I read Hilaire Belloc’s short book The Servile State (pub. 1912) over a couple of days this week. He felt then that the Capitalist economy was doomed because of its inherent instability and contradictions. Socialism or Collectivism seemed then to be the escape route. Putting it all in the hands of political masters would change little for the common worker and would likely ameliorate the effects of price fixing cartels and trusts. This was surely rational but the problem was that it had never been tried and the inevitable expropriation would cause variance. Oh! Belloc looked back to what had been tried and had been the way out of general slavery and serfdom. This he called the Distributist model as exemplified in the 16th.Century organisation of peasant proprietors, guilds, and orders. His book is not about how we might transition from the present stage of wage slavery i.e. the servile state in which the masses work for a bare subsistence. That evolution he recognised to be even more complex and difficult to manage than the socialist. The taming of Capitalism through minimum wage negotiation and national insurance he did not agree with as it was a submission to the lowly proletarian status that was an affront to human dignity. Very likely he would have regarded the creation of the welfare state as total capitulation.
It is an interesting book. One may question its excessive doctrinaire rigour and wonder whether the Pinko Popes would have approved.
If Belloc thought that Capitalism was on its last legs he was wrong. It discarded the old ones and grew new globalist ones. We now are advised to applaud the accentuation of contradictions. Belloc said that too.
This morning I read an article in Jacobin. (ironic title one hopes)
Erik Olin Wright offers some ideas about the subversion of Capitalism by building alternatives within its structures. Some of them seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to Distributist strategy. His section on Real Utopias is good. One factor he didn’t mention which is informal and pervasive is the black economy or ‘the private sector’.
Some quotes from both writers:
A society thus constituted cannot endure. It cannot endure because it is subject to two very severe strains: strains which increase in severity in proportion as that society becomes more thoroughly Capitalist. The first of these strains arises from the divergence between the moral theories upon which the State reposes and the social facts which those moral theories attempt to govern. The second strain arises from the insecurity to which Capitalism condemns the great mass of society, and the general character of anxiety and peril which it imposes upon all citizens, but in particular upon the majority, which consists, under Capitalism, of dispossessed free men. (Belloc)
In the strongest versions of the theory, there are even underlying tendencies in the “laws of motion” of capitalism for the intensity of such system-weakening crises to increase over time, so that in the long-term capitalism becomes unsustainable; it destroys its own conditions of existence. (Wright)
A man has been compelled by law to put aside sums from his wages as insurance against unemployment. But he is no longer the judge of how such sums shall be used. They are not in his possession ; they are not even in the hands of some society which he can really control. They are in the hands of a Government official. " Here is work offered you at twenty-five shillings a week. If you do not take it you certainly shall not have a right to the money you have been compelled to put aside. If you will take it the sum shall still stand to your credit, and when next in my judgment your unemployment is not due to your recalcitrance and refusal to labour, I will permit you to have some of your money: not otherwise."
Three clusters of state policies in particular significantly counteracted the harms of capitalism: serious risks — especially around health, employment, and income — were reduced through a fairly comprehensive system of publicly mandated and funded social insurance. (Wright)