Mike Church And John Sharpe Discuss Distributism
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Folks, John Sharpe, IHSPress.com is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. We’re talking about distributism, but it doesn’t have to be called distributism. What we’re talking about is basically – I’m going to boil it down and give it another term. What we are talking about is moral / Christian economics, which means we’re talking about the economy that is the family. The only time this ever made it into our two-party political system was during the 2012 debates.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Let’s go to point two.
John Sharpe: Point two is, assuming you start with that premise of man and his family trying to work out his salvation, you then get to: What is the role of material goods? We have two kinds of material goods, material goods you consume, your food, your silverware, your plates, your automobile in some cases if it’s just shuttling you around from here, there, and everywhere. Everything that you own that you don’t use to make other material goods is what you would call a good to consume or a consumption good. I don’t mean consumerism kind of consumption. I just mean something that you use to meet an immediate need.
Then the other kind of property that makes wealth. In our day and age, say post-industrial era, the first thing that comes to mind is the factory, the assembly line, whatever. That’s a perfect and easy and very Marxist example of private property that you would call productive or wealth-creating or wealth-generating. All of the machinery that is on a plant is designed to make other wealth. You don’t eat the assembly line. You don’t drink the assembly line. You don’t read it. You use it to do something else. In our economy where everything is dominated by exchange, the goods that come off the end of the assembly line are sold in exchange for cash that people put in their pockets and the different parties involved seem to put that in their pockets in a very disproportionate way, as you’ve also pointed out.
Be that as it may, the fundamental, and I would argue personally – we can debate on this, absolutely. I would love to be challenged on this point. I believe that the fundamental principle, the essence of distributism, distributism or call it whatever you will – the term can completely be jettisoned. There’s no attachment to that term other than we have to say it’s something other than the capitalist, free market, and all the systems on the left. Whatever this thing is, it posits as an absolute moral good the achievement of a certain reasonable amount of independence by a family where the family can create some of this wealth that they need by applying their own labor to their own property. There’s no limit under the sun to the different varieties of how –
I was just – a guy from New Zealand who’s been a fan of our books for many years mailed a greeting card, a Christmas card, and a little tin toy soldier. The soldier was an example of a company that he started that’s got two or three employees, most family members. That’s what they do is make tin soldiers. In the card, and I’m literally not making this, he said: Here’s a very small example of what distributism can achieve. It’s a perfect example. All it means is family labor applied to family-owned and controlled productive property to generate what families need to live.
Again, I think another thing we can argue about is there are some – it’s hard in this day and age. The deck is stacked against us based on how the macro economy is organized. You’ve said over and over the last few weeks, the deck is stacked against the small man. It involves sacrifice and struggle. If you don’t believe that there’s a moral good or even an intangible good or goods, not only this idea of the facilitating and practice of virtue but the spiritual good, the independence – you know from the history of your own program – I don’t know if you know much about my background from a professional standpoint. Any of us who walk a bit too far out on the limb who are dependent upon a master of one kind or another for a paycheck, you start to hear that sawing sound when the guy who pays the bills decides he doesn’t like what you’re saying. You’re completely at his mercy if every good you need to produce comes from, depends on, is ultimately purchased by that paycheck.
Mike: That’s it. Folks, John Sharpe, IHSPress.com is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. We’re talking about distributism, but it doesn’t have to be called distributism. What we’re talking about is basically – I’m going to boil it down and give it another term. What we are talking about is moral / Christian economics, which means we’re talking about the economy that is the family. The only time this ever made it into our two-party political system was during the 2012 debates.
In one debate, alleged Catholic Rick Santorum was asked a question about his jobs program. He actually said: Before I get into my jobs program, I’d just like to say when we talk about economy, economy is a Greek word that comes from oikonomia. It basically means the economy of the household. My wife does a great job of managing our economy, and I’m sure a lot of your wives do. He actually got it right. Santorum was onto something. Of course, he completely obliterated his argument by proposing tax cuts and labor unions and trade pacts and every other hell forsaken thing that you can imagine. He had to honor the Man. Like you just said, John, his very existence depended upon someone else’s approval. Folks, this is the end result of the Western world’s gas at enlightened freedom. Your existence, your ability to provide subsistence ultimately, in almost all instances, is going to rely on your acquiescence to the wishes of someone else.
There’s a saying here in our capitalist economy, John. You know it; I know it; David Simpson knows it; young Christopher knows it; Maggie O’Connell knows it. [mocking] “Come on, Mike. Everybody has a boss. Everybody answers to someone.” Well, if I’m on a family farm, no. If I’m in a family business where I’m using my resources to make whatever and buy whatever else I can by selling some of what I make, no it doesn’t. Unless you want to argue that Almighty God is who I answer to ultimately. I don’t have to. That is something that was introduced – people don’t realize this, John. This concept was introduced into the world. It did not exist prior to this massive expansion of industrialization. One of the things that we’re going to have to confront is going to be those that are going to say: So are you and Sharpe and Chesterton –
By the way, I loved your description that you gave to Brother Andre: Brother, Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton and the rest of them, they weren’t just a bunch of old, fat, bored white guys sitting around a tobacco shop toking on their pipes who were bored and needed something else to talk about or write about. They actually thought very, very seriously about it. I think, as you pointed out, they took it seriously. Correct?
