Changing the Context
2 hours ago
If an economy is to achieve equilibrium, that rough balance between supply and demand upon which orderly markets depend, then obviously there must be sufficient demand distributed through the mass of men to clear the markets. Since most men do not have sufficient productive property to make their own way in the world, the mass of goods must be distributed to the mass of men by wages. And for this to work, there must be a certain justice in the wage; if the workers get a declining share of the output, markets will fail; there will not be enough purchasing power to clear the markets, and they will have to be supplemented by government spending or by consumer lending. But both of these are temporary fixes, at best, which merely delay the collapse rather than mend it. Mending the situation requires us to fix the wage system itself.
Wages are a part of distributive justice, which deals with how to distribute the output of some social enterprise, be it a state, a firm, or a family. Distributism is the political economy which explores the effects of distributive justice on the economic order. It is the claim of the distributists that justice is central to the economic question. When we speak of remoralizing the markets, as Phillip Blond puts it, we are not talking about adding something to an already complete science of economics; rather, we are speaking of something which is central to political economy and without which the science cannot be complete.
The campaign for development carried out by international agencies has revealed that success is not so much economic assistance but rather creativity and resourcefulness, commitment and countless sacrifices of "small actors." For example, there are local governments and municipal authorities, the myriad of subjects who make up civil society — large and small NGOs, international and national trade unions, cooperatives, consumer associations, advocacy groups— as well as a plethora of "Faith-based Organizations." Such local ownership constitutes a new phenomenon, which has succeeded, almost spontaneously, in combining the most modern technology with so-called "appropriate" and "intermediate technology" thus giving life to the expression "small is beautiful." Indeed, this reality was predicted many years ago by economists such as Ernest Friedrich Schumacher, and strongly inspired by the Encyclicals Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII and Mater et Magister of John XXIII (cf. also Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, n. 72).
The struggle for development has therefore stressed the importance of actively mobilizing all subjects of civil society; and in this way, has proven to be, beyond a doubt, the centrality of the human person, as the subject primarily responsible for development (Caritas in Veritate, no. 47). Real men and women who have formed partnership and alliances to bring the north and the south together are showing that it is possible to unite the immense possibilities of intelligence and human will in the service of integral human development. There is a vast amount of experience, from Africa and from other poor regions, to demonstrate that positive change is possible. This involvement, at the ground level, where local communities become key actors in their own development, is something indispensable for the true effectiveness of international aid and for better international financial and commercial structures, which nevertheless continue to be necessary.
If we awarded 4/5 ths of the value of Facebook (and the same exercise could be done with Google at a couple of million superusers) to its superusers, leaving the tool managers $5 billion in value, each superuser would now be worth $200,000 from their contributions to this tool alone. But they aren't. They haven't earned a penny for their effort.
One way to look at this is that we are truly in trouble. If the industries of the future are based on cognitive slavery, we all lose. However, as an entrepreneur, an optimist (believe it or not), and a believer in the potential for social/economic improvement, I think this can be corrected. I believe it's possible to build tools and the companies that manage them, in a way that actually rewards the people that do most of the work. All we need to do is make it possible.
In recent decades, moreover, as the emerald fields and forests of my native Howard County have been swallowed up in the gray squalid sprawl of urban development, to accommodate all those (principally northern) Ausländer who have moved into the region to work in D.C., and as the soft, lyrical, distinctly Southern lilt of the central Maryland accent has been drowned under a hideous deluge of slurred syllables, guttural vowels, and glottal stops, I have at times found myself thinking of Americans much as the Helots must have thought of the Spartans.
Perhaps this explains, at least in part, my inability to join full-throatedly in that interminable chorus of self-congratulation that is American patriotism. Not to say I do not appreciate our national virtues or magnificent landscapes. I certainly have no desire to live anywhere else. My devotion to baseball is damnably idolatrous.
But, in general, my love of country is a quiet, somewhat reclusive emotion that does not like to disport itself in the open. I cannot feel whatever my compatriots feel when they make wildly exorbitant claims about America’s unsurpassable epochal importance; I certainly cannot seriously credit the claim—which I have heard all my life—that America is the “greatest nation on earth,” or even the “greatest nation in history.”
What could that possibly mean?
But there is another tradition through which the coalition could find its governing principles and its transformative agenda – the "big society". A belief in a self-organising citizenry is not foreign to liberals; indeed, the modern liberal party is founded on it. Free association was the governing philosophy of Jo Grimond, the Liberals' most important postwar intellectual who lead the party from 1956-67, saving them from electoral irrelevance and restoring it as a decisive political force. Contemporary liberalism has largely forgotten Grimond's legacy. Grimond believed that liberalism was too defined by John Stuart Mill's dismissal of society: for Grimond, "Society is as essential to the individual as water to a fish." As such, the greatest danger to individuals was individualism, for when the world did not meet their aspirations utilitarian individuals always turned to the state, demanding that government do more and more.
By arguing that "liberals have far too often ignored the group", Grimond recognised that the key unit of social change was not the choices of isolated individuals or the bureaucratic monstrosity of the state, but civic groups, organising in society for their own self-expression. The alternatives to a politics of free association were either an extreme capitalism, or socialism, both of which subsumed individuals to either mass consumption or mass welfarism. But Grimond's prophetic insights did not stop there: he extended his thinking into the economic sphere building on the distributism of Belloc and Chesterton (the other great English liberals of the 20th century) and argued for a new order that would mutualise prosperity and power throughout Britain.
More baffling is the admiration for Mr Fry's supposed comic skills. For anyone who actually appreciates P. G. Wodehouse, Mr Fry's version of Jeeves and Wooster was so creakily wooden and blatant as to be almost physically painful. It is not impossible to portray this pair on TV - as I have pointed out before, Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael did so brilliantly, with much subtlety, in the early 1960s, and were actually lauded by Wodehouse himself - who must be the ultimate judge.
But it is difficult, and it requires the actors involved to realise that Wodehouse's genius lies in his descriptions. You can't actually put lines such as 'Ice began to form on the butler's upper slopes' into dialogue. But you can, having read it, know immediately and exactly what it means, and if you have the sympathy and the talent, you can presumably convey it on screen.