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Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism: A Third Alternative

In the lead up to Earth Day this year, I wrote a 21-part series of posts offering practical suggestions for how to honor the Earth beyond the standard ideas of planting a tree and picking up litter (both of which are good, but insufficient).  (You can see the list here.)

Number 6 was “Fight Capitalism.”  I wrote:

“Our capitalist economic system is fundamentally incompatible with a healthy planetary ecosystem.  We live on a planet with finite resources, but our economic system is premised on infinite growth.  And since we can’t change the laws of nature, we must change our economic system.  This means challenging some of our most cherished myths …

We can unlearn capitalist ways of thinking.  Capitalism infects all of our relationships: with other people, with other-than-human beings, and with the Earth. … Think about your relationship to the place you live.  Is it a place you ‘use’, or is it a world you inhabit, cherish, and care for?  We learned these ways of thinking, and we can unlearn them.”

One of the commenters asked me what we are to replace capitalism with.  It’s a common question that I hear in response to critiques of capitalism.  The reason why people ask this so often is because capitalism has so colonized our minds that we are incapable of imagining alternatives.

Capitalism ≠ Markets

13743608_622425937932025_2060653650_nOne point of confusion is that capitalism has been conflated with markets  People think that capitalism means people buying and selling things.  But that’s a “market.”  And there can be markets without capitalism.

What is capitalism then? A capitalist society is a market society in which the concentration of wealth in a small percentage of the population.  A capitalist society is divided into two classes: the capitalist class, which owns the means of production, and the working class, which must sell their labor to survive.  The government protects and perpetuate this division through creation and enforcement of laws like limitations on liability of corporations, protection of usury (lending with interest), and free trade agreements.

The Problem With Capitalism

The capitalist class exploits the working class by living off their labor and reinvesting profits to create more profits, which are not shared with the working class.  The members of the working class have no real power in this system, because their only options are to accept the terms of employment by the capitalist class or starve.  This is where the term “wage slavery” comes from.”  Workers put up with this because they believe they are all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.  In other words, they have bought into the promise of the American Dream.  But the natural outcome of a capitalist society is the increasing consolidation of property in the hands of an ever shrinking capitalist class and an ever growing class of people who earn just enough to survive (or not enough to survive) — exactly what we are witnessing today.

But this division of society between capitalists and workers is not necessary for markets, or for buying and selling, to exist.  There are other kinds of market economies than capitalism.  Some people think the only alternative to capitalism is Society-style communism — which they believe was debunked with the fall of the USSR — or socialism — which they see as a slippery slope to Soviet-style communism.  The truth is that there are many alternatives to capitalism.  Communism and socialism are just two.*  Distributism is another.

Distributism’s Origins

A little history:  Distributism has its roots in Catholic social theory, starting with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (“Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”), which published in 1891, in the wake of the rise of capitalism and industrialization, as well as the socialist and communist reactions to these.  In the encyclical, Pope Leo called attention to the poverty of the majority of the working class.  He supported the rights of the working class to organize and form unions for purpose of collective bargaining, in lieu of state intervention.  He rejected both capitalism and socialism.  And he affirmed the right to private property.

These ideas were later supplemented by other Popes, including Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anon in 1931, Pope John XXIII’s Mater et magistrate in 1961, and Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus annus (1991).  (Distributist ideas also can be found in Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on the environment. ) The ideas in these documents were taken up by British authors G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who formed them into a coherent system called “distributism.”  It was eventually adopted by leaders of the Catholic Worker Movement like Dorothy Day.  Although distributism began as a Catholic idea, distributism’s later supporters were not necessarily Catholic.

What is Distributism?

occupy-vennDistributism is not a middle ground between capitalism and socialism.  Rather, it rejects both capitalism and socialism, which it sees as flips sides of the same coin.  From the distributist perspective, capitalism inevitably leads to the concentration of power in big businesses who hold monopolies and exploit workers, consumers, and the environment. On the other hand, socialism also leads to a concentration of power, but in the hands of big government and a political elite.  This concentration of power, either in big business or big government, has the same effect of disempowering the majority of people.  Distributism sees capitalism and socialism, big business and big government, as mutually reinforcing, one leading to the other hand back again in a vicious cycle.  (The military-industrial complex has many analogues.)  Distributism seeks a third way: instead of big business or big government, we would have “big community”.

Distributism sees economics as a subset of ethics.  Thomas Storck explains in “Capitalism and Distributism: Two Systems at War,”

“Distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life. It does not regard the mere production of goods, still less the acquisition of wealth, as ends in themselves.”

Our current capitalist system turns this on its head and renders everything — the family, religion, even our bodies — subordinate to the production of wealth for the capitalist class. In a distributist economy, the economy is made to serve the needs — both material and spiritual — of all human beings.

Small is Beautiful

The motto of a distributism is “Small is Beautiful”.  Distributism favors the small and the local.  A fundamental concept in distributism is “subsidiarity,” the idea any activity of economic production should be performed by the smallest possible unit — down to the family.

Another important concept is “solidarity” or “solidarism”, the recognition of our interconnectedness.  Thus, it is the family, not the individual, that is the core of distributist society.  The family is understood as connected to other families through social and biological bonds, and to the whole human family, as well as all life on earth.

In the distributist ideal, the family is in control of the means of production.  No larger unit should perform a function which can be performed by a smaller unit.  Thus, distributism favors anti-trust legislation that breaks up monopolies and concentration of market power in one or only a few companies.  As G.K. Chesterton wrote,

“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

Distributism affirms private property, but rejects its consolidation in the hands of an elite — the 1%.  Instead, it advocates distributing (hence the name) property ownership as widely as possible.  Note, this is different from re-distributing income.  Distributists believe that, when people own the land on which they work and from which they and their families benefit, they work harder and take greater care of the earth.

What Does A Distributist Society Look Like?

So what would a distributist society look like?  Well, Private property would still exist, but most property would be owned by families. Small, family-owned farms and artisan businesses would produce most goods.  Most people would grow at least some of their own food, and the rest would be produced as locally as possible.

Most people would be able to earn a living without having to rely on the property of others.  Farmers would own their own land, artisans would own their own tools, and so on.  There would be markets and competition, but instead of mass production and cheap poor quality goods with built-in obsolescence, local artisans would create high quality products with the expectation that they would be repaired when they broke, not tossed in the trash.

Co-operatives of families and guilds (rather than unions) of workers would exist, but anti-trust and tax laws would prevent companies from growing too big.  Where monopolies are necessary, such as public utilities, they would be owned publicly and locally.  Local credit unions would replace big banks. Social security would be provided by mutual aid societies.   The federal government would exist to provide mutual defense, ensure that human rights are respected, and foster cooperation among smaller political units.

Distributism: A Pagan Ideal?