Sharpe: That’s right. It shows you how far we’ve come. To us, at least to me, I presume I speak for both of us, they’re giants of intellect and courage and this fearless apologia for the faith and for all good and sane things in our tradition. I think it’s fair to say that they considered themselves as fairly humble servants of a much bigger idea. That’s, I think, very important. Without in any way betraying them or without being treacherous, we can sidestep them. I’ve, again, had these arguments so many times: Well, Chesterton wasn’t an economist. Fine. You don’t like Chesterton? Forget Chesterton. I’ll give you 40, 50 other people who articulated this same idea, some of whom were trained in economics, others who weren’t. This idea of the family controlling its own destiny and having the economy as well as every other aspect of life serve that ultimate end, that idea goes back into the mists of history. It goes back as far as we can go.
Mike: We can quote Wilhelm Roepke. If you want an Austrian, we’ve got an Austrian.
Sharpe: Absolutely. You find them everywhere. I’m glad you mentioned Kirk Sale because we intentionally put, let’s say invited him to be more charitable and respectful. We invited him to contribute that piece to the book knowing that he has – correct me if I’m wrong. My impression is that he’s kind of regarded as some kind of lefty. I don’t know exactly –
Mike: Totally. He was the editor of The Nation Magazine. Of course he’s a lefty. Look, my wife Candace and I have met Kirk. We’ve had scotch with Kirk. I love Kirk. He’s a great guy. He’s smart as the proverbial box of tacks.
Sharpe: Again, that’s the whole aim, to help break through this straightjacket that’s on the modern mentality, which is: I really can’t criticize the “evils” of capitalism because that turns me into a leftist or a Marxist or what have you. If I do criticize, or God forbid I say the word “social justice” as a venerable [inaudible] one of these ancient cardinal virtues I think you have talked about previously and recently. Social as in justice for society as well as for individuals. It’s far too often justice gets chucked and you tack an “ist” on the end of social and you’re stuck. You talk social justice and you’ve immediately pigeonholed as a leftist nut. We have to stop that whole, bust through that paradigm, as I know you have.
Mike: Trying to do it. John Sharpe is our guest here. He is the publisher at IHSpress.com. I want to read something to you and then we’re going to take a timeout. This is from one of your authors from the book about capitalism and socialism or free market capitalism and socialism. This is from Gary Potter. Brother Andre Marie published this. He told me this is part one of two, so there’s a second part of this coming.
Christians would also hold, if libertarians would not, that private-sector enterprises should not be larger than ones that members of a family can run without a huge army of employees. Small is better than giant. This is where politics, the means by which the life of society is governed, come into the picture and should have primacy over economics. Politics should aim to keep things small, and this is where morals and the religion come into play if the politics are not to become intolerably coercive. Individuals must practice self-restraint, [Mike: I’m going to pause here real quick. This is what Tom Fleming, of the Rockford Institute and Chronicles Magazine, termed obedience to the unenforceable.] which is as necessary to the health of society as it is to the sanctification of individuals. Sanctification is of course necessary for our entry into heaven. If ordinary sinners, most of us, will require time in Purgatory to make it, it is harder for the man who devotes his life to seeking wealth instead of virtue — as hard, Our Lord says, as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
Mike: If you think it’s difficult to live a holy life now, or to try to obtain holiness in the modern world, if you’re really thinking about it, you are correct. If you want to make it easier, then we have to get things back into scale. John, I think I’m correct in saying that that’s what Potter’s point is. Right?
Sharpe: Absolutely. It speaks to one of the – this is why you end up with so many controversies with this allegation of no internet, no electronics, no assembly lines, no factories, etc. The reality is – I agree with you completely. From one standpoint these tools are neutral. They can be used for good or evil. There is this question, and I think Kirk Sale does a very good – and Kunstler, you’re certainly familiar with his book The Long Emergency and some of the other stuff that comes out of the writers around Kirk. There is a point where you say: We’re all for satellites, and we’re all for GPS, and we’re all for space shuttles and rocket ships, etc., etc., and to the extent those are necessary. They obviously have to be constructed by big operations because there are a lot of moving parts. With my background in the Navy, I remember what it takes, how many people, how much money, and how many parts it takes to construct a submarine. Should the mass of Americans earn their daily bread by participating in the whole system that facilitates the construction of submarines?
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This is where you get back to the hard-core distributists of the ‘30s and ‘40s, the men who were around and followed Chesterton and Belloc, such as Harold Robbins and K. L. Kenrick and I could drop a thousand names that won’t mean anything yet to anyone – we’re hoping they’ll become household names someday – who argued that this idea of a homestead – Pope Pius XII, as you know, was a very aristocratic pope who was cutting edge in his own way with being willing to go on the radio constantly. He took a very hard line on technology. He thought that it should be fostered in a controlled and reasonable way because it can help spreading of faith, very much like what you’re doing on your program.
At the same time, he did not shy away from talking about – I can give you later chapter and verse of which elocution or lecture, if you will, this comes from. He says: When Leo XIII and Pius XI defend private property, and we think defend against the communists because they’re the ones who want to take private property away. Catholics are the stalwarts who support the idea of private property. Pius XII says, speaking papally: We understand that our predecessors, when they say private property, they mean the homestead from which the family derives a portion if not most of its subsistence. That’s Pius XII. If we’re going to haggle that point, we have to recognize what tradition and what authority it is that we’re lining ourselves up against, especially as Catholics.
Mike: So you’re saying yes to private property or no to private property? You’re saying yes to it, right?
Sharpe: Absolutely. But private property as understood by Leo and Pius XII and the entire Western / Catholic / Aristotelian tradition, which is private property is what’s controlled by the family to generate its wealth not –
Mike: Okay. Got ya.
Sharpe: – enterprises where you own a piece of paper and say: This is my private property. I own one-tenth of one-tenth of one-tenth of a percent of Boeing so I’m a real entrepreneur.
End Mike Church Show Transcript