Framing the Distributist debate in HTML (and perhaps getting some pushback to Going Our Own Ways)

It’s kind of funny how our old habits hold us back in counterproductive paradigms.

For example, Quintus Curtius recently wrote:

Frame.  Frame.  Frame. I wish I could write it larger than that.  FRAME.

Well, if you use HTML tags, you can emphasize words by the h tags. For example:

Frame.  Frame.  Frame. I don’t have to wish I could write it larger than that, because I’ve got the h 1 tag.



But this is not a post about Quintus Curtius; this is a post about Distributism.

The Practical Conservative recently wrote:

One of the ways in which effective effort is undermined is by diverting the people with free time, energy and useful skills into inherently untenable frameworks.

Libertarianism is one example. Sustainable agriculture is another (although interestingly, it is showing signs of a bifurcation into practical and impractical streams). Transition Town is one of the many ways in which sustainable infrastructure and agriculture are undermined by the very people who think they’re doing something effective and locally focused.

Mondragon is Potemkin because they don’t pay people and otherwise misbehave despite the praise they get for (not, in practice) following a cooperative model. Also, we certainly can’t start from the premise that the industrial economy just needs a few tweaks and then we’re good (which is also part of the Mondragon model). That only serves the interests of those established in the industrial economy.

I wouldn’t say all of what’s in those posts is complaining, there are some explicit suggestions, like specific manufacturing details and specific details on what would make homeschooling more cohesive and more truly a parallel alternative to public school. Mostly on my blog I’m trying to hash these things out more coherently.

Your confusion is in the idea that undermining local, collective action must be explicitly intentional or malicious. That’s not what happens. The sustainable farming people are not maliciously undermining robust, mid-size farming infrastructure, it’s a side effect of the fact that what gets funded by the wealthy and powerful curiously enough is not an infrastructure like that which could compete with the current industrial one. And the wealthy are mostly just trying to consolidate their wealth and keep out upstarts, but they aren’t thinking about it systematically in an overt conspiracy way.

I think your criticisms of my blog approach are reasonable and not terribly surprising. But I would hazard that you underestimate the unwillingness of people to accept the necessary tradeoffs to have distributist-style economies and parallel production pipelines.

I’m going to


the debate by excluding some of the issues. Libertarianism is a very broad set of beliefs and behaviors, so I won’t address it in this post. I won’t address it at all until I can pin it down to some finite number of thinkers. E.g. “Ayn Rand was crazy but Ron Paul is sane – agree or disagree.”

This post will address six issues:

1. Sustainable agriculture

2. Transition towns

3. The Mondragon Co-op

4. Specific manufacturing advice from the Practical Conservative

5. the premise that the industrial economy just needs a few tweaks and then we’re good

6. robust, mid-size farming infrastructure

1. On Sustainable Agriculture, I quote Hemenway:

Permaculture is notoriously hard to define. A recent survey shows that people simultaneously believe it is a design approach, a philosophy, a movement, and a set of practices. This broad and contradiction-laden brush doesn’t just make permaculture hard to describe. It can be off-putting, too. Let’s say you first encounter permaculture as a potent method of food production and are just starting to grasp that it is more than that, when someone tells you that it also includes goddess spirituality, and anti-GMO activism, and barefoot living. What would you make of that? And how many people think they’ve finally got the politics of permaculturists all figured out, and assume that we would logically also be vegetarians, only to find militant meat-eaters in the ranks? What kind of philosophy could possibly umbrella all those divergent views? Or is it a philosophy at all? I’m going to argue here that the most accurate and least muddled way to think of permaculture is as a design approach, and that we are often misdirected by the fact that it fits into a larger philosophy and movement which it supports. But it is not that philosophy or movement. It is a design approach for realizing a new paradigm.

In other words, it’s not surprising that PC sees some parts of this as practical and others as impractical.

In section 6, I’ll discuss some criticisms of popularized permaculture, such as:


Transition Town is one of the many ways in which sustainable infrastructure and agriculture are undermined by the very people who think they’re doing something effective and locally focused.

Well, that’s a specific claim, but I think it’s hard to prove. The effectiveness of a farming project is a bit more complicated than, say, the oil level in a car. We can’t just pull out a dipstick and say, “Aha, we’re running a quart low on effectiveness.”

We could try to cite quotations from experts who argue that Transition Towns is misguided.


Mondragon has recently gotten a lot of bad press because of its entanglement with Polish workers who don’t get treated as stakeholders. Ultimately, the same unit that got mixed up in Poland went bankrupt.

Corporación Mondragón, the largest cooperative conglomerate in Spain, “is going to have to move quickly to heal all the wounds left by the shutdown of Fagor Electrodomésticos.” This statement, made by a senior executive at Mondragón, reflects widespread concerns over the weakness of its solidarity-based system, which was built over the course of six decades.