I’m not an expert on economic matters by any means, so I welcome constructive critiques of the ideas I’ve shared here.  Although it has its roots in Catholic social theory, I think distributism has a lot in common with Pagan critiques of capitalist society I’ve seen here at G&R and elsewhere.  I expect the “small is beautiful” concept will resonate with a lot of Pagans.  I’d like to see more discussion — both pro and con — of distributism as an alternative to capitalism (and socialism) on Pagan blogs and in Pagan forums.  So share your comments below, or write your own post in response.

Some Distributist Resources

“Distributism Basics” by David W. Cooney

A Brief Introduction

Distributist Economic Society

Distributism vs. Capitalism

Distributism vs. Socialism

The Nature and Roles of Government

The Science of Economics

What’s Wrong With Capitalism

The Distributist Review

“An Introduction to Distributism” by John Médaille

“Distributism: Economics As If People Mattered” by Peter Chojnowski

“A Parallel Economy” by Peter Chojnowski

Colin Kovarik (10 minute slideshow)

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My thanks to NaturalPantheist, whose essay, “Pagan Political Economy”, inspired me to learn more about distributism.

*There’s actually lots of different kinds of communism and socialism.

94 Comments »

  1. I just shared this article on my private facebook account. Your ideas are always very inspiring and it also helps to find my own voice and to find the right words to describe what is on my mind. Greetings from Germany, Claudia

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  2. I pretty much wrote about this sort of thing already ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pathsthroughtheforests/2015/01/05/land-ownership-entitlement-public-private-commons-crown-what-is-the-best-way/ ), ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pathsthroughtheforests/2015/11/05/worldview-connections-a-meditation-of-our-worldviews-and-its-impacts/ ) , but it didn’t have a name for it. I still see it as a form of capitalism, just a sub-category of it. An improved form of Socio-Capitalism ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_market_economy ).

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  3. One of the questions that needs to be addressed is whether Distributism can have the same productivity as either capitalism or socialism. A bit of distributism has echos in the past: small farms and artisan businesses were the norm up to about 200 years ago. The reason corporations took over from the family farmers and corner grocery stores were because of a concept called economy of scale. If we look at just the increase in food production that economy of scale is responsible for, we have to ask ourselves whether going back to small farms can match that and thus ensure that everyone is fed. For the world population has exploded in part as a result of economy of scale in the agricultural industry.

    I think that as cheap energy goes the way of the dinosaur (assuming no replacement is found for fossil fuels), Distributism might be the way society evolves. Yet, there will be a major change in our population size, particularly as we lose the ability to feed our cities. Any thoughts on that John?

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    • You wrote: “One of the questions that needs to be addressed is whether Distributism can have the same productivity as either capitalism or socialism.”

      It depends on what you mean by productivity. If you mean what capitalists typically mean by “productivity” — uninhibited growth — then, no, I don’t imagine it would be like that. If you mean, would people work as hard. I suspect they would work harder (but maybe more efficiently), because they own their own labor.

      You wrote: “…a concept called economy of scale.”

      First, I think a shift to distributist economy would go hand in hand with an enforced reduction in population growth — especially in industrialized nations — but that’s a post for another day. In any case, I believe the theory is that cooperatives would provide the needed security for individual families. I would point out, though, that our existing system is not providing food security for everyone. While we are probably producing enough food now to feed the world, we are not distributing it well, so there are still vast numbers people who experience food insecurity, many who live with daily hunger, and some who are literally starving.

      I think that as cheap energy goes the way of the dinosaur (assuming no replacement is found for fossil fuels), Distributism might be the way society evolves. Yet, there will be a major change in our population size, particularly as we lose the ability to feed our cities. Any thoughts on that John?

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      • Hi John,

        By productivity, I don’t mean uninhibitied growth. I am asking whether smaller farms, using smaller equipment can achieve the same yield per acre as larger farms with larger equipment. This is where economy of scale comes into play. This is course is independent on the problems between farm and market.

        As to enforced reduction of population, I think this goes against man’s basic instincts to reproduce. How did a similar program work for China? If it didn’t work in what some have called an “ant society,” how could it possibly work in a free one?

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      • Regarding this question of whether small farms can outproduce larger ones … I think the answer is a strong yes, given the fact that smaller farms take better care of their land, are mindful of the fertility of the soil and from a longer term perspective can do a much more intensive form of production on their land. I’ve seen a few studies to this effect … I believe the book, “Dirt, the erosion of civilization” references a few of them.

        Thanks for the thought provoking post and discussion! Enjoyed the article.

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    • Significant proportions of the food grown in modern agriculture is discarded before it even leaves the farm because it doesn’t perfectly match the colour, shape and condition that exacting consumers demand. Significant amounts are also wasted in the hotel and airline industries, as well as supermarkets. Yet there is much hunger and poverty in the world. Clearly capitalism is spectacularly poor at meeting the objectives of feeding people. Very few people actually work in agriculture and if the Japanese experiment with an automated farm proves successful and scalable, that number will eventually fall to zero. In that scenario, if we are still paying for food ingredients it will be purely to meet the financial elite’s demand for yield on their investment.

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    • On productivity and economies of scale, Woods Wizard, there are a boatload of tacit assumptions in your comment. Yes the question of whether we can ensure everybody is fed is extraordinarily important – however perhaps our goal is to do so sustainably for the long term, in relationship with a diverse, and living earth, where the underlying assumption is that this Earth is full of consciousness other than my own that is of value. Enlarge the goal and it is not clear that the productivity that you speak of is necessarily the highest and best use of human intelligence, our labor, or the possibilities of relationship with the land and spirit.

      Capitalism does seem to work only when we have accepted exactly one dimension as the goal of human activity, maximum return for the investor – that is maximum productivity. Even the strongest apologist for Capitalism claims that all the good that comes from ‘The Free Market’, other than ROI, is an epiphenomena of the achievement of the monetary return. Those who propose alternatives to Capitalism quite rightly argue that Capitalism’s single dimension of success has epiphenomena that enslave millions, provide untold environmental destruction, and preclude the development of love or meaningful relationship with spirit.

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      • If you are reading more assumptions into my response than “can we feed everyone” then you are not following my intent.

        If we believe that life is important; that nature is important and we are all part of nature, then we must consider the effect of a system on all life, including human life.

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    • In its current form capitalism is extraordinarily expensive and inefficient. Changing the way we exchange goods and services by eliminating debt will reduce trading overheads by at least 50% probably more. To read more on how to reduce costs visit https://kevinrosscox.me/2016/09/01/pricing-by-consensus/

      Distributionism is much more productive in the sense of greater value for lower effort than capitalism in its current form of using made up markets to set prices and hence allocate resources.

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  4. This ideology shares the same fatal flaw of both socialism and corporatism:

    It relies on government coercion to enforce it’s ideological norms.

