The Yeoman and the Cog: Rebutting Seth Godin

Brandon Vogt often shares stuff by entrepreneurial/productivity guru Seth Godin. And I always find his ideas interesting; he’s a future thinker kind of guy, a visionary in terms of where technological work is heading and how we should adapt to it.

But I’m here to show a more excellent way than his solution for how to avoid being replaced in your job.

Briefly, his premise is that, in the globally competitive marketplace, in what he thinks is a recession that will never truly end, you must become indispensable in your company. Someone who connects people, forges ahead where there is no path yet trodden, and serves as an irreplaceable worker.

If you are an average worker, you will be replaced by someone else who can do the same job for cheaper, whether in your own country or in Asia or elsewhere where labor is inexpensive. So you must not be average, just getting your job done (even if doing it well); you must be exceptional.

And I think he’s right.

I’m a software developer and see already that developers in India and China and Eastern Europe are gaining in technical skill and in numbers. They work for much less than American developers do. Eventually the few advantages U.S. programmers still have will be nullified, and “average” developers will see their jobs get outsourced.

So in theory I should buy his book and learn how to become exceptional so that I keep my job.

But here’s the problem: by definition, everyone can’t become exceptional. Otherwise everyone is the exception which means no one is. By definition, most people are average, the big part of the bell curve. So his solution isn’t really one at all. Sure, it might help the people who are already exceptional become more so, or the few hanging out near the standard deviation’s edge to move a few fractions to the indispensable right of the curve. But for everyone else: pack up your desk; you are the weakest link; good-bye!

Godin is advising on how to avoid getting replaced–a problem we’ve created for ourselves by our modern industrial business model, where everyone’s a cog in the machine. “Be an indispensable cog,” is his message. “Then when natural selection comes and culls the unexceptional, you’re left untouched, flying above the clouds in bliss.”

But I say, why not opt out of the machine altogether?

One way is to become independently wealthy (like Godin is), by getting hundreds of thousands of people to buy your products and come to your talks and label you as a guru. Great. Most people can’t do that, anymore than they can become exceptional.

Instead, we need an economic system where even average people–who are the majority–can provide for their families. A Distributive economy, where the majority (and not just the few) own land and have capital to generate their own subsistence and wealth.

Imagine a country where the majority were, at least in part, yeoman farmers–agriculturalists with some small number of acres to provide a large part of their food–and where people could actually learn trades and (even with their moderate intellects and average abilities) make a living from them. Spinning wool, sewing clothes, butchering meat, milling grain, building houses, sawing lumber, wiring electrical connections, metal-working, etc. etc.

The average guy and gal can’t get outsourced from such an economy.

They don’t need to fear being replaced because they aren’t a cog in the global economic wheel, a mere object that can be discarded when a cheaper one comes along. They are instead an integral part of their local community, one that is economically stable and independent of a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan.

A truly human economic system must have room for the average human to make a decent living. One that requires everyone to be indispensable is inhuman.

And within the locally focused, distributive economy, there’s plenty of room for imagination, hard work, creativity, and so forth, not for the end goal of becoming rich (as is so often what modern workers are shooting for), but to simply make a living doing something that’s good for family, for the community, and good for God’s creation. We work insane hours for decades as cogs in the machine in order that we may finally “retire” one day and, if we still have any health left, buy an RV to cruise about the country, perpetually “getting away from it all.”

What if instead we were rooted to our home place and found the recreation and beauty on our own ten acres, watching the animal life around our pond, the wildflowers in spring, the grains turning golden and the sheep grazing in the pasture? What if we never wanted to retire from our work, because our work was stewarding the land and plying the trades we loved to do? What if it were so fulfilling that our children wanted to stay and continue such a life, instead of heading to the cities to join the rat race and futilely attempting to become that indispensable cog in the works?

Pie in the sky? Maybe. Certainly not everyone would even want to do it. So let them make the smart phones and RVs and computers for the cheapest price possible while we go back to the Land and live a whole life.

Apple says “think different.”
I say “live different.”

I’m not a guru. I’m trying to figure this stuff out. So weigh in and respond with your challenges, rebuttals, arguments, and thoughts.

