A Review of
Toward a Truly Free Market:
Reviewed by Sara Sterley.
I first heard about distributism a few years ago as I was reading something about peak oil and “the end of the world as we know it.” Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy articulated by Pope Leo XIII and more recently popularized and rediscovered by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc whose aim is to disperse property (and, therefore, power) as widely as possible among the populace. It is often accused of being redistributive and socialistic, but, more accurately, it proposes to minimize wealth disparities not by force, but by creating systems that foster fairness and equality.
From my very limited research on the topic at the time, John Médaille, an author and adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, seems to be the resident expert on distributism. He runs The Distributist Review and has written several publications on the topic. When I heard rumblings about his latest book, Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More, I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy.
Médaille begins Toward a Truly Free Market defining and defending economics as a social, “humane” science, not the hard, physical science that most modern economists espouse. He goes onto contend that
Those who wish to scale back the extent of government involvement in the economy
must first analyze the failures of the economy that make heavy government
involvement necessary. Those who would propose a cure, must first analyze the cause.
And the cause is always and everywhere the same: a lack of justice.
Médaille spends the first half of the book doing just that: detailing the deficiencies in our current system, arguing that modern American capitalism differs from socialism only in that it concentrates power in the hands of a few powerful corporations instead of the state.
In the second half of the book, Médaille speaks to the practical matter of getting out of the mess of the Great Recession and delves more deeply into distributist philosophy. Distributists almost always favor the most local solution possible, so Médaille does not necessarily argue in favor of less government involvement across all levels, just less government power and involvement concentrated at the national level. He contends, convincingly, that we should know much more about our local mayor or city council-person than we do about our state’s senator or the President. The American system disguises the economic inefficiencies of large corporations over local producers due to federal government agricultural and transportation subsidies. In the last few chapters, Médaille addresses distributism’s stance on taxes, industry, health care and globalization.
Toward a Truly Free Market is a primer on distributist philosphy and, at times, reads like an economic textbook. Don’t let that deter you, however. I am a lifelong, self-proclaimed political junkie, but, in recent years, I have struggled as to how to describe my political affiliation, even though I feel relatively confident in my stance on the various issues at hand. Distributism offers a viable alternative that seems, to me, especially salient for Christians. Distributists think that big corporations are just as dangerous as big government (if not more so). Distributism is not just an economic philosophy, but a moral and social one, as well, that is fundamentally based on the biblical idea of justice. The current economic downturn offers us a window of opportunity to challenge the systems of injustice present in our current system, and Médaille’s Toward a Freely Free Market offers many ideas and principles worth embracing in those efforts.