“Distributism” or “distributivism” is a doctrine formulated by Catholic intellectuals in the early 20th Century as an alternative to both socialism and capitalism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributivism In essence, it is the idea that productive property should be fairly and equitably distributed throughout society. Distributists envision(ed) a society of small farmers, shopkeepers who own their own shops, artisans who own their own tools, etc. That way, everybody will have some economic independence, shielded to some extent from the vagaries of the marketplace, and nobody will be beholden to a boss or landlord, nor to the state.
When you think about it, there’s nothing especially radical or “un-American” about the concept. It is pretty much exactly the vision Thomas Jefferson had for (white) America. Ditto with Abraham Lincoln, except that his vision was more industrial than agrarian (it was his fate to die before the problematic emergence of really large-scale industry). Every “land reform” movement in history, from Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus to Hugo Chavez, was driven by some form of distributist thinking. And, of course, several times in history the U.S. government has enacted its own “land reform” – taking land from the Indians by armed force and then distributing it to white homesteaders, for nothing or almost nothing, with the clear intention of creating a class of small, self-sufficient yeoman farmers. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
But can distributism still have any relevance under modern economic conditions? How can we apply the distributist model to modern large-scale production or commerce? And how can the family farm hope to compete against agribiz plantations that have the advantages of economies of scale?