Share
This entry was posted in Catholic Life, Family Life, Grapevines and Nature and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to The Yeoman and the Cog: Rebutting Seth Godin

  1. Marc says:

    Devin, thought provoking. On the discussion of average, I think human nature comes into it. The reason you can rise to the edge of the bell curve is because the average person knows the phrase “you are the weakest link, goodbye.” They settle for mediocrity. The average person will never rise above that. The will put their time in and go home and watch “reality” TV.

    While I don’t always agree with Seth’s posts, I do agree with the common theme he has of encouragement to strive for excellence, to be better.

    I agree that striving to be a better cog should not be your whole purpose in life. However, I think the excellence in everything you do can be for the glory of your creator. I believe that everyone should be striving to be the best they can, however, the reality is that very few will. Many will be satisfied living far below their potential.

    I agree that we should all seek to return to nature. We should be more self-sufficient, have a garden, work towards being debt free and more financially independent, own land, be producers. This can be done in small steps, and I think is more of a journey than a starting point.

    Excellent post. Just some of my thoughts on the subject.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Marc,

      Good point. You are right that we should strive for excellence in everything we do, including our work, and that many people do not do that (and no one does it all the time–we all slack off to a greater or lesser degree here and there). And in that sense I think Godin is right.

      As you alluded to, my hope would be the average person would stop going home to watch reality TV and instead go home to tend their large garden and chickens. True reality! Real life!

      Thanks for your thoughts my friend.

      • Augustine says:

        I know someone who is a very competent professional, but he cannot make to a vice-presidency because his family and his faith are important, so he is known to not work 24/7, but to actually enjoy the evenings and the weekends with his family and volunteering.

        The problem is that even the notion of excellence at work has been distorted by the labor market having become a parts bin of spare cogs. And so in order to become an indispensable cog in the machine, you’ll have to be a cog exclusively of the machine’s, for the machine is a jealous god.

        Having said this, I think that even being a cog in the machine is not a desperate situation. As Christian cogs in a vile machine, we are to in the machine but not of the machine. At least until an alternative can be found, as Devin suggests.

        I look forward to your future reflections on this.

        God bless.

  2. It is so ironic that he uses the word linchpin. We often use the term “cog in a machine” as a derogatory thing, yet I guess being a really good cog that cant easily be replaced is good?

    How about not being a cog at all?

    How about a society that does not treat people like cogs?

    This book sounds to me like the epitome of pragmatism, which I hate. Sure, if you become a really good cog you may not get pulled out of the machinery. But the fact that one is being treated like a cog is itself the problem. The bigger picture is one of wage slavery and people being treated like a commodity. As one of those commodities who has dodged 3 layoffs in the past year, I am ready to “opt-out”. Lead on Devin.

    And btw Devin, you are a guru, and keep it up with these type of posts. Honestly, among Catholics with a soapbox, you are one of the only ones who seems to be putting this issue in perspective.

    • Devin Rose says:

      David,

      God willing, you will see a lot more from me about these topics and what we are going to do in the coming months and years.

      Here’s a preview of some things we are thinking of:

      First, the problem is that most people don’t have the money to buy 20 acres of land with a house on it. And even if they did, they don’t have the knowledge or skills required to make even a partial living on land (I include myself here, as one who grew up in cities his whole life).

      If I can’t provide for my family via an agrarian way of life, then forget it. It’s a no-go, non-starter.

      But what I’ve learned is that it is possible. People are doing it. Some have supplemental income from other work they do and some make a living entirely from their land. Some of these people already had lots of money (and, say, no children: http://www.naturesharmonyfarm.com/) but others did not have money and had debts/obligations: http://www.greenpasturesfarm.net/ and/or children: http://thebeginningfarmer.blogspot.com/).

      The know-how can be learned. It takes time and help from others but it can be acquired. You just need enough time to learn it and a buffer of money or other income to float you through until you are proficient.

      The land can be found, even without a ton of money. This is the exciting part. Many old farmers are giving great deals (whether renting, selling, partnering) with younger people wanting to work some land, improve it, provide for themselves, etc. Some people rent the land for free in these situations. Greg Judy’s No Risk Ranching book shows how he got paid to graze other people’s cattle on other people’s land in order to make some money, learn the ropes, all without capital investment on his part.

