to explain and promote distributism to society. Monopolistic capitalism has provided us with more people who may be willing to listen. The current economic crisis, which I believe is going to get worse, has many people questioning the economic wisdom of those who run our nation's economy. Well, they're not going to learn about the true causes of this crisis from either the government or the big businesses that caused the current crisis, nor will learn about them from the news media because it supports the current establishment.

However, it is true that the current economic laws and situations don't prevent us from implementing at least some of our distributist principles in our daily lives. When making purchases, try to do so in a way that supports local business as much as possible. Don't go to the big-chain coffee stand if there is a locally owned stand available. Find a shop or market that offers locally made products and buy those locally made products. We must not be like the people in the movie, “You've Got Mail.” They all said they supported the local book shop, but then went to the big chain book store for the lower prices that monopoly can offer. Because they failed to support the local shop, it went out of business.

We should start to live out our distributist principles as much as is practical. We could come up with a distributist symbol that could be placed in shop windows, so we can support each other. We could offer goods and services for barter, provided we made sure we still complied with the tax laws. If the laws didn't prevent it, we could even establish our own financial institutions that operated under distributist principles. We may have to continue to deal with fiat currency, but that doesn't mean that we can't try to avoid usury in our financial agreements.

Would doing this help to convince others to favor distributism? Let's face it, many non-distributists won't accept distributism unless they can see it in action; even in a limited form. Such efforts could actually go a long way in getting others to accept our views by allowing them to actually experience aspects of distributism. However, until the movement grows to the point where it is truly an economic force, the best can hope to achieve is a hybrid. Of course, if we ever do become an economic force, we will face the true might of the monopolistic power that ultimately controls our plutocracy.

Is it really worth the fight? Yes.


  1. Perhaps the real road to such a change is not revolution but evolution. Modifying the laws that govern capitalism one little piece at a time until the system is more distributist than capitalist. Society has trouble grasping big change all at once (most of the time, though rare exceptions do exist).

    Barter? Why? The fact of the matter is that almost no one wants to deal with a barter system. It is too much like buying a car with all the haggling, it is simply painful, and the barter system will never be accepted as a primary system. I think the thing to do here is to change the way that currency is controlled. Cut out the federal reserve to begin with, and pull the banking tendrils out like the weeds they are. Maybe we should consider the implementation of local currency as well as a national currency, though I fear it would be difficult to sustain the local currencies due to the fact that the national currency would allways be favored for it's simplicity. Perhaps someone could think of a brilliant idea for getting around that pitfall.

    I like your practical, do today suggestions at the end, but sadly the system favors the giants in their ability to charge lower prices and makes it difficult in many circumstances. Given the outrageous prices that Starbucks charges, that is not one of them. It is very difficult for a local shop to compete with a Walmart or an Amazon however.

    Good post!

  2. Revolution is definitely not the answer. That is why we must persuade. If change is to come, it will be gradual, and it will only progress as (if) it becomes more generally accepted.

    I agree about the difficulty of barter. However, it is better than an alternate local "fiat" currency that has no true value to support it. The national currency must be fixed to a standard and unchanging value.