Follow by Email

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some Ideas on Greater Equality without State Intervention

I have been considering systems of economic and political thought that stem from Catholic social teaching and try to apply it.  In Rerum Novarum Pope Leo the 13th talked about the need to create greater social equality without extending the power and responsibilities of the state beyond it's proper role.

  This proper role was not well defined, but it is clear that Pope Leo say in state socialism the dangers of too much state control over individual human beings and accelerated class conflict.  He did not, I think, have a libertarian view, although it would not be irrational to read that into the document.  But I think the fact that the emphasized that the state did have a proper role runs contrary to libertarianism.

 He did say that the poverty and suffering of the workers needed to be alleviated and that greater access to production and property on the part of the workers was needed. It is from this that the idea of distributism, redistributing  capital power into the hands of ordinary working people. The mechanism for this is often unclear.

One of the ideas of distributism is subsidiarity.  Subsidiarity (fr. subsidiarius, Latin) is the idea that every power that can properly be distributed downwards should be.  That is each thing should be done by the lowest competent authority.  But this is not libertarianism, because it still relies on authority.  It does not focus on the individual. Rather it focuses on greater locality.  More community organizations, more local government, more authority to the branch manager, the local council, etc.

At the same time Pope Leo said that the organizations of workers had a legitimate role in protecting the workers.  From this notion the Catholic labor movement was born.

Another leg in the stool so to speak is the idea of communitarianism.  Communtariaism, an idea found the the Catholic Worker movement especially places emphasis on the value of social networks and of positive rights which are guarantees to certain things.

The question is how to apply all of these idea together. To simply build a society of small artisans, small farmers and small shop keepers has definite limitations. The less the government intervenes to protect "the little guy" the more larger capital will out compete or outmaneuver small producers and owners.  The more the government intervenes, the more economic organization falls under government control.

Here are some ideas, unfinished and under developed for the most part but bearing in mind the need to decentralize and create greater equality.
1) the old idea of municipal socialism has worked well in the Northwest --for instance Seattle City Light, which has very lower utility rates. This is decentralized in the sense of local ownership and control, responding to local voters and officials. It can work for certain enterprises that lend themselves naturally to it.

2) Producers co-operatives.  These are of two kinds --one like the farmers co-operatives where each farmer is independent, but they jointly own granaries, certain equipment perhaps, certain distribution contracts, etc.  The other is of something owned by everyone who works in it, each having voting rights, like a shop that owners all of it's tools collectively.

3) Consumers cooperatives.  These work well sometimes for retail consumption driven enterprises, like grocery stores.  They have been used for health care, but few health care cooperatives remain because the large insurance companies out competed and dominated the market.

4) Co-op housing.  Kind of like Condos with a more community spin.

5) Land Trusts.  These can be used to protect small farmers or to provide housing.  Small farmers can band together and own a large section of land, protecting it from being sold or used for non-agricultural purposes. Then each farmer in effect holds a lease for his section of land, and owns his buildings.  A housing trust occurs when each person owns there home and controls there yard, etc but they collectively own the land.  It allows land to be protected for housing and housing to be more affordable.

6) Union ownership of an enterprise.  This can be almost like state ownership of an enterprise, or it can be different.  Where local management is by the union local, or a small union owned factory is concerned, it is like a workers or producers cooperative.

7) Buying clubs.  These are like miniature food cooperatives.  A buying club is a few household, people who live in the same neighborhood, who join together to buy natural or supermarket quality food in bulk from a warehouse or a cooperative distributor.  Then they meet in a garage, a basement, or a church room to distribute the food according to the orders and payments people have made.  There exists the possibility of purchasing other things, like clothing, together if the group is large enough for that, but still small enough to be run by volunteers.

8) Time Banks or time share organizations are local networks based on the idea of people getting paid back for one hour or labor with one hour of labor.  It socially equalizes us.  A doctor, a writer, a plumber, a gardener, a domestic worker works for someone in the network and receives credits for the number of hours worked.  They they cash in the credits with another member of the network.

There could also be forms of guild like cooperation by small artisan type businesses and various networks of small hi tech businesses that may also help protect the little guy from large capital.

We also have to take social responsibility through volunteering to run food banks, hot meals, houses of hospitality, homeless shelters, etc on a local community or church sponsored basis, as the Catholic Workers did.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot another important local or regional institution, the credit union. They are membership owned banking institutions, very similar to cooperatives.