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Capitalists Against the Free Market

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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If you listen to the apologists of capitalism, there is one thing they consistently argue for when they rail against things like socialism or even distributism; the Free Market. They say that they believe that the Market should determine what products and services succeed and fail without artificial support or suppression from the government. Customers should be free to decide what products and services they want to buy and it is up to the producers and service providers to convince consumers to choose theirs instead of others. It is interesting to note those cases where they not only fail to support this idea, but actively work against it.

In order for consumers to be able to make a decision that truly represents the action of a free market, the consumer must have the right to know certain things about the products and service providers between which they are choosing. For example, it has generally been recognized that consumers have the right to know the ingredients of food. This is not just for reasons of health, but for other reasons as well. Vegetarians and vegans have the right as consumers to know whether or not the food they are purchasing contains meat or other animal products. This allows them to make a truly free market choice. Consumers also have the right to know who makes a product because, if they think the producer is unscrupulous, they need to have the ability to choose a competitor’s product. If they are prevented from doing this by allowing the producer to be hidden, then the consumer is prevented from making a free market decision they actively want to make.
An important aspect of this consumer choice is that the consumer’s reason does not have to be deemed “reasonable” by others. If you choose not to buy from a particular provider because they support things which you oppose on moral grounds, it doesn’t matter if those things you oppose have nothing to do with the product in question. In a truly free market, you would have the right to refuse to do business with any provider for whatever reason you want. In a truly free market, the consumer would have the right to know what he needs to know to make a truly free decision, and providers should therefore be required to provide this information and prevented from taking steps to hide it. It is the burden of providers to convince consumers to purchase their products and to do so in an open and honest way. If they fail to convince, then their failure is a result of the “invisible hand” of the free market.
In my state, Washington, there was a movement to require the labeling of products containing GMO ingredients. There are various reasons why people are making their free economic choice to not purchase products with patented genetically modified organisms, and these people were asking that their right to make that free market decision be honored by requiring that products containing these ingredients be labeled so that consumers would know what they are buying. What is truly interesting in regard to this article are the arguments I heard made by avowed capitalists against this. The capitalist pundits almost uniformly opposed the legislation on various grounds. The two main arguments made by these capitalists involved the impact to prices and the irrationality of those who opposed GMO products.

They claimed that the cost of changing the labeling would be prohibitively high and the cost of food would skyrocket as a result. There are two points which easily disprove this claim. First, companies change their labels quite frequently when it serves their purpose. They change pictures and rearrange things, they add special sections about offers. If these label changes don’t cause prices to skyrocket, then requiring the labels for future packages to indicate the presence of GMO ingredients won’t either. Second, the requirement has been made in several other countries and their prices didn’t skyrocket. Those who pointed this out were often treated with disdain by these capitalists.

The argument that those who oppose GMO products were doing so irrationally was typically in the form of saying they didn’t understand the science behind the GMO process. However, that isn’t a valid reason to oppose consumer information because the burden is on the producer to convince them to want to buy their products. If a group of consumers decides they would never purchase those products, that is still a free market decision even if the reasons for their choice are incorrect. We should expect avowed capitalists to support the right of consumers to make that decision even if they disagree with the decision itself.

While supporters of the legislation did voice their reasons for not wanting to choose GMO products, their argument about the legislation itself was essentially that they wanted the right to make their free market decision, and they couldn’t effectively do so if these ingredients were allowed to be hidden from them in the marketplace.
Since we know that the labeling requirement would not actually cause prices to skyrocket, what then is the real reason to refuse to indicate that a product contains GMO ingredients? An obvious answer is the loss of sales. In a free market with informed consumers, some of them will freely choose, for whatever reason, not to purchase products that contain GMO ingredients. In terms of free market capitalist economics, that is not only they way things work, but the way they should work. For a producer to refuse or oppose labeling that would inform the consumer about these ingredients is nothing less than deliberately working against free market values; hiding information you know the consumers want in order to effectively trick them into purchasing a product you know they don’t want. This is duplicitous at best.
Why then did so many capitalist who claim to advocate the free market vociferously oppose consumers being allowed to make informed free market decisions? They didn’t even seem to realize that they were opposing a position that essentially said, “let the free market decide the fate of GMO products in the marketplace.” In essence, they were opposing the free market itself.
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Are Traffic Cameras Rigged Against Drivers?

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  They are consistently controversial and violative of basic rights as described in the article below.

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There are some studies that have found that traffic cameras slow down traffic, increase wait times, and fuel an increase in rear-end accidents.

And critics say that they are more about trying to make money for the state than they are about trying to keep the roads safer. The intentions behind them might have been good, but in the end the cameras might be causing more harm than any good.

While some studies have found negative results from the traffic cameras, there are others, such as one that was funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which found different results; that they allegedly reduced collisions.

However, it appears that a growing number of people are starting to question the efficiency of the cameras; considering the resources that go into maintaining and replacing them etc. As well as the billions of dollars in funding that they are helping to collect for the state.

Are they causing more harm than good?

One recent study that looked at 148 intersections that were located in at least 28 different cities in the US, found that the total number of crashes had increased roughly 10.14 percent compared to the data they had collected prior to installing traffic cameras.

There have been several attempts to ban red-light traffic cameras and to have them removed from various jurisdictions, some public officials have even including it as a campaign promise to voters. But many efforts thus far have failed. However, they did have some success recently in Arizona a few months ago, after House legislators there decided to pass a bill to get rid of traffic cameras; sending it to the Senate for further approval.

The Senate in Texas has also recently voted to ban the use of traffic cameras statewide. One Senator from Texas, Sen. Don Huffines, previously declared that he wants the state to reimburse the victims of these traffic cameras and he wants the entire program turned off; he’s made multiple attempts to try and see that happen.

