18 June, 2015
Achieving Distributism - Part III
There are two social foundations of distributism; decentralized political authority according to the principles of subsidiarity, and the wide-spread private ownership of productive property. When established, these foundations will result in greater freedom for individuals and families throughout society in general and a more stable national economy supported by strong local economies. What is needed to actually achieve this? I believe it starts with shifting our philosophical outlook. We need to realize that economics is not the kind of science we have been told it is. We need to look beyond the immediate end of our economic activities and see how those activities fit within the overall community. If we do this, we will start to see how a local community is self-supporting in ways that corporate capitalism is not. We will start to see that, when we consider how our economic decisions can benefit or harm others in our community, we will all benefit.
Subsidiarity will empower citizens of local communities to make changes they need to fit their local circumstances. They could change zoning laws to eliminate the need to purchase multiple properties to live and work in most cases. This would eliminate the need to commute unless you didn't work at a local business. They could choose for themselves what businesses will be in the community, and protect their local businesses from anti-competitive activities by those who would seek to undermine them. They could establish their own organizations to ensure health, safety, and quality standards.
Distributism will not eliminate all economic problems or the problem of people who try to take advantage of others; it just mitigates the scope of those problems and creates an environment where people are better able to address and correct them when they arise. Much of this is based on the emphasis on the local economy and the idea that people will see that supporting the local economy is the best way to support themselves. However, this is not an exclusive preference. Distributism is not against trade or against the technological advances that have made it easier to sell products abroad. The principles of distributism are adaptable to societal and technlogical changes.
Some industries rely on a customer base that is not naturally confined to a local community. Books and video entertainment, where fans of specific genres are likely to be in many different regions, is an example of this. This can also apply to various craft work and products that can easily be shipped to the customer. The modern ability to sell over the internet and use modern government subsidized distribution methods (roads and ports) are tools that can fit within the distributist model. There are already businesses that operate in ways compatible with distributism and utilize these methods. In fact, those of us who advocate distributism can utilize these tools to support those businesses. After all, if the money is going to leave your community anyway, isn't it better to support another community's local business than some corporate entity just because it has a store in your area?
The same can be said for businesses like car manufacturers. While there is certainly no true economic reason for there to be as few manufacturers than currently exist, it is not really practical for each local community to have its own. These, more regional, businesses can also fit within the distributist model if they were cooperatives rather than corporate run entities over which many people just have the illusion of ownership
The question of regional and state natural resources becomes more complicated. When it comes to resources, like oil, that cannot be reliably restricted within property lines, there are solutions that seem to me to be compatible with distributism, but there are many questions that still need to be considered before accepting them. Likewise with reforms of the copyright and patent laws that need to be changed.
The software industry is particulary interesting. The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement definitely has some provisions that make it compatible with distributism. The only change I would make is to the "free" requirement. I think the open-source requirement brings in at least some elements of a guild like environment for developers. It also opens the door for more developers and vendors. It seems to me that there is nothing unjust with those who want to use software that is the result of someone else's work having to buy it. It seems to me that, if the source were to remain open, but vendors were allowed to charge for the compiled, ready to run versions, the model would still work quite well. The average person would be willing to pay for it rather than have to deal with compiling it, and the presence of many independent vendors will keep prices reasonable.
As you can see, distributism does not constitute an abandonment of the advances we have made, but it is a different way of approaching matters of economics. The philosophical view required to accept these changes represents a major shift for our society, but I believe it would be a shift toward a greater good for each of us individually and for society as a whole.
What can we do in the mean time? Each of us can, according to our ability, start to support distributism by supporting locally owned businesses, and by supporting businesses that are run in ways more compatible with distributst principles over those that aren't. We can engage in conversations and other ways of sharing our ideas to show others that there is another way that can work besides those more commonly known. We can try to make changes in our local communities to better support local businesses. We can try and address zoning laws that force us to commute, or own multiple properties on which to live and work. We can advocate the devolution of centralized political authority that prevent us from making these changes. We can strive to be economically independent so that we will be truly free.