John Médaille is an experienced business manager with a graduate degree in theology and a passion for distributism, the economic system proposed by Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton that promotes widely dispersed property ownership. His book Toward a Truly Free Market, which is being released this month in paperback, is an ambitious attempt to present an exposition and defense of distributist economic theory. While it is expressly “not the great tome that distributist political economy deserves,” its nineteen chapters cover a very extensive scope.
The first two chapters set up the main thrust of the book, which is to demonstrate the important insight that distributism, unlike alternative theories, is an economic “theory that combines both justice and freedom.” Chapters three to five explore whether political economy should be considered a science, and whether we have a correct understanding of our current economic malaise. Here Médaille makes a most notable point, that “those who wish to scale back the extent of government involvement in the economy must first analyze the failures in the economy that make heavy government involvement necessary.” The central failure, explains Médaille, is the lack of justice.
In chapter six, he makes the case for the necessity of justice for political economy. Here, he provides a very forceful criticism of contemporary economic theory, which, “lacking a coherent notion of distributive justice, is not, and cannot be, a complete description of an actual economy.” This is why our economic theory fails us so often: “Clearly, you cannot accurately predict the behavior of a system you cannot accurately describe.” In chapters seven to nine, he extends his criticism of economic theory by exploring, in turn, what he refers to as the “fictitious commodities” of money, labor, and land.
The next four chapters explore in turn: property, just wages, taxation, and government. In chapter fourteen, he explains the harmful impact of the costs of big government on the economy, and proposes ways in which distributism could lead to a dramatic reduction in the cost of government, including eliminating agricultural and transportation subsidies and abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. The next three chapters provide suggestions for changes to taxation, industrial policy, and health care, while chapter eighteen attempts to show that distributism can work in practice, by profiling four cases: the Mondragon cooperative, the Emilia-Romagna regional economy, the Taiwanese “Land to the Tiller” program of the 1950s and 1960s, and Springfield ReManufacturing Corp, an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) company. In the final chapter Médaille makes Philip Blond’s political agenda his own: to remoralize the market, relocalize the economy, and recapitalize the poor. To this, Médaille adds a fourth point: to reinvigorate and relocalize the political order.
Toward a Truly Free Market is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in learning more about distributism, and what the theory could contribute to current economic debate. The book is “intended to give the nonspecialist reader the intellectual arms and armor necessary to enter the [economic] debate on more equal terms.” Its success in achieving this intent, however, and in appealing to an audience wider than committed distributists, is limited by a number of serious flaws.
By Peter Sacks
Are for-profit colleges and universities getting a raw deal from the government compared to their more elitist peers in the private non-profit sector of American higher education?
Vance H. Fried, writing in a recent policy analysis brief published by the libertarian think-tank, the Cato Foundation, argues just that. Fried is a former private-practice attorney, oil company executive, and investment banker, now a professor of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. He targets private non-profit colleges and universities as the beneficiaries of federal largesse, waste and inefficiency.
“Undergraduate education is a highly profitable business for nonprofit colleges and universities,” Fried writes. “They do not show profits on their books, but instead take their profits in the form of spending on some combination of research, graduate education, low-demand majors, low faculty teaching loads, excess compensation, and featherbedding. The industry’s high profits come at the expense of students and taxpayer.”
To fix this mess, Fried wants to eliminate the federal tax shelters the government provides to non-profit universities. In his ideal world, there would be no deductions allowed for charitable contributions to non-profit colleges, no federally subsidized student loans, and far tighter rules on one’s eligibility for the mainstay federal grant program to needy students, the Pell Grant.
“Undergraduate education is clearly a profit generating commercial activity at nonprofit colleges,” Fried says. “A major driver of this appears to be the federal government, which by greatly increasing subsidies has allowed schools to earn increasingly larger profits.”
Fried would get no argument from some critics that America’s elite colleges and universities – the vast majority of which are private, non-profits, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc., etc.--are far more dependent on the federal government that their “private” labels might suggest. Their ties to, and dependency on, the federal government come in a number of forms. First, all “earnings,” or the net growth in endowment assets, are tax exempt. Second, individuals who make “charitable contributions” to the endowments of these institutions also enjoy substantial tax breaks by virtue of their gifts. Third, depending on the extent of their research enterprises, private, non-profit universities get large sums of federal money for research in medicine and science.