Regardless of the growing number of critics who are trying to make efforts to have the cameras removed, there are still a great deal of law enforcement personnel and other public officials etc, who maintain that there is a need to continue using them across the country.

One critic of the cameras, an engineer from Sweden, Mats Jarlstrom, who now resides in Oregon, decided to conduct his own investigation on the cameras and he was slapped with a fine from the state for having engaged in unlicensed practice of engineering because he isn’t a licensed professional in the eyes of the state of Oregon.

Jarlstrom launched his mission several years ago and he’s been looking to prove that the cameras are setting drivers up for tickets; they’re rigged against the laws of nature, he says.

He’s even taken his findings to the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying so that those who have the ability to, might possibly work to make the appropriate changes if there is such a problem with the cameras. That didn’t happen however, instead they decided to accuse him of having practiced engineering without the appropriate permission from the state.

He’s already been fined hundreds of dollars by the state and been under investigation, simply for trying to point out what he believes is a problem that they should be concerned with correcting.

It all started several years ago after Jarlstrom’s wife allegedly received her own ticket and he became interested with the math behind the traffic lights, and he says that because of a flaw with its timing that it’s rigged against drivers.

He fought back, and won.

Jarlstrom filed a federal lawsuit in defense, he argued that their crackdown equated to a violation of his 1st Amendment Constitutionally-protected right to free speech. After all, shouldn’t free speech apply to discussions about math? It took several years but recently the attorney general in Oregon allegedly admitted that they had violated his free speech rights with their actions. Jarlstrom has partnered with the Institute for Justice and he isn’t over yet because he says that he wants the law declared unconstitutional; he doesn’t want to see others fall victim just like he did for what should be considered protected speech.

Sources:
http://time.com/3643077/red-light-cams-rear-end-collisions-chicago/
https://globalnews.ca/news/2853066/turning-off-red-light-cameras-can-be-deadly-study/
http://abcnews.go.com/US/red-light-camera-backlash-cameras-causing-accidents/story?id=13925887
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/os-red-light-cameras-crashes-20170106-story.html
https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/legislature/2017/02/21/arizona-lawmaker-travis-grantham-wants-get-rid-photo-radar/98199096/
http://tucson.com/news/local/no-more-tickets-from-tucson-s-red-light-cameras-radar/article_c4b350cf-2e9a-59ef-b644-ce83fca30896.html
https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/5gkgxn/the-shady-municipal-business-of-traffic-cams
http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/arizona-debates-red-light-cameras-tools-that-save-lives-or-police-state-tactics-9114403
http://kxan.com/2017/09/11/abilene-mayor-we-did-red-light-cameras-the-right-way/
https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/texas/articles/2017-03-29/texas-senate-votes-to-ban-red-light-cameras-statewide
http://koin.com/2016/08/10/are-red-light-cameras-rigged-against-laws-of-nature/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/12/08/criticizing-red-light-cameras-is-not-a-punishable-offense-oregon-concedes/?utm_term=.49814732d3b0
https://www.forbes.com/sites/instituteforjustice/2017/04/28/do-you-need-a-license-in-engineering-to-criticize-red-light-cameras-oregon-says-yes/

This article was published in Steemit and can be found here.

 

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED

Check out Faye Cohen’s post to her blog Toughlawyerlady!

ToughLawyerLady

I started writing this blog 3 months ago, but its topic, which involves all of the drama and passion of a morality play, has been the subject of ongoing change as reported in the news, so I amended it before posting. The story involves a homeless drug-addicted man, Johnny Bobbitt, who allegedly used his last $20 to help a young lady, Kate McClure, when she allegedly ran out of gas near the spot where Bobbitt was panhandling. In turn, McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, started a GoFundMe.com page for the purpose of helping Bobbitt with his drug addiction problems and finding him a home. The public responded graciously and $400,000 was raised to assist Bobbitt. As this story involves the human attributes of kindness, sympathy, greed and avarice, and highlights the heights and depths, follies and foibles of the human experience, the news media has given it much coverage…

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An Economics of Justice & Charity

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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The Church has always concerned itself with issues of justice in society, and popes have taught extensively on the topic since the late 1800s. Unfortunately, many Catholics in our day are not aware of this teaching, or only consider it in regard to things like helping the poor. Helping the poor is a very important aspect of it, but the scope of the Church’s teaching on matters of social justice go much further. Any aspect of social life which involves questions of ethics or morality fall within the scope of this teaching. Thomas Storck’snew book, An Economics of Justice & Charity, is a guide that shows how the Church’s teaching is very clear, has never changed, and definitely applies to areas of social life like economics.
In this new book published by Angelico Press, readers of Practical Distributism and The Distributist Review will encounter some ground already covered by Mr. Storck. However, he has expanded this coverage and included more material for consideration. Especially important for the Catholic reader, and others who wish to understand the Church’s teaching on social justice, are the sections covering claims, sometimes made by Catholics, that the Church’s teaching has somehow changed since the Second Vatican Council, particularly with the encyclical of St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus. Quoting those who claim that the Church’s teaching has changed, or that the Church has now wholeheartedly endorsed capitalism, Mr. Storck handily refutes those claims.
Another topic of interest to our readers is that of usury. On this topic, Mr. Storck clearly shows that, while the Church’s position on certain financial considerations may seem to indicate a change of teaching, the Church still condemns usury today as she always has. Through his examination of these financial considerations, Mr. Storck shows that the Church always sides with justice and maintains her teaching clear and unchanged without presenting an impossible burden for those of us who live in a world with a financial system that stands opposed to her teaching. However, he also points out that there are different financial options available to us. If we sincerely believe our Faith and strive to live by the teachings Christ has passed down to us through His Church, we need to choose options which are most consistent with those teachings whenever possible.
I wholeheartedly recommend An Economics of Justice & Charity. Consider this book for your own library and for those with whom you would like to share this important aspect of the Church’s teaching. Changing society is a slow and gradual process that must begin with getting people to consider alternatives to the status quo. This book can be a valuable tool in that most important work. Consider heading over to the Angelico Press web site to order a copy.

