Distributism, to put it in summary terms, is an economic point of view cautioning us that the type of capitalism we have favors an uneven accumulation of wealth and purchasing power to those few who own, in mass, the means of production; that this imbalance tends to need socialistic state intervention, which gives inordinate power to bureaucrats; and that the only way to approach economic equilibrium (a truly free market) and attain the decentralization of political power is to favor an ownership society where the means of production are widely distributed. The Distributist approach simply recognizes that if the majority of individuals receive an income from both labor and ownership, then wealth will be more evenly distributed, people will be consuming what they produce (clearing the market), and we will have, as a consequence, enduring economic stability.
A fair acquaintance with Distributism will show, I believe, that it is naturally akin to the thought of our Founding Fathers. Like the Declaration of Independence, it is rooted in a philosophy of natural law, justice, and the existence of God; like the founders view of a limited federal government, it favors bottom up control; and, similar to the trade theory of Washington, Hamilton, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt (wiki the “American School”), Distributism favors high tariffs, when necessary, to protect our manufacturing base. That last point, I think, is especially relevant today.
Presently, the standard line of bi-partisan “free traders” is that free trade lowers the cost of goods and raises the standard of living. It kind of half remembers the fact that wealth does not consist in money, which is purely a means, but in consumable goods. If, therefore, goods are cheaper and a nation is able to have more, then, it follows, that nation will be wealthier. But that rather puts the cart before the horse, as Alexander Hamilton, in opposition to British free trade policy, well knew: for it is originally in production that consumable goods are created, an income is earned, and the purchasing power to consume those goods is derived. Now couple that fact with the Distributist insight that labor inevitably looses power to clear the market due to a disproportionate amount of income favorably accruing to ownership, and the conclusion inescapably follows that free trade can only serve to accelerate the divide between labor and ownership, and thereby force wages down and decrease the standard of living at an even quicker pace.
The bottomward spiral that results from this whole process increasingly boils economic relations down to bare survival instinct. Whether it’s corporations moving manufacturing to poorer countries in order to compete, or banks, lacking investment in a productive economy, needing to stay alive by making speculative loans; such entities will do what they must to survive. But the same goes in politics. Perhaps -- recalling that a certain party will have to adapt, severely, in order to overcome the latest tidal wave of rejection -- we might speak directly to our politician’s survival instincts, reminding them that we are American constituents, and that a fair trade policy exists, which, contrary to our current one, was dubbed the “American System” – and for good reason.