The closure of the Basque business group’s flagship firm Fagor, a leading maker of home appliances, was followed by the resignation of Mondragón’s president, Txema Gisasola, due to internal pressure. This means that as well as the social trauma of 2,000 lost jobs, there is now a power struggle playing out over how the cooperative model — based on self-management by workers — should be restructured.

The latest chapter in Mondragón’s history marks the lowest point for this powerful conglomerate, which comprises 289 business units (110 of which are cooperatives) and 80,321 workers, and which saw turnover of 13 billion euros in 2012.

I don’t see this as proof that Mondragon is stupid and horrible. I see this as evidence that Mondragon’s principles require diligence and dedication. I also think Mondragon has done better than most capitalist firms. Time will tell whether Mondragon will survive. If Mondragon crashes and burns, I’ll be sure to make a note of it.

4. Specific manufacturing advice

I think some of the posts are very good. I count five excellent posts at this page:

I also like:

However, I totally disagree with some of the other claims, e.g.:

But if you went back to the traditional view that not all your kids would be scholars or prosperous tradespeople, that some of them would always be employees at best in some little job, you could get them to take pride in that little job and find them a profitable one.

Actually, the traditional view for many families was that all their boys would grow up to be strong, fierce killers who would attack the enemies of the tribe. Genghis Khan, for example, was pretty traditional in this regard.

I don’t know any family that has a tradition of raising shoeshine boys. Maybe shoe-shining is a USA thing.

I think it’s ridiculous to claim that boys raised to be shoeshine boys will take pride in shoe-shining. If you raise your boys to believe that they don’t have a chance at economic success, they may decide to drop out and become meth heads. They may decide to throw petrol bombs at Ukrainian Police Armored Personnel Carriers. If boys can’t look forward to being able to support a wife, they may decide to burn down the unjust civilization that coerces them to support their oppressors.

And on a Manospherian note, I think this praise for dutiful shoe-shine boys is a pushback against Men Going Their Own Ways.

Similarly, I think that the post linked below is a form of pushback against Manospherian trends:

I think the weakest argument is the following:

Basically, stop expecting women to do five jobs poorly and then boast about how this will be a way to retake society. Not gonna happen. Early homeschool successes and stories were the result of massive selection bias and in a number of instances outright lying. Many of the people promoting homeschooling via their popular monetized blogs have household help and private tutors for some subjects.

This argument is not very persuasive. It contains a nugget of very useful information:Many of the people promoting homeschooling via their popular monetized blogs have household help and private tutors for some subjects. That is very valuable information. But it does not cite the specific antagonists who have been demanding that women do five jobs poorly. If it could point to one man, e.g. William Bennett, who had been calling for this kind of homeschooling revolution, it would persuade readers who were not familiar with the situation.

5. the premise that the industrial economy just needs a few tweaks and then we’re good

I think the industrial economy is fascinating. Very few people who know its details actually have time to write about it. Most of the people who call for tweaks are shills for the kleptocrats. Again, let us name some names. If Thomas Friedman is a shill for kleptocracy, let us link people to Steve Sailer’s criticisms.

6. robust, mid-size farming infrastructure

Here, I am at a loss. I know nothing of farming. I don’t even know how to judge whether the Practical Conservative knows anything about farming. At best I could link to some websites of people who do know about farming.

And further I could link to some criticisms of failed farming popularization efforts:

The conclusion of that last article is:

As you can see, there is a common thread here: They all thought they could invent a better aquaponics system than the industry experts without having any background in aquaculture, hydroponics, horticulture and Controlled Environment Agriculture or having any experience designing or running a large aquaponics facility. None of them fully appreciated or applied Global GAP, BAP, food safety and bio-security. Three out of four of these operators used a system that was never intended to be commercially scaled up, and none of them had the ability to discern fact from fiction when it came to researching commercial, science-based aquaponic system design verses all of the misinformation on the Internet. Having no experience in aquaponics, they had no way to create an accurate business plan or model and a relevant time-line, thus resulting in over-runs during their start-up phase and unexpected expenses during their operations. And, ultimately, they had no one to turn to when things started going terribly wrong.

It is very frustrating for us to witness these failures because they are all so unnecessary. With a commercially viable, science-based aquaponic design, in a properly designed controlled and bio-secure environment, proper education and training, accurate and reliable tech support, a realistic business plan with an accurate schedule, start-up costs and operational expenses, one can be a successful commercial aquaponics grower.

I don’t know whether I can promise to report on a lot of practical distributist operations here in Asia. If I can find some, I can blog about them.

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