The Sexual Revolution Ruined Everything it Touched

Every now and again I come across something the warrants posting here; I recently came across a video by Matt Walsh which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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“The sexual revolution has been a catastrophic failure, having wrought only disease, abortion, divorce, unwed pregnancy, and other miseries, with none of the advantages it promised. Maybe it’s time to cut our losses and go back to the old fashioned way, which is the only way that works.”

Interference With Child Custody or Kidnapping? High Court Sorts It Out.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently handed down a ruling in the matter of Pennsylvania v. Tex Xavier Ortiz, 45 WAP 2017, that addresses and clarifies whether the criminal offense of interference with the custody of children, committed by a biological parent, can serve as an underlying felony for the crime of kidnapping a minor.

In a related custody matter to Ortiz, the maternal grandmother of the father’s (Ortiz) daughter, was awarded primary custody of his daughter as Ortiz failed to appear at the custody hearing. Per the order granting her primary custody, the grandmother attempted to exercise her custodial rights over the daughter, but could not locate her. After an investigation, it was found that Ortiz had his daughter and made efforts to conceal his whereabouts. The daughter was eventually found and returned to the grandmother, and Ortiz was arrested.

Ortiz was charged and convicted of interference with the custody of children (ICC) (pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. Section 2904(a) and (c)) as well as kidnapping a minor (pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. Section 2901(a.1)(2)). Ortiz appealed and argued that the ICC cannot serve as an underlying felony for the kidnapping of a minor when committed by a biological parent. Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with him, and the commonwealth was granted an allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The court first observed that the kidnapping-of-a-minor statute has two required elements: the unlawful removal of a child a substantial distance away without the consent of the person responsible for the supervision of the child, and one of the four enumerated states of intent as described in Section 2901(a.1)(1) – (4) (i.e: (1) to hold for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage; to facilitate commission of any felony or flight thereafter; to inflict bodily injury on or to terrorize the victim or another; and, to interfere with the performance by public officials of any governmental or political function.). Next, the court discussed the ICC, which prohibits “the taking of a minor ‘from the custody of its parent, guardian or other lawful custodian, when the actor has no privilege to do so.’” The two statutes clearly closely track one another and significantly overlap.

The court then turned its focus on Section 2901(a.1)(2) where kidnapping of a minor requires an intention to commit a felony or flee with the child and looked at how that related to the ICC. The court observed that applying the ICC to Section 2901(a.1)(2) resulted in unworkable circular logic. Specifically, the court opined that “it is logically problematic to assert that father unlawfully removed the child pursuant to the kidnapping statute with the intent to make it easier to unlawfully remove the child as contemplated by the ICC statute … stated otherwise, the act of taking does not, sensibly, facilitate the act of taking.”

To discern a proper understanding of how to interpret these statutes together, the court looked to the Model Penal Code, from which both statutes at issue herein are derived. Pursuant the commentary to the Model Penal Code, kidnapping protects against physical danger, while the ICC serves only to maintain parental custody of children against unlawful interference, which does not necessarily touch upon any of the four statutory states of intent in the kidnapping statute listed above. Furthermore, someone who commits kidnapping typically has malevolent intent toward the child, while, by contrast, violating the ICC, although unlawful, is committed by someone who typically is favorably disposed to the child. The ICC, therefore, operates as a lesser included offense to kidnapping to allow for punishment of the act of unlawfully taking a child contrary to a custody order, which is less severe than standard kidnapping in that it does not meet the states of intent mentioned above.

Based on the above, the court ruled that a conviction under the ICC cannot form the underlying felony for a kidnapping charge under Section 2901(a.1)(2). The court found that the authors of the Model Penal Code “having assiduously explained that kidnapping requires more than interference with the custody of a child by a parent—did not intend for such interference to be reintroduced into the calculus under the rubric of a predicate felony.”

Finally, the court rejected the commonwealth’s argument that a defendant may be prosecuted under all available provisions under 42 Pa.C.S. Section 9303 because the kidnapping statute and the ICC do not cover the same underlying conduct.

In sum, a finding that a biological parent committed the crime of interfering with a custody order under 18 Pa.C.S. Section 2904(a) and (c) cannot also serve as an underlying felony for a charge and conviction for kidnapping a minor.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on December 20, 2018 and can be found here.

Self-sufficiency and economic freedom

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Hilaire Belloc’s Essay on the Restoration of Property is a remarkably well-written book.  Put aside the question of whether Belloc is right or wrong about any of his contentions: the book is thoroughly lucid.  It’s also organic—you really can’t dip into it at random, you need to get ahold of the ideas as a whole.  This feature of the book, I think, leads to confusion among critics.  Well, there’s also the fact that despite its lucidity, the book covers far more territory than it could exhaustively treat, so there are some ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out.  One of those ideas, at least in my experience, is economic freedom.  It’s one of the central notions of the book, and one of the most fundamental principles upon which Distributism stands, and I’ve had a difficult time coming to grips with it.

It seems to me others have, too, including some prominent opponents of Distributism.  In particular, there seems to be a tendency to conflate economic freedom and self-sufficience.  This has serious consequences.

As I say, the book is an organic whole, so I can’t just pick up ‘economic freedom’ on its own.  I need to back up a little.  Belloc begins with the Production of Wealth.  This is, as he puts it, the transformation of man’s environment from a state that is less useful to a state that is more useful.  ‘Wealth,’ here, doesn’t mean large sacks of cash (at least, not generally).  It means all the things we need to have in order to live conformably to our nature: things like food and drink and clothes and shelter.

