Three Acres and A Cow and Distributism

One of the biggest problems that the modern world faces is the concentration of land and wealth ownership in the hands of the Capitalists. This problem effects nearly every country on the face of the planet and it is far removed from the traditional ownership of large estates by the nobility and gentry. With the aristocracy of Western Europe there was patronage and a two way loyalty that had evolved over long ages – with the mindless, shameless corporations money is the only motivating factor.

Long ago the radical Liberal Jesse Collings (1831-1920) called for land reform in Britain. He wished to make allotments and small holdings a means through which the poor could better their lives. His call for reforms was “Three Acres and a Cow”, the amount of land considered sufficient for a family to live on. His work lead to many thousands of people being able to have garden allotments and thousands more able to resettle on the land. Later Distributists such as GK Chesterton picked up the phrase and applied it to their political philosophy through which it was hoped that a more egalitarian and fairer society could be established.

Because people have no land are unable to grow their own food, they are usually separated from nature and (unless they have some skill to enable their self-employment) they will probably be unable to remain free from employers – and have no choice but to turn themselves into wage slaves – cogs of the uncaring Capitalist machine. By removing unnecessarily restrictive rules on land use, by ending taxes for those with a lower than average income and by setting up programs to redistribute land many human beings may be freed from their current bondage to an irrational and unfair system.

Distributism is an economic philosophy developed by Roman Catholics and based upon the principles of subsidiarity (things should be handled on the smallest level possible individual, family, village, state) and solidarity (mutual concern for the common good). Distributists believe in the importance of widespread ownership, strong localized economies and small businesses (owned by those who work in them).

Distributism does not promote the idea that property should be seized from the rich by the state on behalf of the  poor, as does Marxism. Rather it believes that governments should use legislation* to make it easier for small property owners and businesspeople to flourish and to prevent the situation where powerful Capitalist entities are able to accumulate so much of the pie of wealth, land and power that the normal person is effectively forced into wage slavery for those self-same accumulators. Furthermore as a philosophy Distributism is highly compatible with other important means of promoting individual and community well being such as…

  • Healthy Extended Families
  • Sustainable Living
  • Small business
  • Cooperativism
  • Friendly Societies
  • Local Food Production
  • Barter Trade
  • Local Currencies
  • Community “Self Sufficiency”

When applied Distributist policies could help a society break out of the current vicious capitalist cycle of the ever growing power of the greedy Corporations, unhealthy global consumerist monoculture and the loss of local cultures, social cohesion and traditional values and wisdom. All of which have occurred as a result of unhealthy anti-individual and pro-capitalist Capitalist policies.

Sayings on Distributism

“It is obvious that whoever controls the means of production controls the supply of wealth. If, therefore, the means for the production of that wealth which a family needs are in the control of others than the family, the family will be dependent upon those others; it will not be economically free. The family is ideally free when it fully controls all the means necessary for the production of such wealth as it should consume for normal living”

Hillaire Belloc

“The practical tendency of all trade and business today is towards big commercial combinations, often more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth.”

GK Chesterton

“The progress we are making in land reform is matched in our efforts to address the poverty that apartheid created”

Nelson Mandela

“[Capitalism is] that commercial system in which supply immediately answers to demand, and in which everybody seems to be thoroughly dissatisfied and unable to get anything he wants.”

GK Chesterton

“I take Distributism to be the view that private property should be widely distributed in society, rather than concentrated in a few hands, in order to enable more or even most people to be able to take responsibility for their own families by means of productive and dignified work.

Stratford Caldecott

“Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.”

GK Chesterton

Doing nothing, leaving things be, “laissez faire”, is not an option for the true conservative or distributist because it ensures the destruction of all that is worthy of conservation and restoration.

Joseph Pearce

Belloc advocates legal intervention to restore justice in the economy, such as, for instance, proactive measures to assist small businesses to gain and retain a place in the marketplace in the face of efforts by large corporations to exclude them from it.

Joseph Pearce

From the standpoint of any sane person, the present problem of capitalist concentration is not only a question of law, but of criminal law, not to mention criminal lunacy.”

G. K. Chesterton

There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal (collectivist) Socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the State, and the present Capitalist system, in which the State is run by the big businesses.

G. K. Chesterton

The only difference between a (collectivist) Socialist state and a Capitalist state is whether power is concentrated in a few private or a few bureaucratic hands.

The Distributist Review