Monday, February 20, 2006


Distributism II

Here is Brian's response to Disributism Post:

Is efficiency more important than righteousness? If, by being more efficient, we lose quality, character, meaningful jobs (it's awful how many people whose jobs are nothing more than making sure other people are doing their's), and likely consume a great deal more resources in the process, is it really worth it?

I earlier stated that Chesterton and Belloc's opinions on economics are misconstrued in the modern age. They both lived before things such as effective mobile refrigeration and food transportation, computers, the internet, and all sorts of modern marvels. As such, there were a great many more people involved in agriculture and a lot fewer people involved in business/techonology. There were also a lot fewer companies for whom you could work your entire life, and yet never meet The Man In Charge. As Chesterton once said, "One day we will have an army of grocer's assistants to no grocer at all." Walk into your local supermarket and you'll see it's true. You have stock boys and people in the bakery and at the deli counter and the registers, but instead of a grocer you'll find a manager who seldom deals with his products, except on paper. In fact, you can't even really call them his product, so much as products he sells for someone else.

Just how many local grocery stores are left? They're certainly more common in smaller towns, and in another fashion, crowded areas of cities where there is no room for new buildings. Are there any where I live, though? No. What about a general store? No... Toy stores? One, and I've no idea how it stays in business as I rarely see anyone in there.

Yes; there are 25 million small businesses in the country. But if you stop and think about it... that really isn't very many. There are approximately 300 million people in the United States. Even if you chop off 100 million for being retired or too young to work, you're still talking about 25 million small businesses in 50 states for 200 million people. While that means the majority still likely work for small businesses, well, the majority of a population can be healthy; but if 49% have the bubonic plague, it's still a calamnity.

If you're to ask me how I think we ought to go about bringing a distributist economy into a reality, I can't answer in a technical manner. I'm not an economist, and I'm not arguing this from a strictly economical point of view. I'm arguing it from a humanistic point of view.

However, it would seem to me that slowly and surely, large companies be broken down by region under the leadership of competent men, with gradually reduced accountability to a head figure.

Really, don't you get sick of seeing McDonalds and Wal-Mart everywhere you go? As someone said to me not that long ago, "it makes the country look boring."

I thought it would be easier to keep the discussion going if we proceeded like this. Read my comments and post some yourself.

How does one define righteousness? The problem with a term like righteousness is that each group defines it differently. Efficiency, for the economy, a firm, and even an individual, is somewhat independent of value statements. Besides, we won’t lose “quality, character, meaningful jobs” for no reason whatsoever. You have to remember that we live in a dynamic world, where jobs are lost and gained every week, month, and year. It is the natural order of things. And I am not sure if that should be manipulated by one individual or one group of individuals’ opinion of righteousness. Especially since the only way to enforce that is through political action, imposing uncompensated costs on one group simply for those values sought.

In a response to your second paragraph, a manager trusts that distribution and grower of produce, and so no longer has to expend the additional time, resources, and funds to grow and distribute the product himself. If that trust is broken, then the manager is compensated for that loss or he chooses another company with which to do business. In fact, the manager does not need to even trust his “partners in business” because he has a well established incentive to provide quality product and good service to his customers at the threat of profits and wages. Other than regional grocer monopolies, which in my opinion are rare, the consumer can take his funds elsewhere.

There is value in employment in a job without having to be the grocer, the baker, or the candlestick maker. By being an employee, an individual does not have to take on the additional risk of owning a shop and being an entrepreneur. They can receive wages and then go home at the end of the day. It is a wondrous thing that is so easily taken for granted.

Why do you worry for local stores? Is the chain-store worse? What is wrong with another city’s store? Is it some how worse than your store? It seems that we commonly refer to this nationalistic or local economy as a “greater good” than the current global economy. For example, just two weeks ago, I heard the new commissioner of NC Agriculture talk about how we North Carolina Ag. was so much better than South Carolina or Mexico agriculture. How is that? Other than concerns about pesticides and chemicals, is the local grocery store worse than the farmers market. If you say, yes then you purchase at the farmers market. If no, the grocery store. But that is an individual choice -- that means you have a different group of preferences than someone else. But I hardly think that is excuse enough to force your preference on someone else. But even if you prefer local to national or global, why is that?

Are you equating the non-ownership of a business with the bubonic plague? I think you have to realize that some people prefer not to have to assume the risk of self-ownership. That is part of the reason they work for someone else. Again, what makes a larger company so much worse than a smaller company? There are plenty of “crappy” jobs that are “crappy” whether you work at a small or large firm.

In reality, I prefer to see Wal-Marts and McDonalds all over the place because I can walk into to any one of them and get what I want. I also like to see chains of gas stations, Targets, and Wendy’s because I like them and like to know that I “get what I pay for”. All of these locations increase the value of the business network, but they are also attempts to maintain my trust as a consumer. Perhaps it is boring, but to break down large companies, simply because they are large seems quite disastrous. I think the reason there are so many small businesses are because they can do it better sometimes. They know their local customer better, especially for a group of customers that has a wide variety of preferences and tastes. The small firms can adapt easier many a times.

Lastly, you seem to be under the impression that larger firms are coercive, while small firms are not. While both, over the years have become more active in using political means to influence regulation in its favor, it might in fact, be the other way around. A smaller firm, likely lives is a smaller town or at least a more rural section of these United States. If we had nothing but small firms in these areas, an individual would not have as many labor choices (one firm for each product type). In economics a single or few firms that control the (buying of labor) labor market is called a monopsony or oligopsony – i.e. “a market situation in which each of a few buyers exerts a disproportionate influence on the market”. With the forcible break-up of large companies, we might actually create a regional monopoly for the firms that then have greater control over the individual’s buying habits and even employment choices. It is a thought, that perhaps “boring” might be the best option.
Quoting Brian: "However, it would seem to me that slowly and surely, large companies be broken down by region under the leadership of competent men, with gradually reduced accountability to a head figure."

We wondered before what the difference was between Capitalism and Distributism. This is it: you can't achieve the Distributist Ideal without coercion.
What happened to Brian?
"We wondered before what the difference was between Capitalism and Distributism. This is it: you can't achieve the Distributist Ideal without coercion."

Incorrect. I never stated that the break-down of large companies must be coercive; it would certainly have to come via the consent of those involved. Hence why some see my idealism as totally impractical, or at least unfeasible.

As I stated in my introduction, I am Catholic and that plays a large part in the beliefs I hold and the reasons I hold them. I believe in a largely orthodox Catholic society, such idealism is not so far fetched. So, yes, for our present society, these are not things I expect to see any time soon. But that doesn't mean I can't strive toward them.

I was in Kansas for the last few days, Travis, so I haven't really had the time or opportunity to debate these things.

I'll post a reply to Chris's response tomorrow.
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