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  5. “Private property would still exist, but most property would be owned by families.” OK, so would England and Thailand (or for that matter virtually any feudalistic society) qualify as “distributist”?

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  6. The author does not practice what he preaches. If economic, political and social power are to be distributed to the community, then they are the ones who should determine what the new world will look like, from the big decisions down to the tiniest of details. So the “Third Alternative” is the people’s alternative. Collectively, the they are the ones who get to decide.

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    • It will be curious to see how the world evolves when cheap energy is no longer an option. I think is is likely to be an organic process, and Distributism might be part of it – if it can withstand other alternatives which will be more authoritarian.

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  7. This is mere primitive catholic doctrine dressed up in a mal-adapted time-waster. Keep religion out of it. Religion always requires a certain degree of brainwashing, like capitalists have done to those who have convinced the masses that the rich “know better.” A combination of competent socialism with properly purposed capitalism is the next step. It’s the future…if we move fast enough to even have one.

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    • I agree that distributism is basically just glorified Catholic primitivism. However, I like its critique of both capitalism and socialism, and its suggestion that there is a third option, one that doesn’t arise as a middle ground between the two. Personally, if forced to choose between capitalism and socialism, I am a socialist. However, I haven’t seen a convincing answer from socialist theory as to how to prevent the government we put in place from disempowering people the same way that corporations did. Another example of a third option is that presented by the late Jacque Fresco of the Venus Project: “The aims of The Venus Project have no parallel in history, not with communism, socialism, fascism or any other political ideology. This is true because cybernation is of recent origin. With this system, the system of financial influence and control will no longer exist.” I’m not saying I agree wholesale with Fresco’s proposal either. I’m just suggesting that, while distributism obviously isn’t the answer because it’s an unrealistic call for a return to the past, we should open our minds to ways of structuring society that might be missed if we limit ourselves to the socialism-capitalism binary.

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  8. Do you envision a Distributist economy as mostly distributing goods and services through monetized markets?

    If so, how would that be prevented from developing into full-on capitalism (as the small-producer economies of early modern English towns and villages did)? As long as there’s private property and a market, then there will be an incentive to accumulate capital, increase productivity, and increase market share – and a disincentive not to, because as soon as one person starts doing it, then all the others will have to start or lose their market share entirely. So, some become full-on bourgeoisie and others lose entirely and go work for them. I’m curious how Distributism gets around that.

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    • The other issue is that producers now have to produce from raw material to finished product, which implies a more primitive technology than we have today. It works for Farmer’s Markets, but for a technological society?

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      • I might generally agree with you, but I would also argue that, problems with environmental destruction aside, that technology has given humans more abundance than ever before and people will be hard-pressed to set it aside for what is a much harder lifestyle.

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  9. The failure of communism was not the economic system but the totalitian nature of the system of goverment. They failed because there was no democracy rather than the reason being peoples greed for possessions (in which case crime would have been rampant). This myth that people in communist countries were unhappy because of lack of possessions is more a reflection on the concerns of capitalist countries. It didn’t that the communist dictators had a fondness for nuclear weapons, concrete, polution and plastics though! The real success of capitalism is that they managed to sell if that their system of government is democratic (one vote every 4 years for a political party is not enough!), and the idea that the communist economy didn’t work (but they had help from the communist dictators on that one!). Anyway distributionism is just a temporary leveling of the playing field which will revert back to its unequal state with time.

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  10. I like a lot of this, but this will not solve the “problem” of distrubutional inequality. Look a step deeper than economics. The problem is demonstrably NOT the economic system, as our leftist myth suggests. We had rampant (possibly even worse) inequality under merchantiliism, and before that fuedalism (where ownership and wealth accumulated in families) and before that Roman Imperialism…. If you ask an anthropologist, they’ll point out that distrubutionary inequality (along with fundamental unsustainability) arises universally as societies move to more “intensive” means of meeting their needs, for example, from horticultural (forest gardening) cultures to agrarian civilizations. The more “intensive” (measured by the input/output ratio of food production energy) the more inequality. In 10,000 years we have not produced one example of a just and sustainable agrarian civilization and for good reason! The very POINT and PURPOSE of agrarian civilization is that it acts as an “Entropy Exporting Mechanism” which exports entropy outward away from a privileged central cast. Inequity and Unsustainability are NOT “problems.” They are “design tradeoffs” inherent in agrarian civilization. If you’re one of the favored folks at the center, inequality is a very useful thing! So is unsustainability, until your generation has to pay the entropic costs! To change all these “design tradeoffs” we have to redesign the systems we use to meet our needs, so that they export our entropy onto natural systems, which exhibit “negentropy,” and can absorb the costs. This is what Horticultural societies do. It’s what we stop doing when we move to agriculture. This same “agricultural” model of exporting entropy gets adopted across sectors, in our energy policy, in our clothing, in our manufacturing… always exporting entropic costs onto somebody else that we choose to pay our costs. This is the fundamental question of our politics. The only way we can change it is by changing the way we meet our needs and bypassing the system, disrupting its “growth” and causing it to collapse. This is the strategy Holmgren proposed in his “Crash on Demand,” which I recommend reading. It starts with us each taking responsibility for the ways we meet our needs. Strategically, this approach of Holmgren and Mollison (Permaculture) is the only plausible approach to revolution I’ve ever heard of. A “Permaculture” society organized along such principles will have much in common with what you describe here, but the organizations will be “free,” syndicates and the size will automaitically be scaled to the task at hand. As in classic Marxism, the central question is that workers own the means of production and don’t export entropy onto a “labor” force. Ultimately, if an endeavor does not export entropy onto others, and instead exports it sustainably onto naturally negentropic systems, all the rest is “petty and bourgeois” as Marx said if the concept of disributional equality as a policy within a capitalist system.

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    • I don’t know enough about permaculture, but you’ve peaked my interest. Can you give an example or two of “natural negentropic systems”?

      Also, point of clarification, when you distinguished agriculture from horticulture, is the distinction that the former includes animal husbandry?

