In this episode of Jonathan Witt's A Cultural Case For Capitalism, Witt tries to rebut a proposed alternative to Capitalism called Distributism. This alternative is proposed to counter the 'hyper-utilitarianism, materialistic, and banal' qualities that mark today's age of Capitalism along with the consolidation of wealth and power that resides with elites from the business class.
What is Distributism? It includes a more equitable distribution of land and means of production in order to avoid the problematic consolidation of wealth, a more agrarian based lifestyle, and an emphasis on buying local and thus promotion of a 'society market.'
Witt has a couple of objections, everybody should have at least one, to this economic system, but we will focus on his main objection. His objection is the broken-record conservative objection to who initiates what. For one of the founders of Distributism, Hiliare Belloc, called on government to facilitate the beginning and maintenance of Distributism. So of course Witt will complain that Belloc is leaping from the frying pan of consolidated wealth and power of the private sector into the fire of even more power of the public sector--the government.
And the apparent reason why Witt does this is because his model of thought lacks nuance and the ability to make distinctions with regard to the government and power. For in stating that government is already too powerful and, quite frankly, is the problem, he doesn't distinguish between governments that are truly democratic and those that are run by elites. This is why we don't see democracy being part of the recipe in developing a sound economy.
In addition, Witt's analysis that government has more power than the elites in the private sector shows a failure to understand the meaning of power and how it is distinguished from authority. Simply put, power is the ability to get things done. And one doesn't have to have authority to have power. So there is a very real and important debate we need to have today in determining how we can fix our broken system. Who has the most power in today's society? Is the elites in the private sector who make both major political parties addicted to the Crack of both campaign contributions and perks from lobbyists or is it those they have put into government positions? Sheldon Wolin, who is the author of Democracy Incorporated, seems to argue that elites from the business class have the most power. This possibility goes unexamined by Witt and thus, as Witt criticizes another system for depending too much on government, he sets us up to be shot with a gun he never sees.
And just as Witt is blind to the power of private sector elites as he weighs the merits of another economic system, he seems very naive about how to solve the morass our current economic system. He seems to think that in addition to political and religious liberties, all we need is more economic liberty, which means more individual liberty for entrepreneurs, with that liberty to be curbed only by the passing of necessary laws based on natural laws and the belief that each person is made in the image of God. The necessary laws, according to Witt, are assumed to be obvious which is why no mention of democracy is not being made-- the absence of democracy in his series makes his extolling of political liberty seen in this article seem empty.
Here, we should remember from the very first blogpost in this series that the less we emphasize democracy, the more we support elite centered rule (click here). And Witt's support of elite centered rule implies that we need the right elites in government to pass the obvious laws necessary to ensure economic liberty. But if these laws are being passed by a government run by elites, then, even if Witt approves of these elites, he is guilty of having the same fault he cited Belloc with: empowering government.
But more than that, having the right elites in government to pass the right laws according to ideology is the path Lenin took when he hijacked the Russian Revolution and turned it toward the Right. It is simply a belief in a vanguard of elites who judge what is consistent with the ideology du jour.
Finally, as a side note, the absence of any emphasis put on the role of democracy in determining the economic system is consistent with my discussions with people from the Acton blog. In our discussions, they were adamant in declaring that there is only one kind of liberty: individual liberty. This means that the liberty a group exercises in determining how we will live with each other, which we can call group or societal liberty, which is facilitated by democracy, does not exist.
But again, as this blog has pointed out, the less democracy, the more elite centered rule. And such rule will put a higher priority on protecting, if not expanding, its position and possessions to the extent that they might market the laws that best serve them as laws which are obviously based on natural law and the idea that man is made in the image of God. After all, isn't that what we are seeing today?
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10