      Katie and I have an idea as well. We procure, say, 100 acres somehow–we have ideas for this that make it a real possibility–and we sell/give/lease-cheaply five to ten acre plots for other families to come and live and farm. It would not be any kind of commune–each family is there own unit and they have their own land–but we would help each other out, etc.

      Most people will still have to work (at least for some time) to make supplemental income until the homestead/cottage farm is providing the income. But that work could be lots of different things: you could learn some new trades and sell your products. I will continue to do software development. The skies the limit and every family might have a different goal: some just want a big garden to grow lots of their own food; others might want to make most of their living on the farm itself; others might do it full-time.

      Lots of stuff to delve into here. But we have no even started on this yet–that’s still probably a year away, and I don’t want to tell people how to do something unless I myself have done it and shown that it can work. But I have read plenty of others who have done this and are living a more fulfilling life, a more human life.

      Thanks for your excitement David!
      Devin

    • Reminds me of the person who said, “The problem with the rat race is that, even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Don’t remember who said it, so let me credit that most prolific of writers, Mr. Arthur Unknown.

  3. ““Be an indispensable cog,” is his message. “Then when natural selection comes and culls the unexceptional, you’re left untouched, flying above the clouds in bliss.”

    But I say, why not opt out of the machine altogether?”

    Amen. Another troubling thing is the “zero-sum” thinking here. That sucess can be achieved when others fail. Conservatives ussually mock this idea when it comes to economics, claiming that everyone can be rich, yet Seth Godin seems to think work really is more of a “king of the mountain” game where in order to succeed, one must put oneself in a prefered position in relation to others. That idea is truly the dark side of capitalism. As you pointed out, not everyone can be exceptional. It is logically imposible given the definition of the word exceptional.

    Not that that means communism is OK, which makes everyone equally miserable and takes rights away from everyone. Obviously there is a middle ground which is distributism.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Exactly David. Godin recognizes that capitalism is no respector of persons. If dude over there will do the same job for less pay, he’s got it and they guy who did have it is gone. If we can replace people altogether with a machine, so much the better. Machines don’t require health insurance, don’t slack off, and don’t complain.

      I just learned about distributism recently. In most Americans’ minds (including mine until recently) it was either capitalism or socialism (often in the context of communism). But there really is another economic model, the distributist model that Christendom just kind of developed from the 500s to the 1400s. Many people own the means of production (so they are “distributed” among many–those means include land and capital) and can supply their own labor (themselves) to produce wealth. Wealth not in terms of getting luxuriously rich but making enough to provide for their living.

  4. Interesting ideas in this post.

    You are right that not everyone can be exceptional. Normal is normal because that is what most people are.

    I do believe that people should at least attempt to do whatever it is that makes them happy, and attempt to live wherever they think will make them happy.

    There are so many compromising variables in what I just said that it makes one’s head spin. :D

    • Devin Rose says:

      Steve,

      Would you agree though that our Christian faith can inform us with what kind of life will make us happy?

      • I don’t see how.

        There’s really nothing in Scripture or tradition to inform us on what vocation we should undertake, or where we should live.

        I think God gives us freedom and leaves certain things up to us.

        • Devin Rose says:

          Steve,

          The point I’m getting at is that our Christian Faith informs us that we have to steward God’s creation and that it is possible to abuse it.

          We can even see, by observing different creatures, how they have been created and what environment they should be given to express their distinctive “creatureliness.” So chickens should be able to peck and scratch and dig and flap their wings, and not, say, be debeaked and packed in with a bunch of others in a small cage in a building that never sees the light of day.

          • You may have something there Devin.

            I guess I was thinking more about where we ought live and what we should do for a living.

            There, I think we do have freedom (in a limited sort of way).

  5. Pingback: Would You Believe Because of Crony Capitalism? | Why I Am Catholic

  6. Paul Davis says:

    There’s no way to really write a full response to this as a comment, it’s a deep and complicated issue. The reality is that in today’s market, driven by pop psychology (HR programs, performance programs, happy employees are productive employees etc…), and financial managers who are more concerned with the immediate bottom line than laying a long lasting foundation, or the human consequences of their action.

    You really are a cog, and there just aren’t many ways to escape it.