The transformation of our environment—the Production of Wealth—occurs only through the use of the Means of Production:

The wealth can only come into existence through the manipulating of natural forces by certain instruments; and there must also be an existing store of food and clothing and housing and the rest of it [e.g. clothing and fuel: or, in other words, wealth] so that human beings may carry on during the process of production.  These stores of wealth, these instruments and these natural forces are the Means of Production.

Note that last sentence carefully.  The means of production include such things as food and clothing, tools (“certain instruments”), and the natural forces with which we work.  It follows immediately that “whoever controls the means of production controls the supply of wealth.”  It also follows immediately that if the family does not control the means of production, then it will not be economically free.  That is: economic freedom requires control over the means of production.  Without control over the means of production, you are economically dependent upon others.  If you are economically free, you are not economically dependent upon others.  But of course this all comes in degrees.  To attain ideal economic freedom, one must attain full control over all the means of production required for the production of the sorts of wealth called for by one’s life.

Now, a quick review of that last paragraph brings to light why it’s so easy to confuse economic freedom with self-sufficiency.  But hold on to that for a minute.  First, we need to get clear on this notion of ideal economic freedom.  It’s not what you think.

The ideal, Belloc says, is inhuman.  In other words, do not read Belloc’s use of the term ‘ideal’ as meaning “a goal to be strived for even though we are sure to fall short,” or as “that which would be most appropriate for us, should we, per impossibile, attain it.”  That is definitely not the way to take it.  He uses the term in the sense of being an idealization, which is to say, a falsification.  Man is a social animal.  He is not made for the kind of isolation implied in such an ideal.  Again—and this can’t be stressed enough—ideal economic freedom is not a desideratum.  It must come with limitations.

So Belloc posits two restraints upon economic freedom.  First, there is the Difference of Occupation: some will mainly raise grain, some will mainly mill grain, some will mainly make millstones, some will mainly fix grain planting equipment, etc.  Second, there is the Principle of Unity, namely, the State, which helps maintain justice and order internally, and helps arrange for defense against aggression from without.  The resulting dually-limited economic freedom “satisfies the nature of man.”  So these limitations are not unfortunate constraints that bar our way to Utopia.  There is no Utopia—the “ideal” is eschewed from the outset as not proper to our nature.

What is to be pursued is not an inhuman ideal, but rather the wide distribution of control over the means of production, which is to say, private property.  And the family must control the means of production, or else it will not be economically free.  One can, of course, reject economic freedom as a goal (and Belloc deals with some arguments intended to do that).  But if one accepts economic freedom as a goal, then it is hard to see how Belloc’s conclusions to this point can be gainsaid.

At any rate, my task for today is not to argue in defense of economic freedom.  It is, rather, to clarify the relation between economic freedom and self-sufficiency.  I’ll take an old article from Thomas Woods as an example of the confusion of those two notions, and of its consequences for understanding Distributism.  But let’s start with the distinction.

I doubt there’s an authoritative account of exactly what self-sufficiency is, so let’s just make it easy on ourselves and go straight to Wikipedia.

Self-sufficiency (also called self-containment) is the state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction for survival; it is a type of personal or collective autonomy…  Self-sufficiency is a type of sustainable living in which nothing is consumed other than what is produced by the self-sufficient individuals.

Obviously there’s an ideal form of self-sufficiency, just as there’s an ideal form of economic freedom, and I suspect that the ideal of self-sufficiency is equally unattainable and undesirable.  So self-sufficiency comes in degrees like economic freedom.  But are they the same thing?

If so, then any increase in the one is an increase in the other, and the having of a large amount of the one entails the having a large amount of the other (and vice versa).  But that’s not how the relationship between the two really works.

Imagine a person who buys a small farm on the outskirts of a major city.  The value of the property is, say, one million dollars.  The farmer desires to be self-sufficient.  He wants to raise all of his food and fiber and fuel.  So he manages, over the course of some years, to grow large amounts of cotton and wool (and, correspondingly, mutton and lamb and even some sheep’s milk), along with maintaining a wood lot for firewood and a large garden, together with a laying flock and fruit trees and brambles and so forth.  The farm allows the farmer to become remarkably self-sufficient.

Does that mean the farmer is remarkably economically free?  Well, no, not necessarily.  Suppose the farmer, in addition to his farm work, holds a fulltime job as a high school science teacher.  His extreme degree of self-sufficiency is a pretty good thing, because the mortgage payment on the farm eats up virtually his whole income.  If he should lose his job, he would within a very short time lose his farm.  The truth is that he does not own the means of production, and hence he is not economically free.  (Objection: he’s not really self-sufficient, because his farm depends upon inputs from outside the system: namely, money.  Reply: first, even if it were granted that he’s not perfectly self-sufficient, nevertheless, if the term ‘self-sufficient’ has any meaning at all, it can be applied to this person.  For comparison, just think of the high school science teacher who produces none of his own food, fuel, fiber, etc.  That person is not at all self-sufficient, but the farmer teacher is far more self-sufficient.  But second, the objection equivocates on self-sufficiency, essentially by conflating self-sufficiency with economic freedom, or in other words it begs the question here.  That it doesn’t justifiably do so can be shown by considering the distinction between economic freedom and self-sufficiency from the opposite direction…a task to which I now turn.)

Looking at the question from the opposite direction, we can easily imagine someone who has inherited a large plumbing firm, and is able to live on the income from that firm, but who does exactly zero productive labor.  Economically free, but not at all self-sufficient.

