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The BIG (Industry) Question

Why We Need Large-Scale Industry in the Modern World

Without industrialization, many of the products we enjoy today would be nonexistent. From automobiles to laptops and tanks to modern medicine, these products would not exist without our ability to produce on a large scale. Although some may argue that Distributism is a call back to the “simple-life” and that modern, large-scale industrialization is unnecessary, this argument only holds water when applied to products that can be deemed as non-essential.

Without large-scale industry, we would be void of products that quite literally save lives, such as prescription medicine and medical devices. Although some heavy machinery like automobiles could be deemed a luxury (albeit, it’s safe to assume only a handful of people would be willing to give up their car and make the switch to horse and buggy) other types of complex, highly advanced machinery is essential for a country’s survival in the modern world. Militarily we require modern heavy machinery to keep up with the ever growing demand for a stronger and more technologically advanced defensive posture. If a distributist society on the national level decided to stop all large-scale production completely, people would lose access to life saving medicine/medical equipment, cars, laptops, cell phones, and even the military equipment necessary for the defense of a country.

Because modern society requires complex products for its own survival, a distributist society on the national level would require the use of large-scale industry to maintain its position on the world stage. However, the mega-corporations that currently produce the complex goods we enjoy, are diametrically opposed to distributist principles. This, dear reader, brings us to the heart of The BIG Industry Question: How can a distributist society manufacture complex goods without the use of large corporations, government owned factories, or any other entity that is inherently anti-distributist in nature?

Is there a Distributist Solution?

The leading distributist solution, although still hotly debated upon within the distributist community, is the use of large cooperatives to produce more complex products. In our second article, “The Third Way: An Introduction to Distributism,” we discuss the seven pillars of Distributism. One of these pillars is the Catholic social teaching of Subsidiarity.

In article two, we had this to say on Subsidiarity: “The idea that no larger unit, whether it be social, economic, or political, should perform a function which can be carried out by a smaller unit.

“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do” -Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, 1931.

Subsidiarity, however, does not bar larger organizations from existing, it is only saying that we should aim for the smallest unit possible. Therefore, the mass majority of the products we enjoy like food, clothing, and furniture, can and should be produced on a very localized level. However, a single family unit cannot produce the car you use to get to work or the medicine to treat a family member’s heart condition. Under the principles of subsidiarity, therefore, we must aim to make these large-scale factories, which are capable of producing such goods, as small as possible. It is also important that such an entity continues to uphold the distributist principle of wide-spread ownership. For these reasons, distributists often suggest the use of cooperatives to manufacture complex goods.

“Worker-ownership, or “cooperatives” as they are commonly called, alleviates the tensions wrought by the separation of ownership and work because it eliminates this division, and it increases ownership because cooperatives are multi-partnerships, organizations owned and operated by a group, utilizing diversified tentacles of capital investment and resources. The employees are the capital owners. Instead of one person raising capital to incorporate and invest in overhead, the cooperative is a shared investment by several people. Cooperatives benefit from their collective bargaining power, pooling operational costs, and stretching limited resources.” -Richard Aleman (Former Executive Director of the American Chesterton Society), Industry: A Distributist Solution Part II

Cooperatives are a better alternative to large corporations because they disperse ownership across the business. Instead of a few C-Suite execs and board members making all of the decisions, decision making power and profit sharing is evenly dispersed across the entire business.

One of the prime examples of a successful cooperative is Spain’s Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. Mondragón was established in 1956 by Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, a Jesuit priest who was influenced by Catholic social encyclicals. Today, Mondragón Cooperative Corporation is a conglomerate made up of more than 250 cooperatives with over 80,000 worker-owners in industries such as finance, retail, and education. After over 66 years of operation, the cooperative now generates an annual revenue of about $14.5 billion and is the seventh largest corporation in Spain.

Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, founder of the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation

“While most large-scale industries reduce the level of ownership in our society and treat labor as a cost instead of a partner in the production process, cooperatives are the Distributist answer to increase widespread ownership of the means of production.” -Richard Aleman (Former Executive Director of the American Chesterton Society), Industry: A Distributist Solution Part II

Mondragón is by no means an anomaly. In fact, there has been a proliferation of co-ops popping up all across the globe over the past few decades. There are now co-ops that exist in almost every western country in virtually every industry, ranging from healthcare to manufacturing and everything in-between. Click here to see a list of the top 300 biggest cooperatives in the World.

Countering the Cooperative Solution

At the beginning of the last section, we mention that the current solution of utilizing cooperatives to produce complex goods is still debated upon within the distributist community. Although small co-ops are widely agreed upon as being distributist in nature, some distributists believe that larger co-ops fail to uphold the principles of distributism.

The main reasoning behind this is that as the business grows and the number of owners increases, the stake or power held by the individual owner becomes increasingly insignificant. After a certain point (which arrives fairly early), a worker-owner no longer has any actual standalone influence on the company. This is contrary to the principles of distributism, which requires an owner of a cooperative to have a stake large enough to significantly influence business decisions.