    Even Gold plated cogs can be replaced by a single manager who thinks moving a department overseas will increase the bottom line in the long run, I’ve seen it over and over and over, especially in the tech industry. Some call it greed, but it’s not that simple. It’s really more tuned into the idea that a company must grow or die, the idea of a company finding a good balance of sustainable business, without looking for the next growth opportunity is rare. It does happen, and there are companies out there that work hard to make sure their employees are valued, but the trade off is that they normally don’t pay that well.

    As Christians we need to do our best in everything, that includes work. How much could we learn from the Monks who are self supporting and have wonderful work ethics, imagine if we normal believers employed those simple principles!

    The problem with your ideal world is that it’s ideal for you, there are many people who don’t want that kind of lifestyle. They want goods and services, they want to consume, not produce. It’s always been that way, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. We live in Idaho, I can buy land if I want, and do pretty much what I want with it, but I choose to live in a little community. Because to be honest, it’s easier, especially when raising a family. Someday I’d love to own a couple of acres and work the land, but I’m an urbanite and it would be green acres all over again.

    What we need is to change the way we treat each other, people are not numbers on a spreadsheet, they don’t fit into HR categories all neat and tidy. Each brings something special, and the truly successful businesses are those that recognize that and use it to their advantage, they do exist. This corporate idea of constantly growing needs to change as well, slow growth is OK, and planning for bad seasons is even better.

    Until that happens, it’s never going to change…

    -Paul-

    • Devin Rose says:

      Paul,

      Good challenges you make here. Realize that the reason a company thinks it has to grow or die is (in part) because that’s what Wall Street demands. The name of the game is revenue growth (not just revenue). And that demand is top priority in most companies. Granted, there are some reasons for it (within our current system): a growing company is one that provides career paths for its employees, etc.

      I agree that most people don’t want to live an agrarian life, or even a small village life that includes skilled trades, guilds, apprenticeships, etc. But most people don’t want to eat their broccoli, either, and would rather have ice cream and sodas. Only when they actually have a taste of good food do they realize that it’s pleasantly wholesome, albeit different than ice cream.

      That said, not everyone has to farm. There’s much room for complicated skills and businesses: electronics, vehicles, medicines, materials, etc. etc.

      See also Nick’s comment below which I will also comment on.

      • Kevin Heldt says:

        Hey Devin, now you’ve gone too far! — I will always (choose to) believe ice cream is wholesome… ;)

  7. Nick says:

    Another problem with being “indispensable” is often that it requires you to sacrifice family time and even most of your ‘free time’. The result is you become an indentured servant of sorts – which results in the opposite goal you intended in the first place.

    The prevailing “operating system” is a Protestant atmosphere of “keeping up with the Jones,” kept alive by as many “updates” as possible, until third-party software comes back into vogue and the main platform is plainly exposed for the bug-ridden one it always was. With Protestantism burning itself out, so do we see a prevailing materialist world view likewise dying off, and people realizing a “Distributist” version makes sense (and has kept the rest of the world alive all this time).

    The truth is, most jobs today are really unnecessary in that they are mostly desk jobs of filling out forms and such. Of course, these are needed for fathers to provide for their families, but everyone knows most jobs don’t really produce anything of any use. An economy founded upon this really doesn’t do anything for anybody; it’s lame duck by definition.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Nick,

      I’ve seen the same thing about people having to work insane hours to become “indispensable.” The cost is terrible but they pay it (for various reasons, most of which aren’t selfless).

      You hit the nail on the head about jobs today: how many of us are actually producing something of value? Only 3-4% of the population in our country are still farmers. They are (by the power of the sun and the generative power of life God has created in seeds and animals) producing needed food for human life. Others take raw materials out of the earth and manufacture them into helpful products. But many other jobs are paper-pushing affairs and otherwise useless efforts that are parasitic on the system.

  8. Jonathan Brumley says:

    Devin, in your system, how does land get distributed to the new generation?

    What seems to have happened long ago in Europe, and more recently in America, is that all the land was settled and owned (save for some shared land owned by the governement). Eventually, there was no new land to go settle. People naturally went to find work from existing landowners, and since they couldn’t get land of their own, or it didn’t seem profitable to them, or they weren’t smart enough, cities were created.

    I’m sure there are equitable ways to divide up the land we have to the people we have, but any static distribution of land won’t be fair forever. No family will have the same number of children. So what was fair 50 years ago won’t be fair 50 years from now.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Jonathan,

      I’m not sure if cities were formed because land ran out. Other factors like the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution were no doubt involved, but to be honest I’m just starting to learn about this, so I can’t give you a better response just yet.