In short, self-sufficiency and economic freedom are quite distinct.  That’s not to say they’re wholly disconnected.  Other things equal, the more self-sufficient you are, the more economically free you are.  (I do not think the entailment runs in the other direction, as the latter example above shows.)  But the point is that if you don’t carefully distinguish between the two concepts, you’ll start making mistakes about them.  Now I turn, as promised, to Woods.  Forgive the long quotation: I need it all here so you can see what I mean about making mistakes.  Note the way that economic freedom and self-sufficiency—together with in/dependence and security (I’ll put the terms in bold in order to obnoxiously belabor the point)—get mixed together in what follows:

For Belloc, then, the great advantage of distributism is that it gives the household a significant measure of independence. A new introduction to his Essay on the Restoration of Property describes his view of “economic freedom” as something that “comes from the possession of sufficient productive property, such that a man need not depend upon his employer for a wage, but has rather to depend upon himself and his land, craft, tools, and trade for his sustenance.”  Belloc acknowledges in passing that of course anyone selling to others is in some way dependenton those others, thereby conceding that risk and uncertainty are unavoidable aspects of life rather than unique to a system of economic freedom. If the price and quality of his goods do not remain sufficiently competitive, he is surely bound to lose business. However, Belloc points out, the family can nevertheless live on its own, even if buyers refuse to purchase its surplus goods. They can live on what they themselves produce. At heart, then, Belloc’s promise of security amounts to the distributist family’s ability in the last resort to retreat altogether from the division of labor and live in a condition of self-sufficiency.

I take it I don’t need to spend too much time pointing out that Woods is attributing to Belloc the ideal version of economic freedom, rather than the desirable or real one that Belloc actually defends.  If Belloc’s “promise of security” comes down to saying, hey, at least you can live altogether in isolation—which is to say, in an undesirable and unnatural state—then it’s not much of a promise.

I would have thought the point was obvious enough: if I’m entirely dependent on my employer for all my wealth, then I am not economically free.  At any moment, my employer could elect to end my employment.  If, on the other hand, I own the means of production (not simply a farm, but a plumbing business or a bakery or a law office) then while of course I am “dependent” on my customers or clients (just exactly as my employer is dependent upon his customers or clients—there’s no difference there), I am not alsodependent on my employer.  A whole layer of dependence has been removed.  In no case am I wholly secure in this world: just for one example, a terrible economic crash can hurt an independent plumber just as badly as it can hurt an employee of a large plumbing firm.  (Although I suspect that even here there is nuance.  An employee of a suffering plumbing firm may simply be let go, and wind up with no income at all.  [Leaving aside unemployment benefits or what have you, which of course Belloc is strongly opposed to.]  But an independent plumber, while his business may be seriously cut back, will likely retain some income, through doing a few jobs here and there.  Leave this aside.)  Notice that economic freedom as such has absolutely nothing to do with retreating to the hills and becoming wholly self-sufficient.  It has to do with owning the means of production!  Now to see how this confusion continues to undermine Woods’s attempts to deal with Belloc, let me continue the long quotation:

Yet the advantages of the division of labor are so clear that relatively few people have found Belloc’s proposal attractive enough to have actually attempted to adopt it. Practically anyone in the United States today who possesses the requisite knowledge and modest capital can acquire farmland and chase after the kind of self-sufficiency Belloc advocated. Producing their own necessities and in possession of the means of production, so to speak, such a family would be utterly independent of employers or anyone else. They would probably also enjoy a standard of living so depressed and intolerable as to throw the rationality of the entire enterprise into question. This certain outcome probably accounts for why the overwhelming majority of people choose to take their chances within the division of labor, balancing the risks from which this earthly life is never entirely secure against the unparalleled wealth and comfort they can enjoy by not retreating into semi-autarky.

So the upshot, says Woods, is: people don’t want “economic freedom”!  It’s miserable.

But is this at all reasonable?  Take the second sentence in the above quotation: “Practically anyone in the US today who possesses the requisite knowledge and modest capital can acquire farmland and chase after the kind of self-sufficiency that Belloc advocated.”  We’ve already seen that Belloc does not advocate that kind of self-sufficiency.  But note how confused Woods is regarding what economic freedom really requires.  What kind of modest capital does Woods think is required to own one’s own farmland and the tools required to farm it self-sufficiently?  You’re not economically free, as we saw above, if the bank owns your farm.  Woods is casually tossing out the idea that “practically anyone” could go ahead and become “economically free” by buying a farm and successfully living off it, because he’s confusing self-sufficiency with economic freedom.  (Ignore the fact that Woods seems to underestimate—egregiously underestimate—the amount of knowledge that would be required to become self-sufficient anyway.)

Worse, once again, the “utter independence” that Woods talks about is entirely inconsistent with Belloc’s actual desires.  It would be unnatural.  It’s not the way for humans to live.  It’s no good.

Of course, the notion that Belloc is somehow against the division of labor is clearly false, too.  As we saw above, Difference of Occupation is one of the two principal limitations on ideal economic freedom.  It’s part of the natural human way.  It’s not an evil to be shunned, but a good to be preserved.

Last, there’s a kind of strange confusion in the whole construction of the case.  Woods sets the thing up by imagining a bad situation for the Distributist family—one wherein a family can’t sell any of its goods, and hence retreats to its own devices.  Then he compares that to a good outcome in a capitalist economy.  Namely, one from which we can view the “self-sufficient” family’s lifestyle as depressed and intolerable.  So, not from the standpoint of an unemployed mill worker who is at the end of his rope, unemployment benefits over, no jobs in sight, no idea what to do next.  But from the standpoint of the happy-go-lucky, fully employed, financially flush, free person.  But if we’re comparing a failure of the Distributist economy—one where the family in question literally can’t find anyone to trade with!—then shouldn’t we compare it to a failure of the capitalist economy?  That is, to that unemployed mill worker?  What would one prefer?  To be the unemployed mill worker, wholly dependent for his sustenance on an employer who no longer needs him, and so has turned him out?  Or to be the self-sufficient though lonely and isolated and indeed impoverished farm family that nevertheless has plenty to eat, has a place to sleep, and has them securely?  I’d have to go with the latter.

But my point, again, isn’t to try to argue for the desirability of Bellocian economic freedom, simply to try to explain how it differs from self-sufficiency.  Both are good, understood properly, but they’re not the same thing.

