In part 1 I posted the definition of distributism.
Politics is not my thing, nor is economics. I find the former distasteful, and the latter more mysterious than most miracles. This may have something to do with listening to conservative talk radio for three hours every weekday, over perhaps four years of adolescence. As a result, I’m not going to talk about distributism as a economic system supported by political leaders, which is what it is intended to be. That’d be interesting, but it’s not going to happen any time soon. What I did want to mention is one of their central claims: that it’s more in accordance with human nature and justice and stability if as many men as possible own the means of production necessary for their work. So, for instance, if I’m a seamstress, it’s much better to be the kind who has some sewing machines, and perhaps spins, dyes, silkscreens. and owns a little shop, than it is to work at a factory somewhere where I’m expected to sew a thousand identical pieces of clothing. It’s even better than making the same wages at a high-end boutique – both because it’s, in general, better to produce things than simply peddle them, and because I don’t own the shop, or an interest in the shop, and I probably never will.
That also means, however, that a greater number of people must be willing to pay more for local goods than they would for foreign ones. Using the above example, if I’m selling nicely made clothing, quilts, etc. from a little shop under my apartment, there must be people in my town willing and able to pay perhaps $80 for an article of clothing when they could get the same thing (though not as nice) for $20 at Target. And why should they?
Currently people try to get around the question by attaching some form of “creativity” to their product. It’s not a blouse; it’s “wearable art;” not a quilt, but a piece of “textile art” that happens to keep you warm at night. These aren’t just tomatoes: they’re organic, locally grown tomatoes. It’s not just a chair: it’s a handcrafted one-of-a-kind artisan chair. Well, alright. We see that around sometimes, at farmers markets and craft fairs and the like. A few people even make a living at it. But it’s currently very much a niche thing. One of the goals of distributism is to make local markets the norm rather than the exception, reserved for wealthy hip greenies. It’s a system to promote, first, the distribution of property so that people have the means of producing things, rather than having to rely on hiring ourselves out to distant employers. I suppose part of that would also have to be convincing these people to buy from each other, even when it was more expensive. That requires a lot of good will, but perhaps there are enough people who would be willing to make it work, at least on a small scale.
I’m also not certain how distributism would play out in areas of production that require a good deal of machinery. In a blog (which I can’t link because I forgot where it was) I was looking at the author seemed to be suggesting that employees could be share holders, and could form guilds of some kind.
Distributist’s encouragement of small businesses and the means of production and distribution being in the hands of as many people as possible reminded me of of the charges we always hear leveled against Walmart as a symbol of the Big Box Store. I remember my mom calling people who go out of their way not only to not shop there, but to tell everyone else that they don’t shop there snobby. On the second part she’s probably right – why go out of your way to say where you *don’t* like to shop? About it being snobby to go out of one’s way to shop at other kinds of stores, however – well, I suppose that if we want to encourage small business owners it might prove necessary, even if it makes shopping take longer.
But we do shop a good deal more than we need to. My neighbor goes shopping twice a year. No, really. Her house looks like it, too – at the beginning to the year her pantry has a way of overflowing into every available space in her kitchen. We also sacrifice a lot of good things for convenience and not having to go at all out of our way or think ahead or make do. I know I do. Like when I buy jerky at the store, even though the lady down the street sells smoked salmon for less. But I didn’t want to have to bother finding out who still has some, and when she’ll be home; and I’m not disciplined enough to have more in my house than I should eat in a day, because I’d eat all of it and not have any more. Or, instead of actually making a soup – which might take an hour and require some thought – I but canned soup in cans. What a waste of money and aluminum (or tin?)! And that doesn’t even begin to go into the oddity of refusing to plant gardens, and then importing a bunch of canned veggies from nobody knows where at great inconvenience and expense, which taste terrible, look ugly, and have lost a good deal of their nutritional value.
All this made me think of the village I’m in. As far as production goes, it’s a bit of a wreck. Like I mentioned a moment ago, there are no gardens. Teachers ship food in from Anchorage. There *are* berries, which are free to pick. There are not blueberry rakes, and I have it from a teacher from Main that people could sell the berries if they put a bit of thought and effort and rakes into it. Ladies bead and make fur boots and slippers, but the main method of selling these items is either by word of mouth or raffling them. People, for a number of reasons, cannot build livable houses – though we live in the middle of a forest – so there are a number of houses that were sent here by the government, and it’s a rare thing for anyone to get a new house, no matter how crowded things are. Nearly everything is shipped in from elsewhere – food, clothing, shelter – and yet many people are unemployed. Aside from reasons that have to do with infirmity or vice, they’re unemployed because the economics here are massively imbalanced, with everything coming in, and nothing going out. So what do we, as a school, do to try to help? We spend a good deal of time teaching students how to find jobs elsewhere, so that they can work for a large corporation somewhere. We do this without ever discussing with the community the advantages and disadvantages, or the alternatives, and using taxpayer money. And then, after a year or two – having been paid with state money and gotten all necessities from Anchorage or the government, we leave and spend most of our money in another state.