      I don’t think we hope for the gov’t to distribute land to people. That would be a disaster. But churches, groups, and individuals would work to obtain land for themselves, divide it up as they see fit, and then start from there. Most people wouldn’t even want to be involved, and they could remain doing whatever they wanted, but people who were interested could find ways to get some land and the skills they need to be small farmers.

      This actually almost happened in England in the early part of the 1900s with the Catholic Land movement, but they never got the money they needed to settle Catholic farmers on land. Sadly the English Catholic bishops refused to take up a collection for this noble endeavor and only paid it lip service.

    • Brent says:

      1. We have always had cities.

      2. When we use the word “city” in this context, one is referring to “industrial cities”.

      3. Industrial cities are the direct by-product of the industrialization of the means of production. This caused two things (among others):
      (a) cheaper goods and thus the desire for more goods
      (b) a true “urban” lifestyle

      4. The consequences on agrarian life of (a) and (b) were manifold. People became dissatisfied with the simple, hard way of living on the land. Urban life promised set hours, set wages, and more “trinkets, toys and tricks”. The rise of the automobile and other technologies gave man a sense that he might escape, altogether, the toil of the land.

      5. New jobs were created. The rise of larger business meant a never before “white” and “blue” collar divide. Within one to two generations, boss and worker now lived in different neighborhoods. In a society that promised “classlessness”, industrialization fomented economic classes. The effort that use to provide self-sustanence now only provided a singular output as a part of a larger “factory”–that housed as many people as it did goods.

      6. Are we running out of land? Nope. But notice, that in the years following the collapse of industrial economy (Great Depression), both the government and the few rich who had accumulated wealth at the top bought up much of the available land. Fast forward 2-3 generations, and now the American dream is owning a house on a “lot”, with a strip of grass dividing neighbors, a little more than a suburban-horizontal-high-rise.

      How do we get out of this race? For someone with a family (and thus grave obligations), I’m not sure. Praying.

      • Brent said:
        “…now the American dream is owning a house on a “lot”, with a strip of grass dividing neighbors, a little more than a suburban-horizontal-high-rise.”

        Amen. Driving down my street yesterday in my townhome complex I pushed the button on my visor to open the garage door. I noticed some kids a couple houses down scraping snow off of one of those big green power box thingies and making a snow fort. I thought how on a farm or family business like in the “old days” they might have some real chores to do to help out their family. Then it hit me: “Hey, those are my kids!”

        One thing is without doubt: My life now is much easier than having my own business/being my own boss. That is the allure of wage slavery: it is easy. We will be content with our townhome and strip of grass as long as the paycheck keeps coming. Nevermind that functionally we are merely a cog in another mans machine, as long as he keeps cutting that check we will obey. And of course we are “free” to find a new master whenever we want. This gives us the illusion we are “independant” or something. How this difers from slavery I do not know.
        What I do know is that the answer lies an economy based on the family unit owning the means to production.

  9. Devin, as a preface to my own remarks, I echo the sentiments of Paul Davis questioning the value and investment of time debating Mr. Godin’s theses.
    As a four decades plus Director of Music (professional, FT) I possess a skill set and resume that to many a liturgical “head hunter” might regard as exceptional, yet I don’t and can’t competently call myself an organist. So, over that span of years I have endeavored to manage my duties (honestly, forthrightly) so that, in a basic sense, some might regard me as “indispensable.” But in a profession that is particularly fickle and often forked tongued, that regard and $1 will get me coffee at McDonalds. No one is indispensable or irreplaceable.
    I pray that God’s most selfless and loving act of accepting His passion and death upon the cross works to illustrate both sides of the coin of this issue of being either a cog or the exception. Those terms are only effective when confined to the myopic lenses of this world, not the next.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Charles,

      I think I see what you are saying. We husbands and fathers have to do what we can to provide for our families, and if that means carving out a niche in our job or improving our resume or skillset–even in a field that isn’t agrarian or distributist or whatever–so be it. I’m a practical man, in the sense that I look down on no one who does what they have to do (within moral bounds of course) to take care of their families.

      Anyways, I may have missed the thrust of your comment and if so please do elaborate.

