Now we’re not talking yet about redistribution, a byword for government-driven reforms leading to the very servile state Belloc feared. Instead, Belloc seeks to identify what the best economic system is for a free people. But there is a degree of overlap between him and Marx. Both, for example, recognize the fundamental link between land and labor. As Belloc states, “There are thus three factors in the production of all human wealth, which we may conventionally term land, capital, and labor” (47; see our first post for Works Cited).
In capitalism, though, the emphasis became increasingly about the consolidation of wealth to the detriment of both land and labor, which serves as the thesis for Belloc’s work:
This book is written to maintain and prove the following truth: That our free modern society in which the means of production are owned by a few being necessarily an unstable equilibrium, it is tending to reach a condition for stable equilibrium by the establishment of compulsory labor legally enforceable upon those who do not own the means of production for the advantage of those who do. (Belloc 39)
The “too big to fail” economy, however, is actually nothing new. As Belloc points out, “To the end the pagan world remained a world of free proprietors possessed, in various degrees, of the land and of the capital whereby wealth may be produced, and applying to that land and capital for the purpose of producing wealth, compulsory labor” (Belloc 67). In other words, throughout human history there have always been haves and have nots, and capitalism’s greatest flaw is its inability at times to show proper concern for the less fortunate—a point again shared with Marx.
But while Marx seeks solutions through a materialist approach to historiography, Belloc points instead to the historical and natural law tradition codified through the years as Catholic social teaching: “Whether the servile institution be a good or a bad thing, it did, as a matter of fact, slowly disappear as Catholic civilization developed; and it has as a matter of fact, slowly begun to return where Catholic civilization has receded” (Belloc 32).
Smith, however, was not silent on this either, attributing the unnatural consolidation of wealth in capitalism not to the system itself, but to the antiquated reliance on primogeniture. Throughout the Middle Ages, such a system was necessary to preserve not only the inheritance of one’s lands across generations, but also the responsibilities such entails. The system was therefore designed to facilitate the consolidation of capital to afford protection and provision for one’s subjects.
With the rise of the city, modern states, and capitalism, however, primogeniture often remains, but with several unintended consequences, such as the decline of the small proprietor and a monopoly price on land sales (Smith 3.4). So when natural monopolies, local associations, and global explorations thus become monopolism, corporatism, protectionism and imperialism, they also cease to reflect capitalism, or at least the sort of free market capitalism that Smith advocated. And as Hayek writes, each of these trends aids the others in gaining greater influence:
The recent growth of monopoly is largely the result of a deliberate collaboration of organized capital and organized labor where the privileged groups of labor share in the monopoly profits at the expense of the community and particularly at the expense of the poorest, those employed in the less-well-organized industries and the unemployed. (Hayek, ch. 13)
Had property been well distributed, protected by cooperative guilds, fenced round and supported by custom and by the autonomy of great artisan corporations, those accumulations of wealth, necessary for the launching of each new method of production, would have been discovered in the mass of small owners. . . . There is no conceivable link in reason or in experience which binds the capitalization of a new process with the idea of a few employing owners and a mass of employed nonowners working at a wage. (Belloc 100-101)