Chesterton and Belloc were right!

Allan Carlson has an important article here defending the economic theory of Distributism against the charge that it is responsible for the current economic crisis.  Distributism is a body of thought, mostly associated with the English Catholic polemicists Hillaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, which opposes both socialism and large-scale capitalism and asserts that a healthy economy requires a widespread distribution of productive property.  The American equivalent of these beliefs would be the agrarian republicanism of Thomas Jefferson and the southern agrarians.  One of distributism’s key goals is indeed to promote home ownership for poor families.  In the linked article, Carlson attacks the claim that this push to help low-income families own homes has lead to our current mess.  Among the interesting points he makes:

  1. New Deal policies pushing family home ownership worked well for decades.  One of the problems with the current system is that, following the moral decline since the 60’s,  it no longer favors married couples, but also promotes house acquisition by singles and unmarried couples.  These non-normative easy-house policies actually encouraged divorce and housing speculation.
  2. The Servile State predicted by Belloc has, in many important ways, come into existence.  The leaders of government and big business largely form one class, with individuals easily slipping back and forth between the “public” and “private” sector of the collaboration.  Welfare picks up the slack for low wages, and there are preliminary signs of Belloc’s most radical claim–that welfare recipients would largely lose their freedom to the “business government” apparatus.
  3. Most interesting of all is Carlson’s discussion of “public patriarchy”.  He points to the work of feminist scholars who show that women in feminist countries (e.g. Sweden) are mostly employed in jobs doing traditionally feminine work (e.g. child care, elderly care, nursing), but now they’re doing it for the state as its employees rather than doing it for their families.  In many of these countries, labor outside the home by mothers has become practically compulsory.  As Carlson puts it, women have come to be “functionally married to the state”.  It’s a disturbing but insightful description of the arrangement.

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