Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reponse to Five Proposals for Distributist Agricultural Reform

H. L. Mencken said, "For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple neat and wrong."

This note conceptually responds to Phillip Campbell's "Five Proposals for Distributist Agricultural Reform" available here. This note seeks to reinforce one specific lesson: "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups. (Hazlitt)"  Each of Campbell's 5 proposals violates this lesson. Each proposal might border on violating the Catholic prohibition of theft. Each proposal takes us further down the road to serfdom that is lined with price controls, property restrictions, tariffs, tax equalization, work programs, interest-free loans, and government monopoly.

The issue is not in magnitude, contrary to what Campbell says, that "some will say that my proposals are too mild; some free-market capitalists would say they go too far." The issue is principles in that distributism takes an interventionist attitude towards the property of others. Campbell is incorrect in saying that "the beauty of Distributism is that it needs no violent revolution to establish it..." The mere fact that he proposes non-contractual intervention in each of his 5 steps betrays the eventual use of violence.

No, Campbell's article did not address the economic fundamentals creating the modern state of American agriculture. Traditional free-market Catholics and many others claim that the disease affecting modern agriculture has the same base cause as the disease affecting our entire economy. The primary failure is that a central bank sets and enforces their official interest rate. At heart, the interest rate is a market's indication of available funds (i.e. savings) and seeks to coordinate economic behaviors. For nearly 100 years, the American public had access to low interest rates and inflationary fractional reserve banking. Stealing from savers to give to borrowers does in fact create a perverse economic situation biased towards the short term. Yet, distributism seeks to fight a disease with still more disease.

Next time, I will comment on the specifics of Campbell's proposals.

Personal Note:
This is not meant to rebuke Mr. Campbell personally. In fact, I encourage you to visit his excellent blog Unam Sanctam Catholicam.


  1. CO-

    Great introduction...I hope you're not going to invest too much time in this because I'm not an economist and probably won't respond. I just made my 5 observations based on problems I see and what I take to be a common sense way to address them.

    I am very opposed to a central bank in this country and think the Fed is a disease...I was uncertain from your response whether you are of the same opinion. Comments?

  2. Boniface,

    I'm absolutely opposed to the Federal Reserve or any other central bank. It is a cult of personality that the Fed believes that they (and only they) can properly observe and coordinate human behavior. Central banking is predicated on violence (see 2nd bank of US threat to Pres. Jackson). You are correct, our fractional-reserve dollar is a disease and certainly neither Constitutional or moral. End the Fed!

    Economics has an important role in the Catholic well-formed conscience (and dare I say "social justice" and "common good"). Good intentions are not sufficient for good results. Perhaps I can expand on this in future notes. Unfortunately, my time is currently super-saturated, so it may take a while.

    As always, my intent is not to insult or hurt. I just want to present the relevant economic laws and their interaction with our long-term Catholic goals and scholarship. Keep up the good work with your blog, I learn quite a bit from it.

    Dia Dhuit
    (aka CO)