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      • Hi John, unlike human-designed systems, which exhibit “entropy,” falling apart, losing energy, becoming disorganized and decaying, all ecosystems of sufficient complexity exhibit “negative entropy,” appearing to grow more organized, catch and store energy, and grow in diversity (a wealth of forms) and in biomass (stored enegy) over time. A forest is an example. A wetland is an example. This is because they “catch and store energy” in living beings and the relationships between them. Technically speaking, “agriculture” is breaking the soil, tilling, “tending fields,” whereas horticulture is “tending plants.” The basic process of agriculture is the wholescale removal of functioning ecosystems, in order to convert the stored energy in the soil into a “one time” harvest of food calories. It is a system of mining, of extracting limited resources. The ecosystem is gone, so it can no longer catch and store energy. It, like all the other manmade forms it supports, is now subject to entropy and decay, which can only be “paid for” by exapansionism, slavery, war, fundamental unsustainability… In contrast, “horticultural societies” earn their keepy by “tending plants” INSIDE functioning ecystems, which continue to catch and store energy. These ecosystems treat their wastes, provide sustainable building materials and clothes, maintain the soil, provide fuel energy, all in ways that are “sustainable.” They use the “negitive entropy” of their ecosystems to “pay” for the entropy of the human-designed systems they use. It is sustainable so long as it isn’t pushed to the point of damaging the ecosystem’s ability to self-regulate and exhibit negative entropy. A good video primer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLKHYHmPbo There are animals within horticultural societies, both wild and tame, but they are fed off the excess of ecosystem supply instead of fed off the plants grown on removed ecosystems. Agriculture is the conversion of ecosystems to a set number of humans. It has a poor “conversion efficiency.”

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      • One more clarification on “negative entropy” of ecosystems. Ecologists call this “ecological succession.” Think about if you stop mowing a lawn. A lawn has very little “stored energy” or organization. It can do almost no work for anything or anybody. But quickly, the lawn grows taller and more diverse. Invertebrates move in and build connections. “Pioneer” bushes and trees begin to grow. Soon these attract more animals and more complex forms, all “catching and storing energy. Now we have an “old field” that can do a lot more work! You can harvest the wood to heat a home, find many good plants and animals to provide food energy. And it’s building the soil fertility! Come back in a decade and you’ll have a young forest, with far more “stored energy.” And in 100 years, you’ll have a mature forest, filled with forms and energy, very resilient, loaded with food and fuel for countless species. Negative entropy.

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  11. Also, I should say that Permaculture, and especially the forest gardening of horticultural societies is an ideal revolutionary/activist platform for pagans, as something that reconnects us deeply and puts us in cooperation with the emergent properties of self-organizing ecosystems.

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  12. A nice & most necessary break-away from the either/or model that currently so binds popular thinking. But little coherent philosophical structure appears here. Halted gives us strong emphasis on Community & measured Scale, the assumption that ethics must be integral, & a number of ‘would be’s: but no clear axioms: & those are essential if this is to be more than pub talk.

    I would note also that there are existing models in non-Urbane societies that have structure & are proven over time & social benefit. Just two examples: the monastic system, which successfully manages economic, organizational & spiritual elements in a workable scale & has done so for two millennia in the West; &, in the anabaptist forms (Hutterian, Old Order Mennonite &c) manages quite well without the celibate requirement; & there is also the primal system of General Reciprocity, applied variously in many of what we scornfully call Tribal cultures (I’d prefer Primal): Goods & services are deposited or registered centrally, & collected according to need, usually through Kin structu

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  13. My biggest issue with this idea, so far anyways as I have had little time to digest it and reserve the right to change my opinion is that most of us live in big cities, know very little about growing our own food or living and working in a small community.

    Most of the land is owned by others so we would have to take the land from the present owners, take people from their big city, meld them and then create small communities all over the place.

    Cities as we have come to know them have to be either plowed under or abandoned and the people would have to want to completely change the way they live and then actually do it. I dont see this happening.

    As has been mentioned before, the economy of scale has allowed us to develop food, distribution technology, Cars, airplanes, cell phones, the internet, medical tech etc, How would we maintain and advance technology if we reverted to a widely distributed agrarian society?

    The idea of being a fairly local, fairly self sufficient, artisan based craftsman/farmer does appeal to me I will admit. I just have a hard time seeing how this could be brought about without war and bloodshed and a whole lot of misery.

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    • Hey RJ, that doesn’t have to be so. First, according to research by the Grow Biointensive organization, you can provide a complete diet for 1 active adult male on as little as 1,000 square feet using sustainable horticultural methods. Permaculturists Bill Mollison framed this as being able to provide for a settlement from within the settlement and a 50 ft ring around the settlement (which is larger by area for a larger settlement!) Illinois bioneers did a figure a few years ago and demonstrated that they could provide for the entire state population from within urban/suburban yards! And not everyone would have to be farmers. We could support a wide variety of specializations, just as is done in modern horticultural societies like the Indian state of Kerala, with the highest health, wellness and educational attainment in India, but India’s lowest “GDP” since everyone is pretty family-reliant and not reliant on conventional trade. So it wouldn’t require a bloody uprising. Holmgren, Mollison and others have estimated based on the Great Depression that 10% of the global middle class converting 10% of their consumption to production (self reliance) would cause the collapse of the growth economy and financial sector: a “soft” revolution. The result would be similar to what’s described here. Look into Permaculture.

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      • Agricultural productivity depends on where you live. My 1500 square foot garden will not provide 100% of my dietary needs and I live in the temperate zone. I could come up with self-sustainability if I doubled it, making room for more beans and grain. If you live in the Sonoran desert, it certainly won’t. I think I read somewhere that a typical family n the Middle Ages needed 15 hectares, plus their vegetable garden. If we figure 30% of that 15 hectares went into tithing, that is still a lot of land.

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      • “10% of the global middle class converting 10% of their consumption to production (self reliance) would cause the collapse of the growth economy and financial sector: a “soft” revolution.”

        Whaaaaaat?! That’s awesome!!!!

        I love the idea of growing your own food as revolutionary.

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      • Woods Wizard, Yes, the process will probably bloody, given human nature, but it still doesn’t have to be, (or at least we can decrease the worst of it) even at this late date. At Lillie House, our Permaculture demonstration homestead, (www.lilliehouse.blogspot.com) we grow a “symbolic” comple diet, including100% of our calories and (eventually) a good portion of our fuel wood, on around half an acre. Let me recommend the pamphlet “One Circle Garden” which demonstrates the possibility of growing a complete diet in the smallest possible space. It is necessarily a pretty repetitive and uninteresting diet, but relevent to the point that we can support a society on a lot less land. And it can be done in a desert, so long as there is some rainfall available for irrigation. It is incorrect, or somewhat misleading to say the “average” medieval family required 15 hectares and a vegetable garden. Firstly, because, as many including Jared Diamond have pointed out, the medieval period came after a collapose in soil fertility across the broad former Roman empire, so they had already mined the productivity from the soil and weren’t “farming” on full power. Secondly, it simply isn’t true. Horticultural societies, which are still found in the tropics, meet all of their family needs sustainably through forest gardens on around an acre as an average. Horticultural lifeways are found throughout the temperate zones, too, and smallholdings tend to be between an acre and a hectare. It’s generally reckoned that the average “smallholding” of temperate subsitence farmers was around 1/3rd acre/person, (as was standard in acient Greece, wikipedia history of agriculture) considered to be about the largest area of land a person can farm “intensively.” Medieval Europe was putting a lot of land into “conspicuous consumption,” using exploited labor and also relying on a lot of “horticultural” systems that weren’t actively put into “agriculture.” With dietary substitutions, especially getting most calories from tree crops, they could have dramatically cut land use/person down to a hectare per family, just as we coud do now. In Permaculture, we use this same sort of “layered” system of intensive gardens and wild systems, similar tothe medieval “toft and croft” system, centralizing “intensive” forms like gardening near human settlements, and relying on wild systems further from settlements. We call this Permaculture “zones” if you’re interested in learning more. We don’t have to wait for political consensus or “saviors,” we can grow this revolution right now.

