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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pope Francis Condemns Distributism

According to the Distributist Review
 A family that owns its own land or its own tools can make its own way in the world without being dependent on someone else for a “job.” Thus, Distributism seeks to extend property ownership to as many as possible, and end the concentration of ownership by few capitalists or state officials. 
The ‘means of production’ are the land, tools, and equipment needed for labor to transform raw materials into goods and services. As wealth (goods or services) is only possible by the combination of the means of production, labor, and raw materials, we believe it is best when these are owned cooperatively (worker-owned) or entirely operated by the family.

Here is Pope Francis' response to that idea:
222. A constant tension exists between fullness and limitation. Fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us. Broadly speaking, “time” has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure. People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space. (emphasis added)
223. This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. (emphasis added) Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.
He doesn't seem that keen on land ownership being central to the economy. His emphasis is on time, which distributists don't discuss at all. Other remarks lead in the same direction, away from a focus on distributist land ownership and towards the urban environment:
71. The new Jerusalem, the holy city (cf. Rev 21:2-4), is the goal towards which all of humanity is moving. It is curious that God’s revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and of history is realized in a city. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares.  
72. In cities, as opposed to the countryside, the religious dimension of life is expressed by different lifestyles, daily rhythms linked to places and people. 
While he had a whole section devoted to the cities and urban life, he had absolutely nothing to say about the rural areas and the countryside. Not a lot of people in cities own land. You might answer that cities are the source of guilds. Fine. But Pope Francis also had nothing to say about the need for guilds or anything like it. He doesn't even mention unions, much less guilds.

What Pope Francis has to say is at least as opposed to distributism as it is to capitalism.


Steve Dalton said...

The distributists always talk about this wonderful system that's going to transform economics, but they have yet to set up a pilot program to prove it will work in the real world.

I'm convinced their program wouldn't work, for all it is is just another form of socialism. One only has to compare the language used by the disties and the socialists to realize they're close cousins.

If one wishes to truly educate themselves on why capitialism works and why it fails sometimes, read Hernam De Soto's "The Mystery of Capital". I've read the book and his explainations are so clear and simple, even a distie could understand them, if their minds were not so befogged by the ChesterBelloc. His bottom line is when people have sound property rights and aren't hampered by laws and regulations that frustrate using their savings to set up a business in a short time, and the free flow of that capital, capitalism works just fine.

Andrew or Elizabeth said...

I find the assertion that distributists don't talk about tiem at all to be odd. Discussions of usury, which are quite common among distributists, certainly involve time.

Pax Christi

Kevin O'Brien said...

Steve Dalton, the pilot program ran from about the sixth to about the sixteenth century in Europe.

Steve K., you are right that the emphasis on the city in the Exhortation might be cold water for the more "green" distributists, and you're certainly right that "time" is a factor that distributists - and all of us - could focus on, but your headline "Pope Francis Condemns Distributism" is hardly accurate.

Funny, but not accurate. This being the internet, however, accuracy is not an issue.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, the title is accurate. Distributism died along with industrialization. Pope Francis realizes this, which is why he focuses on employment and says not a word about the need for guilds or any other such nonsense.

Robots and mechanization make guilds obsolete. The whole point of a computer is its ability to mechanize and thereby universalize the specialty knowledge that makes a guild (or its modern equivalent, a union) possible.

It also rips away jobs from low-skilled workers, since they cost more than the computers that replace them. Pope Francis is concerned about the job loss, and the concomitant loss of dignity.

Distributism is so far gone that he essentially dismisses it by completely ignoring it. He condemns it by emphasizing the critical importance of everything that is diametrically opposed to distributism. His focus is on the city (80% of the world lives in cities now) and on mechanization of jobs.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

For the most part, usury doesn't exist in American society. Where it does, it is prosecuted as fraud. But getting interest on a loan is no longer usury because the definitions of both "money" and "interest" have changed to mean something entirely different from what was meant when those words were used by the Church when She condemned usury.

The words are no longer univocal. Now they are equivocal. This is one of the reasons distributism doesn't make sense today. There are many, many others.

Andrew said...

I'm familiar with your analysis of usury Steve. I disagree. Where has the Church said that the words money and interest have changed? I'm not familiar with any authoritative documents that say this. Anticipating that the Church is going to say things that you'd like Her to say is a recipe for problems. A great example is the pill. People said "hey 'sex' and 'contraception' don't mean the same things that they used to mean, so condemnations of contraception don't apply to the pill."

Then Paul VI made it clear that the condemnations do apply to the pill. A lot of people had already changed their thinking and acting and assumed the Church would catch up with them. Pax.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Ok, where has the Church defined the words "money" or "interest"?

Show me where She has defined them, then we'll talk.

Steve Dalton said...

Kevin, you're projecting distributism on to Medieval Europe which was a feudal society. There's nothing that I recognize as even remotely similar to your ChesterBelloc fantasy. The land was "distributed" alright, but by the will and whim of a king, who demanded taxes and obedience. The serfs were just one step ahead of being slaves. This is your dream society? Absolute tommyrot!

Mark said...

He didn't say Time is more important than Property; he said Time was more important than Space.