There is also the fear that large cooperatives would have a disproportiuanate amount of power in local politics and potentially even federal politics, the same way capitalism allows for now. For example, say a town is primarily made up of people that work for a single cooperative, the workers of said cooperative will vote on issues that seek to benefit them and in turn the organization they have ownership of. The rest of the population who own small farms, mom & pop shops, bakeries, and other small businesses would lose the voice distributism seeks to give them.

For these reasons, many distributists refute the idea that large cooperatives are the solution to the big industry problem. This leads to two ways of thinking. Either large cooperatives are heavily regulated and must prove that they are performing a service that cannot be carried out by a smaller entity or distributism itself can only exist as a smaller society that eliminates industrialization completely but is then housed within a larger economic framework that can provide the means of production capable of producing complex goods. The former solution of course still opens the door to government corruption and an unfair distribution of power as it still allows for the formation of large organizations. Not to mention the fact that the regulation itself would be done by a governmental body which will most likely choose greed over justice.

Focusing on the Now

Although cooperatives seem to be the distributist answer to big industry (or at least a step in the right direction), there are still many small details that need to be fleshed out before its implementation. Creating checks on power and limiting the size of such organizations is a start. However, since distributism is still a grass roots movement, most distributists would consider the latter option (the formation of a smaller distributist society housed within a larger economic framework that can produce complex goods), which eliminates the need for large-scale industrialization all together, a huge win for the community. It is only after the formation of small communities across that county that we can begin to think about implementing distributism on a national level.

Big ideas start small and it is illogical to think that America, or any country for that matter, will turn into a distributist society over night. The distributist movement is one that is starting from the ground up. Instead of focusing on problems surrounding big industry (a problem that will only become applicable in the far future) one must first focus on what is most important in the present, the education and proliferation of distributist principles across the populous.

The Town Crier by William Scott

Our biggest tool is knowledge and the voting power we have on the local, state and federal level. This means learning skills and trades that promote self sufficiency and widespread ownership (i.e. farming, composting, sewing, canning, woodworking, construction, plumbing, etc.) and voting for representatives in our government that will push for distributist policies.

There are many distributist organizations out there that are doing this work by bringing distributist thinkers together in local communities and providing them with the skills necessary to live self-sufficiently and cultivate thriving homesteads. One organization that is leading the distributist grass-roots movement is the Catholic Land Movement. Their objectives are as follows:

  • The restoration of Catholic rural property through the resettlement and practical support of rural, agriculturally and domestically productive households (homesteads).

  • The education and training of Catholic laity in the domestic order, agricultural skills and craft traditions necessary to successfully cultivate Catholic homesteads.

  • Cultivating a network of practical, spiritual and intellectual support between those established Catholic homesteads and those seeking to establish or support Catholic homesteads.

  • The glorification of God.

If you are interested in starting a Catholic Land Movement chapter in your area or joining a pre-existing one, please contact them here.

As for voting for candidates with distributist values, the American Solidarity Party is a good place to start. As a caveat to this, every voter should research the individual running for office and not blindly vote for a political party. For this reason, TheCatholicDistributist is not explicitly advocating you vote for the American Solidarity Party nor is it saying that the party’s values perfectly align with all distributist thinkers. However, one could argue that the American Solidarity Party is the party most aligned with distributism and Catholic social teaching within the American political sphere.

“The American Solidarity Party is committed to addressing the needs of the human family and the earth that sustains us with prudent policies informed by Christian democratic values. We offer the following proposals as a solid foundation for a government that supports life, justice, peace, and a healthy environment for all.” -American Solidarity Party, Our Platform

One area of particular note is the party’s economic stance which explicitly calls out their support of distributism.

“The American Solidarity Party believes that political economy (economics) is a branch of political ethics, and therefore rejects models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest. We advocate for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as “distributism”) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.” -American Solidarity Party, Our Platform (Economics)

For a more in depth look, check out the party’s entire platform covering topics on Life & Family, Civil Rights, Economics, Civic Engagement & Public Services, Foreign Policy & Immigration, and Environment here.

Closing Thoughts

One of the questions TheCatholicDistributist gets asked most frequently is “the Big Industry question,” which is why we found it important we write this article. We hope that by providing a holistic view of the subject and by weighing the pros and cons of current distributist solutions, we can help provide some clarity on the matter. However, although the Big Industry question is an important one, it is not one distributists should be too concerned with at this stage of the movement.

Distributist thinkers will have many years to contemplate the intricacies of how the production of complex goods can be achieved under a distributist framework. For now, it is pertinent that distributists focus on raising awareness of the movement, spread the knowledge necessary to cultivate thriving homesteads, and vote for politicians who will make the distributist voice heard. Interested in Helping?

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