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  14. Capital is a tool we have turned into an ideology. Under it’s terms the rich and the poor have one thing in common, tragedy. The rich court it and the poor are forced to live with it. The middle class spend all their lives trying to insure themselves against it.

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  15. My 1999 book “Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society’ explored the Distribiutist idea in some detail – where it originated, how it developed over time and the evolved form in which it has been brought to fruition though the great complex of worker-owned enterprises that is centred on Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. Also, I’ve a sequel of sorts to it – working title ‘Of Labour and Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891-1966’ – that explores attempts to give effect to Distributism here in Oz, and is scheduled for release by Monash University Publishing in March 2017, And worth keeping in mind that the originators of Distributism including Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were clear that it was applicable in industrial as well as agrarian settings.

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  16. My 1999 book “Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society’ explored the Distribiutist idea in some detail – where it originated, how it developed over time and the evolved form in which it has been brought to fruition though the great complex of worker-owned enterprises that is centred on Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. Also, I’ve a sequel of sorts to it – working title ‘Of Labour and Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891-1966’ – that explores attempts to give effect to Distributism here in Australia, and is scheduled for release by Monash University Publishing in March 2017. Meanwhile, worth keeping in mind that the founder Distributists including Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were clear that it was applicable in industrial as well as agrarian settings.

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  17. Well I just want to insert a big appreciative hug here to all of you for having this discussion at all – the planet and the future thank you 💜🙏

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  18. We are building a community fibre network, better than any telco can provide. We are financing it with community shares and building it with community labour. The income over expenditure will be returned to the community. This model could be applied to any project, and keep it local. Cut out the fat cats and empower the people to help themselves. Just google B4RN. Power to the people.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t understand why division of labour is a problem. if under 5 % of world population is enough to feed the whole population, why should everyone grow their won food? this doesnt make any sense at all.

    the main problem with contemporary capitalism is the redistribution of wealth: only workers pay taxes, capitalists don’t. a lot of taxes is generate by VAT which is another burden on those who already have less than the welathy. mopney is created by private banks out of nothing, if any of us attempt the same we go to jail. there is a lot that could be changed by simple reforms but we are artificially divided by those who oppress us 😦

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    • Why should everyone grow their own food? Because the goal isn’t efficiency (a capitalist ideal) but connection. Connection with the product of our labor. Connection with the land. And connection with one another.

      We’ve been redistributing income for decades and the gap between the rich and poor has only widened. We need to redistribute real wealth (not income) and that means property — i.e., land.

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  20. My initial reaction to what you have described was towards the family as the main economic organising principle. So long as the definition of the family unit extends beyond blood relative or church marriage relations, I have no quibbles. The right to form voluntary associations of comparable size and responsibilities would be essential. I suspect Catholic social theory informed this idea, and that only heterosexual couples and their children were envisioned as worthy participants.

    There are many unanswered questions here. What happens when some crops fail? What happens in a catastrophic natural event? How is electricity generated and distributed? What about healthcare? Education? What about policing and the restriction from sale of dangerous items? These are things that require organising systems larger than a family unit.

    You have sparked a curiosity though. I have much reading to do.

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    • I have to agree. My red flags went up when I read “family” in a Catholic context. I’m sure they have in mind the nuclear, heterosexual, and patriarchal family. But there’s nothing inherent to distributism that requires such a limitation as far as I can see.

      Distributism does not prohibit organizing for larger projects — including cooperatives and mutual aid societies in the event of crop failure, etc. It just prohibits organizations from growing larger than required for their intended function.

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  21. Quite the humanist proposal!

    What we humans tend to ignore, or forget, or fail to go through the mental exercise to understand is that we are not all the same. Our extraordinarily complex brains are an ‘accident’ of evolution and have allowed our species to proliferate on the planet to the point that we are killing the environmental circumstances all species on the planet require to survive.

    If we refuse to acknowledge that there are those among us who, left without restrictions on their drives and determination, WILL NOT be altruistic or sensitive to the needs of the rest of us, then we’ll simply see the current situation we have allowed to flourish end human (and most other species’) existence on the planet. This is not a ‘prediction’, it is merely the natural outcome of what happens when errors occur in overly complex brains and individuals with those errors related to behvioural functioning are allowed to do what comes most naturally to them. We humans NEED regulation to protect us from the few who will always manipulate and take advantage of any loopholes the rest of us leave open for them.

    Known knowns:

    1) We are a social-tribal species,
    2) Narcissistic psycho/sociopaths are natural ‘errors’ in our accidentally complex human brains — and they are not good for other humans,
    3) We are naturally ego/greed based when left to our own devices, so we need the rules/enforcement of a social order, be it religious from the past, or governmental in today’s hyper-urban, science-based existence, and these rules are needed to control the personality types who are incapable of empathy and naturally, deeply desire the power that comes with money-hoarding and political success,
    4) The global stock markets are not ‘business-related’, they are gambling pools for the richest 1% of humans, all of whom are money-hoarders whose narcissistic psycho/sociopathic tendencies are patently obvious,
    5) The narcissistic psycho/sociopaths among us (and ALL of us are somewhere on that bell curved spectrum, albeit near the harmless center) will, if they don’t use their boundless determination to hoard money, get into politics and will work to help out the money-hoarders who support their rise to power by enacting laws.
    6) Political correctness and ‘The New Normal” (ego-based hyper-parenting and the proliferation of addictive, antisocial electronic devices and freely distributed pornography) have led us to the point that we have inadvertently created an entire generation of ‘permanently wired for hypersensitivity’ (‘entitled’ and deeply addicted) humans whose psychological tendencies cannot be identified and ameliorated with proactive psycho-therapeutic intervention, so the problem is only likely to be exacerbated in the near future.

    Hence humans in a global social community REQUIRE laws, rules and enforced regulations to contain and control the narcissistic psycho/sociopaths who, just due to their brain wired low/no-empathy drives and determination, WILL take over everything and everyone else. Whether you let them rise to the top in either socialism/communism (HUGE government) or capitalism/money-hoarding (democratic voting systems without restriction on monetary support, see ‘Citizens United’). We either retake control from the 1% through legislation, or we continue to suffer under their unrelenting drive to take ever more control, and they will because they cannot do otherwise due to their wiring.