Is Private Property an Evil?

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Roque Dalton, the Salvadoran Marxist poet and journalist (died 1975), wrote a poem, called in Spanish “Acta,” rendered in English as “Act,” which is a powerful indictment of economic injustice. The poem runs in part (as translated by Jack Hirschman):

In the name of those washing others’ clothes
(and cleansing others’ filth from the whiteness)
In the name of those living on others’ land
(the houses and factories and shops
streets, cities and towns
rivers lakes volcanoes and mountains
always belong to others
and that’s why the cops and the guards are there
guarding them against us)
In the name of those who have nothing but
hunger exploitation disease
a thirst for justice and water
persecutions and condemnations
loneliness abandonment oppression and death
I accuse private property
of depriving us of everything.

It is easy to understand why someone contemplating the immense discrepancy between the mansions of the rich and the hovels of the poor would consider private property itself as at the root of these injustices. “Capital,” as Pope Pius XI wrote, “was long able to appropriate to itself excessive advantages. It claimed all the products and profits and left to the laborer the barest minimum necessary to repair his strength and to ensure the continuation of his class” (Quadragesimo Anno, no. 54). And such an unjust distribution of wealth persists in many places in the world – or even grows worse. In the United States, where a relatively more fair distribution of wealth and income was achieved in the 1950s and 60s, since the late 70s the percentage of income obtained by the richest 10% or even 1% has increased dramatically. As the same pontiff wrote, “not every kind of distribution of wealth and property among men is such that it can satisfactorily, still less adequately, attain the end intended by God…” (ibid., no. 57).

If the institution of private property exists for a purpose, “the end intended by God,” then unjust concentrations of property on the part of the rich violate justice, harm the common good, distort the political process, and, in truth, are a powerful near occasion of sin to the wealthy themselves. But what remedy should we seek for this situation? To abolish private property? To “accuse private property of depriving us of everything”? That would be a bit like arguing that since some people have too many clothes and others not enough, we should abolish the private possession of clothing. No, there is a better way.

Distributists seek a more equitable distribution of property, not, as some of our critics appear to think, an absolutely equal distribution, which is neither desirable nor attainable. But a relatively more equal distribution, one that helps rather than hinders the purposes of property. For surely the purpose of private property is to facilitate the orderly fulfillment of the economic needs of the human race, not the amassing of wealth beyond anyone’s reasonable needs. Private property must be subordinate to the common good of society, and our laws ought to favor the division of property and its acquisition by the poor.

Some of the ways that a more fair distribution of property could be achieved were sketched by Hilaire Belloc in his 1936 book, The Restoration of Property, and depending on circumstances, these methods are still valid. Another method important today is to equalize the economic power between those who wash others’ clothes and cook others’ meals and collect others’ garbage, on the one hand, and on the other, those who control or hire them, those Pope Leo XIII characterized as “the party which holds the power because it holds the wealth; which has in its grasp all labor and all trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is powerfully represented in the councils of the State itself” (Rerum Novarum, no. 47).

Defenders of the economic status quo like to imagine that economic outcomes, such as vastly unequal distributions of wealth and income, are simply dictates of the so-called laws of economics. But this is not the case. It is not primarily such economic laws that have given some people control of wealth and labor and trade. Economic laws, which are reflections of certain more or less constant tendencies or proclivities of human beings, are real, certainly, but they always operate within a legal and a cultural framework, they are subject to manipulation by those who hold power, and rarely are they the most important factor at play in any given economic result. Those who wash clothes and clean hotel rooms generally work hard, but their hard work does not bring them riches, even after a lifetime of working. Why? Because they hold no economic power. Those who have economic power, their employers, essentially hold all the cards in determining wages. They are “the party which holds the power because it holds the wealth [and]…which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply….” Pope Leo was well aware that power was one of the chief determinants of economic outcomes. That is why labor organization is such an important means for achieving something like equity in economic bargaining power as a means toward achieving a more just distribution of property, and why Leo lamented, at the beginning of Rerum Novarum, the destruction of the “ancient workmen’s Guilds” (no. 3). The claim that labor distorts market processes misses the point, because any market always operates under some rules. Rules against force and fraud, for example, are no more natural or less arbitrary than are rules giving a voice to organized labor. The economy is not a self-existent entity that serves its own ends in isolation. It is part of the social order and must be subjected to the common good of the social order.

While the injustices that all too often are associated with private property are real and are to be deplored and eliminated, the remedy is not to abolish private ownership. If private property were abolished “the working man himself would be among the first to suffer” wrote Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (no. 4). It is not private property that is the enemy of justice or of the common good. It is the inequitable distribution of that property. Against such a distribution Catholic social doctrine proposes remedies, and distributists seek means to make these remedies more specific and to apply them to current conditions.

Of course, this is not to say that absolutely everything must be privately owned. Pope Pius XI justified state ownership in the following words. “For it is rightly contended that certain forms of property must be reserved to the State, since they carry with them an opportunity of domination too great to be left to private individuals without injury to the community at large” (Quadragesimo Anno, no. 114). Even more to the point is ownership by cooperative groups, such as worker-owned companies. In the Middle Ages most manorial farmland was cooperatively worked and was not the individual property of its cultivator. In fact, there have been many different systems of private property. To quote Pius XI once more:

History proves that the right of ownership, like other elements of social life, is not absolutely rigid, and this doctrine We Ourselves have given utterance to on a previous occasion in the following terms: “How varied are the forms which the right of property has assumed! First, a primitive form in use among untutored and backward peoples, which still exists in certain localities even in our own day; then, that of the patriarchal age; later came various tyrannical types (We use the word in its classical meaning); finally the feudal and monarchic systems down to the varieties of more recent times.” (ibid., no. 49)

Let us not confuse Enlightenment notions of absolute ownership, such as can be found in John Locke, with Catholic teaching on private property. The seventh commandment is not a bulwark for the Lockean social order.

