Tuesday, 25 June 2024

Distributism As A Means of Achieving Third Way Economics (Part 1)

THE raison d’être of National Liberalism is self-determination. The National Liberal Party – NLP – is the political expression of National Liberalism in Britain. And even the briefest examination of the NLPs web-site – http://nationalliberal.org/ – and two Facebook sites – https://www.facebook.com/groups/5273904313/ and https://www.facebook.com/NationalLiberalParty/ – will reveal its commitment to the principle of self-determination. For the NLP notes that self-determination ‘can be applied largely in three areas; National, Political and Economic.

National Self-Determination seeks to ensure decisions affecting the collective future of a nation are taken by ALL the people via referendum. This may be ‘External’, for example: the creation or maintenance of a nationstate, or ‘Internal’ – framing/updating a constitution to reflect how a people should rule themselves. (We favour independent nations and liberal, democratic, states).

Political Self-Determination seeks to ensure that the collective will of the people as well as the variety of political opinion is reflected in decision making. Thus, for example, we favour greater use of referendums to meet the former, and PR to reflect the latter (we favour a system close to the Swiss model of Direct Democracy). Economic Self-Determination seeks to distribute ownership as widely as possible and as close to the individual as practical by favouring home ownership, self-employment, small

businesses, cooperatives and employee shareholdings. (We believe that ownership is the key to economic and social health: where workers obtain a just reward for their labours and gain a feeling of well-being through their having a genuine personal stake in society).

The above principles underpin many National Liberal policies but others are rooted in common sense and usually aim to strike a balance between conflicting opinions, as befits a centrist party.’

With this in mind, we’re reproducing an article entitled Distributism As A Means of Achieving Third Way Economics written by Richard Howard in 2005. It originally appeared on the web-site – http://www.hsnsw.asn.au/index.php – of the Humanist Society of New South Wales.

As usual, we invite our readers to share their thoughts when this article is reproduced on our Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/groups/52739504313/ It goes without saying that there are no official links between Richard Howard, the Humanist Society of New South Wales and the National Liberal Party. You can read the original article here http://hsnsw.asn.au/Distributism.html Readers will note that this article uses the phrase ‘Third Way.’ Here it is used in a context that distinguishes it from capitalism and socialism – indeed, it refers to an economic position that goes way beyond both capitalism and socialism.


Distributism As A Means of Achieving Third Way Economics (Part 1)

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s the other way around.”


At the beginning of the 21st Century of the Common Era, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it the political credibility of state socialism, we are daily confronted by those who claim that these events are a vindication of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism.

Whilst undoubtedly a new golden age for corporations whose transnational commercial opportunities and economic might are increasingly beyond the regulatory power of even medium sized national governments, we find the dawn of the age of globalism accompanied by the concentration of more and more wealth in the hands of a few whilst the wages and living standards of the many are moving rapidly backwards.

In these circumstances, it is perhaps opportune to look again at alternatives and consider whether the failure of communism has vindicated laissez-faire capitalism or whether, perhaps, a genuine Third Way is possible.

In recent years, many have sought to lay claim to the concept of a Third Way, but for most, like British PM Tony Blair, use of the term is simply self-serving rhetoric and spin for business-as-usual.

There is however one claimant to the mantle of a Third Way that does not simply collapse on closer examination into welfarist capitalism or state socialism in drag, and that is the political movement known as distributism.


Distributism’s philosophical origins can be traced to the same nineteenth century roots as socialism, as a reaction against the perceived inequalities and misery of late Victorian high capitalism in England.

The inspiration for the Distributist Movement was the 1891 Papal social encyclical, De Rerum Novarum – On the Condition of Labour – calling for a new compassionate interpretation of capitalism, although a majority of distributism’s later supporters were not Catholics and many were in fact former radical socialists who had become disillusioned with socialism.

Local attempts to form grower co-operatives to redress the impoverishment of agricultural producers who were paid little for their crops by middlemen who then on-sold them to consumers at a great profit had achieved considerable success in rural Ireland in the mid-19th century. Equally, the credit union and building society movements, that sought to lend money on a not-for-profit or minimal cost basis for housing and small business development enjoyed great success, particularly in Scandinavia. In England, the success of the Rochdale co-operative retail outlet proved that not-for-profit retailers could operate successfully, and continues to form the basis of all retail co-ops to the present day.

It was however left to Hillaire Belloc and GK Chesterton at the turn of the century to draw together the disparate experiences of the various co-operatives and friendly societies in Northern England, Ireland and Northern Europe into a coherent political ideology which specifically advocated widespread private ownership of housing and control of industry through owner-operated small businesses and worker-controlled co-operatives.

This became the basis of a concrete set of political goals which formed the objectives of the distributist movement and which, ironically, achieved their greatest successes outside England in Italy, Canada, Northern Europe and most spectacularly in Spain.

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