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    • One angle on this I think you missed is that capitalism actually breeds the kind of narcissistic/sociopathic behavior you’re concerned about. Every society has ways of correcting anti-social behavior. But capitalism actually encourages it.

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  22. Ah, I remember Distributism. Actually an economic system I favored for quite awhile and one that is still quite filled with potential. The only issue is it is indeed locked into a hierarchical mindset, that the “lowest rung” of society is the family, not the individual. Well, who speaks for the family? When an individual goes against the family, what then?

    This is not to say the theory doesn’t have some fantastic ideas. I agree that the problem is property in too few hands. And “free competition” nowadays is hardly anything close to “free:”

    Obligatory Stirner quote:

    “Is ‘free competition’ then really ‘free?’ nay, is it really a ‘competition’ — to wit, one of persons — as it gives itself out to be because on this title it bases its right? It originated, you know, in persons becoming free of all personal rule. Is a competition ‘free’ which the State, this ruler in the civic principle, hems in by a thousand barriers? There is a rich manufacturer doing a brilliant business, and I should like to compete with him. ‘Go ahead,’ says the State, “I have no objection to make to your person as competitor.” Yes, I reply, but for that I need a space for buildings, I need money! “That’s bad; but, if you have no money, you cannot compete. You must not take anything from anybody, for I protect property and grant it privileges.” Free competition is not “free,” because I lack the THINGS for competition.”

    Ultimately however Distributism very, very much favors a State which is inherently oppressive. The society is still based on property. Well, who enforces the property rights and the guild contracts? The State. And how? Usually with courts, laws, and some form of police force. A guild system also brings back the cartel-mentality that stopped so much progress in the feudal era. While in theory the Guild will act in accordance with what is best for it’s craft in reality this only becomes what is best for its profession.

    “Abolishing competition is not equivalent to favoring the guild. The difference is this: In the guild baking, etc., is the affair of the guild-brothers; in competition, the affair of chance competitors”

    Distributism would be a fantastic alternative to Capitalism but still doesn’t go far enough. When the entirety of society becomes our property and exists for our benefit, then we move away from slices of life to appropriate our whole being.

    “To have bread is my affair, my wish and desire, and yet people leave that to the bakers and hope at most to obtain through their wrangling, their getting ahead of each other, their rivalry —in short, their competition — an advantage which one could not count on in the case of the guild-brothers who were lodged entirely and alone in the proprietorship of the baking franchise. — What every one requires, every one should also take a hand in procuring and producing; it is his affair, his property, not the property of the guildic or concessionary master.”

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  23. Anarchy inevitable through international tax laws where you don’t have to pay taxes, high delinquencys, and my invention, the tax audit lottery. Anarcho-capitalism gives way to anarcho-communism, and this gives way to nihilism with automation and self-production

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  24. After decades of seeing political revolution as the only starter, I have come to believe that the first and overall guiding principle of replacing an unjust economic system is non-cooperation with the current order. We don’t have to have an upheaval to “get there.” We need to stop the habits that are keeping us here.
    That’s a starter thrown out; it is not meant as a plan of action. A real plan takes much more discussion and wider input. Nonviolent non-cooperation with the unjust order is the overall principle, however. As a concrete example, how ’bout we get people out of the lottery ticket lines and into voter lines and out of mindless consumption and into boycotts — smart and strategic boycotts, not just off the cuff calls for them.

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    • The key to moving toward a distributist economy is to move more and more toward self-sufficiency. It is difficult when you live in the city, less so in the suburbs. And it doesn’t mean you have to adopt a bland somewhat repetitive diet. We grow a huge vegetable garden – ok, we don’t produce lettuce in the winter, but we have plenty of canned goods. We can make lots of things with culinary, medicinal and magical herbs. Grains and livestock are not part of the program – not enough land. We have chickens, but their winter egg production is about half what you get in the summer.

      What it is going to take is re-learning what we knew in the 18th and 19th century. And yes, we will still have a monetary system – that won’t go away.

      So if you want to resist, the best way is to become as self-sufficient as possible.

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      • I envision a bottom-to-top economy where national distributors (corporations, the way the word used to be defined) match supply with demand, being paid based on their performance in helping the locals.

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  25. I very much appreciated this piece and will certainly share it. I was a little disappointed not to find mention of E. F. Schumacher, whose book “Small is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered” originated the catchphrase you used in your piece. “Schumacher was one of the first economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product to measure human well-being, emphasizing that “the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption”. In the epilogue he emphasizes the need for the “philosophy of materialism” to take second place to ideals such as justice, harmony, beauty, and health. [Wikipedia]”

    You might also get a kick out of the very influential work of François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) who anticipates Marx, certainly, as well as the Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI, for sure. It is also good to remember that Adam Smith was a moral philosopher, not an economist, and so must be forgiven if his theorizing didn’t work out all the time. He was out of his field. The “invisible hand” is too easily deflected. Wikipedia also has a nice article on Market Failures, q.v. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_failure

    Keep up the good work.

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  26. The article should be re-titled ‘neither private nor state capitalism”. What he describes as “distributist” is in fact exactly what socialism means: “Socialism: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

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    • No. Distributism is not common ownership. If you read the article, distributism maintains private property, and small groups of people — families and cooperatives — not the entire society, make decisions about production.

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  27. This is better… But not quite good enough. As long as there is money there will always be competition and there will always be those that have more and those that have less. Crime and war will continue to reign under these circumstances. I find that Contributionism is a far better option. Michael Tellinger started Ubuntu, a movement that adopts contributionism and puts an end to Capitalism and all its corruption. It is a moneyless society where everyone contributes their gifts and talents to the greater good of the whole society. You can learn more about it at http://www.ubuntuplanet.org. It is growing leaps and bounds!

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  28. Very nice discussion. I will have a look at some of the links posted for more information.
    Currently I live a very simple life. My own land, gardens fruit trees, heat with wood in a passive solar home. This is the lifestyle I chose because it just seems natural to me or more natural than working a 9-5 anyway.
    However, it did take years before I was able to put myself in this position and buy the land and home I am in. I am assuming that land and homes would not be given away so by default most people will have to go work for someone else to either save or obtain a mortgage for their homestead.
    Since most would have to go work for someone else that means that someone else by default will become a capitalist doesn’t it? There needs to be some incentive for someone to invest time and money in a business to employ others.
    Then of course the is the issue of electricity and oil for heating homes and running autos. In the south you need the electricity to cool homes. Then you have the distribution network of those items along with many others.
    While we are at it i would also propose doing away with governments especially at the federal level. Also doing away with borders. We are all born on the same planet, shouldn’t we be able to freely move and associate with whomever we choose? If there are no borders this takes away the nationalist approach to things and the war machine is no longer needed for protection.
    I do see how a mostly agrarian economy and society would work and I am all for it. We might have a hard time convincing the other 95% of the population to trade in their fancy clothes for a shovel and hoe though.
    This is a nice topic for discussion but unless we have a total collapse from either natural disaster or a complete meltdown of the financial system, I don’t think this is going anywhere. If I am wrong then I am already well positioned LOL.