No one, no Catholic especially, should be unmoved by the cry against injustice that Roque Dalton makes. But let us not jettison what is good in order to guard against the abuse of that good. Private ownership, yes; injustice, no. Let that be our motto and cry against oppression.

You can find this article here.

Why I’m Not a Leftist

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today by my old philosophy professor Dr. Crispin Sartwell from back in my Penn State days which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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The left wants to solve oppression by more thorough oppression.

I’m an egalitarian. I don’t think there’s a natural hierarchy of race or gender or sexuality or class. I call myself a feminist and anti-racist, and have worked hard at it; I’ve tried to reflect and change, insofar as that’s possible for a person like me. I’m outraged by the enduring, intensifying hierarchy of wealth that eats the world. I’m not opposed to buying and selling or ownership in all forms, but I’m certainly not a go-go capitalist. The picture of humanity that you get in capitalist ideology, in which everyone is dedicated above all to serving their own economic interests, makes me ill. I wish for a world where every sort of person is valued and in which the giant structures that oppress us all have been leveled.

In other words, I’m down with the goal. But the terrible problem with leftism, the practical problem and the theoretical problem, comes in the realm of the means to reach it. The left wants to solve oppression by more thorough oppression. It wants to solve hierarchy by imposing hierarchy. To free you, it intends to re-make you, re-train you, transform you, and to create institutions that are capable of doing that to everyone. At the beating bleeding heart of the left is the most obvious and the most destructive contradiction in the world.

Marx taught that a bourgeois intelligentsia will lead the proletariat to see where its own interests really resided: in the destruction of capitalism. This elite will spearhead a transformation to a new, much more equal world, which will be accomplished by a government the size and power of which will be unprecedented in human history, a “despotism” or “dictatorship” that controls all manufacturing, transportation, education, finance, and communication, to begin with, and that “liquidates” class enemies. This program (despite what a Marxist might tell you) has been sincerely applied all over the world. It has led to some of the most entrenched hierarchies of power and to most of the most murderous regimes that the world has ever seen.

That’s entirely predictable, because history shows that hierarchies coincide. If you dismantle the existing economic hierarchy by creating a more powerful state, resources will flow toward the power, and the people who constitute that state will be at apex of a new economic hierarchy, enforced by unprecedented powers. Consider China, for instance. The idea that you’re going to make us equal through oppression is really stupid.

The contemporary mainstream left isn’t usually flatly Marxist, but it has brought that along with it. There are almost no ideas whatever except further government programs, an ever-growing coercive state power that devours different segments of the economy and of social life, that tries to mold minds in its image or for its purposes, that imposes the envisioned transformation from the top down.

Unfortunately, government is obviously not whatever the left thinks it is. It’s not all of us together, which should be obvious to the left during the Trump administration. It’s an actual group of people. All you propose to do is create a new class, dominant both economically and politically, and I think you have largely been successful in this regard. Turn over the sort of power you contemplate to a government, and you should expect in the long run to be its victim.

Morally, it’s unconscionable to separate means and ends in this way, to countenance ever-more thorough oppression for anti-oppressive ends. Practically, welfare-state liberalism and state socialism have had the direct result of consolidating economic and political power into more or less the very same hands, and placing everyone at their mercy.

I’m not enumerating examples very elaborately here, but I’ll give you one. Public housing programs uprooted many functioning communities. They enhanced or imposed racial segregation. They often led to nightmarish living conditions. Their declared purpose was to make people more equal, or even to address racial disparities and move us to a more just society. The power that was constituted by the funding and the law accomplished effects precisely opposite of those it declared. That, in brief, is the history of the whole left.

This idea where they will free us by oppression is a sort of tic on the left. Once you see it clearly, that’s more or less all there is. A beautiful example is today’s anti-free-expression movement, which is dominant on college campus, but has bled into everywhere. We will free the oppressed by imposing formal and informal, state or institutional, limits on the expression of everyone. We will free everyone by forcing them to say the right thing and wear only the permissible outfits.

Meanwhile, we’ll constitute powers of surveillance, institutional sanctions, and various techniques for silencing people that can be turned to whatever purposes the people who control them care to pursue. Create a power capable of controlling the speech of your enemies, and you should expect to be silenced yourself. You’ll deserve it, too. In all your history since 1848, you have proposed to free us by enslaving us. You’re immune to the historical information that makes it obvious that that is a disaster.

Anyway, you have beautiful ideals. I share these ideals. You have ugly, unimaginative, demonstrably disastrous procedures for realizing these ideals, and on those I’ll fight you tooth and nail. And, as long I control my mouth, I’ll say whatever I please.

Next week (barring irresistible news developments): Why I am Not on the Right.

—Follow Crispin Sartwell on Twitter: @CrispinSartwell

This article can be found here.

 

Selling Out: The Perils of Capitalist Small Business

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Not too long ago it was announced that Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina, which had been a craft brewery, was being sold to Anheuser-Busch, the gigantic beer corporation. The founders of Wicked Weed announced optimistically that

Partnering with Anheuser-Busch means great distribution opportunities, more resources, and connections to other breweries…. More opportunities for Wicked Weed means bringing craft beer to more people….

It is of course hardly uncommon for a small business in the United States to be bought out by a large corporation. If a small business has a successful or unique product, it seems to some that its natural destiny is to be absorbed by some existing large company, and that this is somehow according to the laws of nature. But although it is very understandable why in a capitalist economy small owners would want to sell out to a big firm, this is a sad effect of capitalism, not some natural law.

As is so often the case with an Internet article, the comments that readers posted illustrate some interesting facets of popular thinking. And in this case they also bring to light some of the difficulties that naturally adhere to small business in a capitalist economy. (Comments have disappeared from the website, but are paraphrased as originally posted.)