Dear friends of FPR,
Please join us at the inaugural Front Porch Republic conference on Saturday, September 24, at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Co-sponsored by the Mount and the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy at Georgetown University, the theme of the conference is “Human Scale and the Human Good: Creating Healthy Communities in a Global Age.”
Bill Kauffman, Rod Dreher, Christine Rosen, Patrick Deneen, Caleb Stegall, John Schwenkler, Joshua Hochschild, and other FPR types will be among the speakers. It will be interesting and informative, theoretical and practical. It might change your life. Also, it will be a lot of fun. (We’ll post a full schedule here shortly.)
Registration at the door will be $25. That will include a little bit of breakfast (coffee, tea, some pastries) and your lunch. Students can get in for just $15.
By Deborah Bailin
If you are a college student today enrolled in four classes during any given semester, it is likely that only one of your teachers is employed by your school in a permanent position that comes with a middle-class salary, job security, and benefits. The other three are contingent faculty, often called “adjuncts”; they have job titles like “instructor” or “lecturer” rather than “professor” but their roles in the classroom are the same. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), adjuncts at U.S. colleges and universities now comprise “more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff.”
By Mark Bauerlein
At research universities in the United States, most departments in the humanities have a travel budget that supports professional activities for their faculty members. Most of it goes to help professors attend academic conferences and deliver a paper to colleagues and attend sessions as an audience member as well. For a department of 30 people, the amount may run to $50,000 or more, enough to fund at least one trip by every individual who requests support.
From what I’ve seen of the conferences, though, the amount of genuine research inquiry that is shared and remembered is negligible. Yes, some papers are strong, but more of them are thin, half-hearted, or hastily-composed. Those that are strong are often too dense to follow, especially when they have to share time with three other papers at the panel. This is not to mention, moreover, those sessions that are attended by less than ten people.
No, the main purpose of the meetings, it seems to me, is to provide academics scattered around the country but in the same general field the chance to gather and re-connect. The actual research preparation they put in before the meeting and the research effort they expend during it are minimal. They have enough general knowledge of the panel topic to be able to listen with some understanding to the deliveries and formulate a question. Their own papers may be part of a larger project, and the activity of composing and presenting a conference version of that part is, though helpful, often a last-minute composition to fill 12 minutes at the podium.
By Andrew Gillen, Matthew Denhart, and Jonathan Robe
As they defend tuition increases to irate students and parents, college and university leaders often argue that tuition does not cover their costs and that they are therefore subsidizing their students’ educations. Take, for example, what Southwestern College President Dick Merriman said in an October 2010 piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“None of you, not even that very rare student who receives no financial aid from the college, will come close to paying what it is going to cost the college to educate you.”
However, this is emphatically not the view held by the students, parents, and many taxpayers who are paying the tuition bills. After paying thousands of dollars, students are often taught by adjuncts or stuffed into classrooms with hundreds of other students. This quite reasonably leads them to ask, “Where is all of our money going?”
By David Hacker
Peter Wood has an interesting article today in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the AAUP’s efforts to encourage faculty advocacy in the classroom. He writes:
In a series of recent reports beginning in 2007 with Freedom in the Classroom, the AAUP has staked out a position that aggressively expands the zone in which faculty members should be free to enunciate their personal opinions to their students. The AAUP has, in effect, found no appropriate limit on what professors should say or how they say it, other than to draw the line at “dishonest tactics” and outright attempts to “deceive students.”
Faculty members teaching a course on botany are, in the AAUP’s reckoning, free to digress on the perfidy of political leaders; faculty members teaching American literature are free to delve at whatever length they choose into issues of economics, social justice, or the environment. The freedom of faculty members, in this view, extends to “rhetorical intensity.” So faculty members are free to bully, humiliate, and rant—although the report genteelly avoids putting in plain language the various forms of intemperate expression its authors would countenance.
The AAUP is pushing for greater academic freedom in the classroom, according to Mr. Wood, because “any attempt to draw the line between permissible and impermissible forms of advocacy might well be seized as a pretext by those who are eager to silence certain views.”
By Charlotte Allen
In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz the Wizard says he wants an educated populace, “so by the power vested in me I will grant everyone diplomas.” Welcome to the education system of 2011. Much of what we now observe comes right out of the Baum novel.