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    • You bring up some good points, I don’t see where capitalism as defined by a business owner employing workers will fade entirely.

      I also don’t see governments fading entirely. For 6000 years, military leaders have emerged that led those who willingly followed them on campaigns of conquest. Defense will still be required, and that take some kind of organization. There is also the matter of money. A barter system will not survive simply because of inefficiency. There will have to be money, and a means of guaranteeing its value – even if we go back to some kind of precious metal coinage.

      I’m seeing this system as a possible alternative when we run out of cheap energy, but it will probably be some kind of hybridized system that includes elements of distributism. So far, in spite of problems that need to be worked out, it seems to me to be a better alternative to socialism or feudalism. Or for that matter the Mercantilism of the early industrial age.

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      • Yes, so long as there is “agriculture,” there will be war, just as there will be hierarchical social oppression. Notice that both are a part of the definition of “agrarian civilization.” They are necessary prerequisites that the system of agrarian civilization cannot function without.

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      • I would argue that the correlation is not between war and agriculture but something deeper in our nature. As an example, I offer the Comanche – essentially hunter-gatherers that broke away from the Shoshone tribe, and conquered parts of eastern New Mexico and western Texas, selling conquered tribesmen (and others when they could get them) as slaves to the Spanish and then later to the Mexicans. It is this basic nature of humans that poses a real threat to what, under distributism, would be essentially a tribal culture. Thus the need for a common defense.

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      • Depends on the definition of war. Yes, physicalconflict seems to precede homo sapiens sapiens, the species so arrogant that we had to call ourselves “clever” twice. However, “expansionism” is built-in to the systems we use to meet our needs. I don’t beieve the Comanche had a concept of land ownership prior to European contact. Also, your example features interactions with two agrarian peoples who were reliant on westward expansionism to maintain their food systems. Population growth and weather patterns do put some resource pressure on societies to compete for resources, which often flairs into conflict. But it is nothing like the necessary pressure built into agriculture, which fundamentally requires expansion and social oppression in order to function. Which is why Anthropologists generally characterize the emergence of agrarian civilization with increased conflict and oppression.

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      • I think it is a stretch to say that the Comanche were the product of two agrarian cultures pushing westward as the timeline doesn’t fit. The Comanche broke from the Shoshone long before major westward expansion of the U.S., and the Pueblo tribes were agrarian long before the Spanish showed up in the Rio Grande Valley (for that matter, so were many tribes in what is now the Eastern U.S.).

        As to the concept of land ownership, it was different from ours in that indigenous tribes often fought to defend hunting territories. They might not have thought they “owned” them, but they did try to exercise exclusive use. As to the indigenous agrarian cultures, erecting a Pueblo, or the erection of monuments as existed in the Ohio mound-builder culture, if not implying ownership, at least implies staking out areas for exclusive use.

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      • I think it’s pressing it to suggest that societies on a North American continent that had already undergone a massive population collapse due to European contact were at that point unaffected by that contact. But yes, I agreee that there was a purely American origin for agriculture, and the violence it necessitates. We know that the civiizations of MesoAmerica prove that. And,, the “intensivity” classification of societies as “hunter gatherer” (which probably only truly exist in rare biomes such as tundra) Horticultural and Agrarian is problematic because there’s no clear dividing line. But wouldn’t you agree that as invensivity increases, the levels of violence and opppression rise, along with the specialization that makes increased energy into violence possible? It’s generally reckoned that warfare in ancient Greece, for example had to be somewhat limited, simply becuase their less intensive food production didn’t allow them excess energy to constant fighting. More intensive Roman agriculture not only required expansionism, but made constant speciaized war a possibility.

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      • I would argue that there were cultures that were hunter-gatherer in nature and agricultural in nature existing side-by-side in North America before there was any pressure from the Europeans. The Comanche-Shoshone split occurred around 1700. At that time there was no pressure from the East. As to from the south, the Pueblo revolt of 1680 has halted Spanish pressure, minimal as it was then at least in New Mexico, at least temporarily. There had been no massive population collapse in hose areas – yet.

        Yet it was the non-agrarian cultures that were violent, not the agrarian ones. The agrarian cultures were building walls for defense. Non-agrarian cultures also have the propensity to violence that cultures who have specialization do too. Just ask Attila the Hun, the Vikings, or whoever the inhabitants of Göbekli Tepe were defending themselves against.

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      • Of course, there will be issolated examples. My point anthropologists make is not that extensive societies have no violence, or nothing that could be called war, just that a high, increased level of war, unsustainability, soil loss, environmental degredation and oppression are necessary requisites for agrarian civilization to function. Agrarian civilization is an “entropy exporting mechanism,” and those “problems” are just the various ways the agricultural approach centralizes energy flows and externalizes entropy outward away from priveledged castes. That is the definition of agrarian civilization, so to change those problems you have to change how you deal with the entropy inherent in man-made things. Extensive societies use the natural Negentropy of ecosystems to absorb their entropy, hence they tend to have lower levels of all of those “problems.” Consider all your examples from the perspective ecology, which looks at everything as a network of energy interactions. Where did the energy for the Huns’ military conquests come from? From the stored energy of intensive agrarian civilizations. When the “sea peoples” destroyed the first Greek civilization leading to the Greek dark ages, where did the energy for those conquests come from? Greek agriculture. What was the political situation (and energy imballance) that was created by centuries of Greek expansionism and exploitation of foreign lands? As these Agrarian societies experienced peek soil fertility and their societies ran into the limits of growth, it was only natural that they could no longer support fending off the entropy on the assets they accumulated (Called the technology trap) and that those assets would be subject to entropy and equillibrium… converted into “wastes” or distributed back to those who were exploited to centralize those assets. From a perspective of energy transaction analysis, the ecology of war was created by the entropy and energy transactions inherent in the agricultural approach. I’d say all your examples aren’t exceptions, but demonstrate the rule.