In the first place, one of the commenters noted that craft beers are made by people concerned more for the product than for profits. In contrast to this, however, others not only defended the Wicked Weed owners, but defended the principle that selling out to a large company was simply what should be expected. One reader stated that it sounds as if the owners believed in the American dream. Why are people upset about that, he asked. Maybe because they’re too lazy to think of something themselves and market it.

Still other commenters offered other kinds of defenses of the founders of Wicked Weed. One noted that the owners deserve to obtain financial security, and along the same lines, someone pointed out that for most people the goal of having a business is selling out to a larger company after years of back breaking 80 hour weeks. And still another stated the undoubted fact that it’s difficult to resist when a major company offers to buy you out and make you very very rich.

Now what are some things a distributist can say in reply? First of all, the commenter who spoke of craft brewers as people who cared more for their product than for profits showed a correct understanding of what mankind’s economic motivations should be. Although profit rightly understood is a necessity for a business of any size, nevertheless brewers, bakers, and other craftsmen ought to have more interest in their product and their craft than simply viewing it as a means to make money. The money or profit should, in a sense, be a by-product of their work, not its goal. A passage from Hilaire Belloc that I’ve quoted elsewhere more than once expresses this very well.

But wealth obtained indirectly as profit out of other men’s work, or by process of exchange, becomes a thing abstracted from the process of production. As the interest of a man in things diminishes, his interest in abstract wealth – money – increases. The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence. The intermediary who buys and sells the crop or the table is not concerned with the goodness of table or crop, but with the profit he makes between their purchase and sale. In a productive society the superiority of the things produced is the measure of success: in a Commercial society the amount of wealth accumulated by the dealer is the measure of success. [1]

One suspects that the owners of Anheuser-Busch, that is, the stockholders, don’t care over much about product quality provided that the accustomed revenues continue. For them it is not a passion to provide good beer, but merely a smart investment, perhaps recommended by their broker as an up and coming stock. The difference in outlook between a craftsman, enthusiastic about his product, and a stockholder perusing brokerage house statements illustrates this immense difference very well.

Let us go on to the other readers who posted comments. The reader who defended selling out to Anheuser-Busch on the grounds that this was a fulfillment of the American dream is a good example of someone who has completely absorbed the capitalist understanding of economic activity. For him economics is not about supplying the needs of mankind with a good product while at the same time earning a sufficient income for oneself and one’s family. Instead economic activity is about becoming rich. The product takes second place, indeed, at times the product becomes totally irrelevant, as in the case of someone who makes a fortune by various kinds of financial manipulations entirely devoid of any connection with a real product.

But the other defenders of the Wicked Weed founders have a point. Financial security as well as relief from 80 hour weeks are both legitimate and reasonable desires and goals. Unfortunately under capitalism selling out to a larger entity that probably will have little intrinsic interest in your product is often the only way to achieve such security and relief. But with distributism this is not so. If we accept the basic view of distributism that the economy exists because God has created human beings so that we need external goods and have the capacity to provide them for ourselves, we can begin to grasp that there is something wrong with an economic system in which insecurity, especially for the little guy, is inherent, and which in turn leads to back breaking 80 hour workweeks.

Brewers are meant to supply a real need for the human race, good beer. Of course they must also earn enough profit that they can support themselves and their families. But there is no reason why supplying our need for beer must necessitate either insecurity or 80 hour workweeks. The brewers in any particular locale are not by nature enemies of each other, not even rivals, rather they are cooperators in supplying a need. The medieval distributist urban economy perfected the institution of the craft guilds so that those working in the same trade to supply a public need, such as beer or bread, would cooperate in fulfilling that need. The guilds sought by their regulations and by fostering an atmosphere of spiritual and fraternal unity to prevent any one producer from seeking a larger market share than he reasonably needed or trying to put his brother craftsman out of business. Therefore none would labor under such fear of financial insecurity that he would be impelled to work 80 hour weeks. The guilds, of course, did limit the number of brewers according to the reasonable needs of a locality. They did regulate and restrain competition. But they did this in the interest both of themselves and the public. The brewers needed a reasonable guarantee of stable work, the public a sufficient supply of good beer at a fair price. The guilds aimed to accomplish both, by institutionalizing the natural, God-given equilibrium between human needs and the human capacity to supply those needs.

Now the common capitalist response to this is to claim that, whatever ill effects excessive competition might have, in the long run it guarantees better beer to the consumer. Only when brewers fiercely compete and the better ones win out, will the public be assured of good beer. But does experience support such a notion? It is free competition that has led to behemoths like Anheuser-Busch and to the corporate beer which it purveys. I readily grant that guilds are not free of temptations to abuse their status, to settle into a mediocre routine, but, due to the Fall of our first parents, there is no human institution which is free of the possibility of corruption. If a guild becomes corrupt that is because of the unfortunate corruption of fallen human nature, it is not due to anything lacking in the guild principle itself.

If beer drinkers think that it is craft brewers who offer good tasting beer, and that it is the corporate breweries who offer something less than that, then the question is how to preserve the small brewers without subjecting their owners to 80 hour workweeks and a constant fear of going out of business. The guild system of distributism does exactly that, while the unrestricted competition of capitalism subjects small brewers to the same forces that led to the consolidation of breweries in the first place. If mankind’s economic activity is meant both to supply our genuine needs and provide a means of supporting ourselves in a reasonable and human manner, then distributism offers a way of doing that, while capitalism does not. If our dream is to become rich, then we have misunderstood both the purpose of economic activity and why we are placed on the earth in the first place. It is not to become rich but rather to live well so that we can attain to a better life afterwards.

Notes:
1: An Essay on the Nature of Contemporary England (New York :  Sheed & Ward, 1937), p. 67.

You can find the original publication on Practical Distributism here.

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