With all the talk of “socialism” this year, one might think that it is the only alternative to capitalism. It’s not. Even within capitalism, there are designations, such as Laissez-faire, Social market, Casino capitalism, Neo-capitalism, and, well, Fascism. Likewise, under socialism, there are options, such as Democratic socialism, Marxism–Leninism, Communism, and Anarcho-primitivism. Those are just some of the different types of capitalism and socialism. There are many other economic systems, including, but not limited to, Dirigism, Mercantilism, and even Feudalism.
Most of the possible economic systems have few proponents, but one alternative to capitalism and socialism is Distributism, and it’s gaining interest, as described in the American Conservative.
Distributism Isn’t Outdated. G.K. Chesterton offers a non-statist vision for economic and social change that’s still relevant in the age of the iPhone. . .
Chesterton’s “distributist” project tried to chart a middle course (but not “Third Way”!) between laissez faire capitalism on the one side and state socialism on the other. The problem with the former, as Chesterton wrote in The Outline of Sanity 10 years after the Russian Revolution, was that “The practical tendency of all trade and business today is towards big commercial combinations, often more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth.” While of the alternative, Chesterton said, “the point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets.”. . .
Chesterton took issue with. . .the then-current defense of capitalism. . .that it was a “defense of keeping most men in wage dependence; that is, keeping most men without capital.” This conviction compelled Chesterton to lambast big business (which backfired when big chain of news stands refused to sell G.K.’s weekly); to monitor and oppose mergers; to advocate independent proprietorship; and to pronounce on every possible occasion that “small is beautiful”. . .
Well, I think we could envisage in our economies a radical increase in the rate of self-employment—by which I mean, proportionately, a small increase! Small but significant. For, excitingly, many of the jobs that lend themselves to self-employment—bike shops, cleaning, landscape gardening, building trades—are entry-level. Ownership can be most achievable for some of the most disadvantaged and for the longest unemployed. . .
Many on the right say that the best thing men and women in the business community could do for the poor is to start companies. Absolutely, but what about starting companies that the poor have a stake in from the very start?
The concept of Distributism is capitalism, but in which capitalists do not have all the power. Also, property is owned by local groups and families; not rich, distant, disinterested individuals.
In this essay we will consider an interesting social phenomenon in the United States whereby a very large number of small businesses across a variety of sectors are owned by first generation immigrants.
If you do not know what I mean, let me posit a few examples that are common, at least in the Midwest where I live. Hotels and motels are often owned by Indians. Diners are frequently under the ownership of eastern European families. Ownership of gas stations, party stores, and liquor stores are dominated by Arabs, either Muslim or Chaldean Christian. Nail salons are run by Asians. Other examples could be furnished from other regions of the United States. . .
On paper, a working-class immigrant should be the least likely individual to own a business. The obstacles are legion: language barriers, unfamiliarity with the complex network of local, state, and federal regulations, usually no credit or business history within the country, limited access to capital, etc. And yet there is a preponderance of ownership by these very individuals.
In other words, our country is stronger when we say, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as quoted in The Daily Caller, as opposed to the current push to, “give us only your rich and skilled, who will take the jobs Americans really want.”
The Imaginative Conservative notes that the Catholic Church has often promoted Distributism, as a way to counter the giant central government, forcing more power to localities.
“Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
Put simply, the principle of subsidiarity rests on the assumption that the rights of small communities—e.g., families or neighbourhoods—should not be violated by the intervention of larger communities—e.g., the state or centralized bureaucracies. . .
Unlike the socialists, the distributists were not advocating the redistribution of ‘wealth’ per se, though they believed that this would be one of the results of distributism. Instead, and the difference is crucial, they were advocating the redistribution of the means of production to as many people as possible.
Being conservative doesn’t necessarily mean to “conserve” traditions that are harmful. Distributism is something on which liberals and conservatives could both agree, giving individuals and small groups more power than the corporations and government.
In recent years, corporations have avoided giving employees benefits by cutting them loose. As “independent contractors,” individuals have no security, but they do have more autonomy. And recently, they are also fighting to gain power (“Raging Against the Machine”), as with the rebellion of Uber and Lyft drivers, according to Business Insider.
It’s far from the first time drivers for the companies have organized demonstrations, but this time — the week of Lyft’s first earnings report as a public company and Uber’s initial public offering— is particularly salient, as [capitalists] are set to become very rich thanks to the IPOs.
At the crux of the drivers’ argument is a measure known as the “take rate,” or the percentage of each fare the company keeps; it averages about 20% for Uber and 25% for Lyft. Skimming more money from fares can appease Wall Street investors but make drivers angrier.
What if there were less ‘skimming”? What if the contractors were allowed to keep a higher percentage of their earnings? What if the corporations were there to facilitate local business people, instead of sucking up their wealth to give to idle investors?
What began as a way for corporations to cheat workers has become an opportunity for individuals to throw off the shackles of subservience. Instead of “Workers of the World Unite!” the new slogan may be, “Independent Contractors of the World Unite!”