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  29. On the surface it sounds like a really good compromise, picking the best from capitalism and socialism. But what is inherently missing is community under God. Communism is man’s attempt at community without God. What I’ve read here sounds a lot like what China is attempting to do, but make it local, with maybe a whole bunch of Robin Hoods running the community councils around the countryside. The problem is man’s fallen nature. Try and create a utopia without God being central and it breaks down…every time. It’s admirable to focus on the family and try and curtail greed, but without God there will eventually be an elite like what we see in the book and movie The Giver. Man’s desire to make great things, have great sex, push past the boundaries will be tempered more and more until the desire for freedom can’t be quelled anymore and wham! Revolution. What HAS worked in America is admitting we are sinners, that we need God desperately, that we have a fallen nature and that nature needs freedom to choose to limit oneself for the greater good rather than the community prescribe it. What we have now is a monstrosity nearly unrecognizable from the founders intent. So ideas like distributism will seem fresh and appealing (even though the term is about as text-book as one could dream-up), but is nothing other than another sales job designed to trade away your God-given freedom. Would it be better than Hillary’s vision for the future. Oh yes, but it will lead to the same destination in the end.

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  30. As we knew them, Capitalism is bankrupt, and Socialism is dead. Failed systems. With cheap or free energy (energy requiring no fuel), abundancy can and will be sustainable.

    Abundant energy, abundant resources, abundant labor & abundant infrastructure are all on the horizon. Until then, an appropriate decentralized monetary system is the ONLY scarcity.

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  31. This is a very interesting concept of a Third Way and it is the goal of many thinkers. The piece missing is the “how.” To get capitalism, you enact laws to protect and favor large corporations and the very wealthy. To get socialism, you enact laws that make all economic roads (income and spending) lead back to the government. So, what do you enact to get distributionism. I am not sure that we have a full formula yet but I would like to proffer you one key piece. That is the issue of what you tax. I know some here may be professed anarchists, insisting that a just society can be formed with no centralization at all. There are no historical examples or lasting communities that have done this. I am not convinced it is possible. So, I’m going to go on the idea that some form of central coordination is necessary and for central coordination (unless it is capitalist) you will require taxes. Currently we primarily tax labor (with income tax). Now, everyone knows that if you want to make people smoke less, you tax cigarettes. But somehow we miss the idea that if you want people to work, you should not tax labor. But what then should a distributionist society tax? Simple. What they don’t want. One of the key hallmarks of both capitalism and socialism is the unchecked consumption of resources and in distributionism you propose to focus economic energy on small cottage industries that craft high-quality, long-lasting things. But in current capitalist conditions such businesses are very much disadvantaged. So, tax the use of resources, instead of work. Essentially make the work of craftspeople cheaper (or give all of the money earned by their labor to them and none to the central authority) and instead make the use of resources expensive. This does take having a central authority. You would have to calculate how much various businesses use of which resources and which resources should be taxed how much. But it is by no means more complicated than your standard national income tax authority. One way to do it is to tax the transactions in which raw materials are bought and sold. If it buying wood or plastic is very expensive, businesses will be small and find ways of using less wood and plastic in their products. They will make products that take more labor and last longer. They will also be highly motivated to grow crops that produce their own resources. This does require that land be held equitably and not by large capitalists. But there are other ways of calculating this as well. All I’m saying i that when you talk about distributionism, think about what can be done to structure the economy for the benefit of the small, family-focused economic units you are concerned with.

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    • The way around your tax proposal is that large corporations will integrate vertically. Using your wood example, a corporation could grow their own tress, harvest them, saw them into lumber and use that lumber to build houses, which they sell. No actual selling of raw materials involved. The person who suffers is the small consumer who needs wood for a project, like building himself a deck.

      The same is true with petroleum – except companies here are already vertically integrated to a degree. Again, it will be the final consumer than pays the tax. In fact, it is always the final consumer that pays for taxes as the corporations will calculate taxes as a cost passed on to consumers.

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  32. As far as I can tell distributism is just one more collectivist system where the individual does not matter all that much. One problem I have with all those trains of thought is that they allude to some lofty, mushy ideal society where everyone is everyone’s friend and the hen loves the fox. Humans are weaved of different wool. We behave much more like bacteria rather than those spiritual beings we like to call ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. Each individual is capable of the most grandiose feats and of incredible selflessness. But that’s a choice and given the choice, many will decide otherwise.
    Real Capitalism is as elusive as real socialism, they can’t exist in their pure form as humans always get in the way. A third way, as much as we all might crave it is as elusive as heavenly bliss. We can only live with the mess we are in, deal with it or not. I love to daydream but it’s not something that has paid my rent so far.

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    • So, you’re saying: 1. Humans suck, so collectivism won’t work. 2. Humans suck so capitalism won’t work. 3. Humans suck, so a middle way won’t work. 4. You care more about paying the rent than trying to change the world. Am I getting you right?

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      • John, you are free to put the term you like on it. Humans are individuals – collectivism just suppresses their natural urges for a while, usually to no positive effect. To me, human nature does not suck – I rather enjoy it. If diversity sucks for you – sorry but this something I cannot help you with. I refuse putting us all into drawers like sheep. Oh, yes I care about paying rent, putting food on the table and make sure my kids are warm and safe. This probably sucks as well for you but I could not care less. My kids are more important than the fate of the world to me. Call me egoistic for preferring my kids to the world, I will wear it as a badge of honor.

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  33. Thank you for the article, I love it. I hadn’t heard of Distributism. It is what many in the Degrowth movement are advocating. You wrote that “Distributism sees economics as a subset of ethics”, while degrowthers see “economics as a subset of the environment” – both are closely related.
    I run a facebook group called “Join the Degrowth Revolution” that you might like to join
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1295234503849294/

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  34. Distributism seems promising. I like its critique of capitalism and communism. One is big business, the other is big government. Instead, we should have big community. But what is distrubitism’s answer as to how we achieve this? Communism prevents big business only through big government. Capitalism prevents big government through big business. How does distributism prevent them both? I can see it happening through technology, mind-machine interfacing linking all individuals together like the Borg, so that we form a collective that will destroy any individuals who attempt to form big business or big government. But distributism seems like a call to return to the past, so I doubt distributists would like those ideas.

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  35. been reading all these replies and haven’t commented yet, I want to get all my thoughts together, but I have always thought with the internet connectivity that the boycott option now has a the potential to be stronger than ever, minor problem is it needs to happen sooner than later, since everything keeps merging, eventually it won’t matter who you are boycotting..

    what ever the solution it has to be slow enough to allow the markets to adjust since everyones’ money is there,, albeit fake, it still can’t collapse, it has to evolve

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  36. I love this article and very much agree. So I tried really hard to find some flaws.

    1) Even if everyone has the same amount of land, some land is more efficient than other land. In one of the earlier comments, someone mentioned that all goods would be created from scratch. I don’t think that’s necessary. If someone wants to do nothing but gather raw material, I think they’d make a lot of friends. But they’d need land that produces that raw material.

    2) If the smallest unit of production is a family, and we want to scale down to that as much as possible, that sounds like incentive for people to have more children. And what if those children would rather have a different profession than their parents?

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece!

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