      Thanks,
      Devin

  10. Wow! So many of the good points have already been articulated, there’s not much left over for me to add.

    One flaw in Godin’s premisses — and I think someone’s already remarked on it indirectly — is that the decision whether or not to outsource isn’t dependent on whether the Americans doing the job are doing it well but rather on whether it can be done more cheaply by Indians or Filipinos. It doesn’t help to try to become indispensible at your job when the job itself is dispensible. Moreover, since the bean counters don’t look beyond the P&Ls, I don’t think they really realize that outsourcing can indirectly affect revenue as well as expenses, although the impact is diffused through the larger economic system; they live in a hopelessly reductionist world where rocks thrown into a pond create no ripples.

    To address Paul Davis’ concern, two business models the folks at The Distributist Review like to bring up are the Mondragon Corporation (€14.76 billion revenue and 83,859 employees in 2010), a completely employee-owned set of interconnected cooperatives, and the Emilia-Romagna administrative region of Italy, considered one of the richest, most developed regions in Europe, where almost half of the GDP derives from over 8,000 cooperatives and family-owned businesses. So the Distributist concept already has the advantage of having been beta-tested. I’m all with you, Devin, as far as a need for an agrarian ressourcement, but that’s not all Distributism brings to the party.

  11. Devin,
    You stole my thunder! I’ve been working on an essay about Distributism.

    I look forward to witnessing your new path.

  12. Patrick Vandapool nukes it from orbit once again. I say “must read” all the time, but this seriously is one:
    http://patrickvandapool.com/2012/01/24/man-is-not-capital/

  13. Edward says:

    Greetings from England! First time posting here, though I’ve been reading for a while.

    I have a lot of sympathy with what you’re saying, but I’m not 100% convinced.

    You can feed many more people with an acre of industrially-farmed land than you can with an acre of a family-owned farm. That means cheaper food. Not only that, but modern farming techniques have eliminated famine in the west. How often did people die of starvation in pre-industrial centuries? How often do they in the industrialised, capitalist countries of the 21st century? Even if we all get 20, 30, 40% poorer, which may well happen with the current economic madness (a result mainly of big-government corporatism, not free-market capitalism), mass starvation is not on the cards.

    Specialisation, along with factory manufacturing, has produced enormous benefits on top of this. Not just cheaper trinkets: I mean modern medicine, lighting, hot showers, clean fuel – and not just for the rich, but for everyone! You can’t make a measles vaccination in a garage workshop.

    In any case, not everybody in the middle ages was a yeoman, or even a free peasant. Serfdom was common. Of course, feudal relations varied from region to region, but in many cases lords had far more power over their peasants than your boss does over you – they could even make you go to war for them, in some cases!

    As I said, I have a great deal of sympathy with distributism and agrarianism. The (post-)industrial economy can do awful things to the mind. But I think the counter argument needs at least considering – which I’ve just begun to do here! I’d love to own 10 acres and escape the rat race, but I fear that if everybody did that, there’d be no modern.

    (Great blog by the way – I read it daily.)

  14. “You can feed many more people with an acre of industrially-farmed land than you can with an acre of a family-owned farm.”

    You lost me right off. I just dont see how this statement is true. In fact, I see ways in which the opposite is probably true.

  15. “Specialisation, along with factory manufacturing, has produced enormous benefits on top of this. Not just cheaper trinkets: I mean modern medicine, lighting, hot showers, clean fuel – and not just for the rich, but for everyone!”

    These are also possible under a guild systen in Distributism. Having the majority of people in a society own the means of production does not imply they cant pool their efforts. The principle of subsidiarity says that things should be done by the simplest level they can be done with. eating eggs for breakfast can be done on a much lower level than using a cell phone.
    Lighting and hot showers have nothing to do with capitalism per se. There is no reason they should not have happened had medieval distributism continued.

    “…not everybody in the middle ages was a yeoman, or even a free peasant. Serfdom was common. Of course, feudal relations varied from region to region, but in many cases lords had far more power over their peasants than your boss does over you – they could even make you go to war for them, in some cases!”

    What you are rightfully criticizing is the beginnings of capitalism, where the means of production began to be held by lords. Previously it was more common for men to own their own means of production (farms, livestock) in a much more Distributist model. That model gave way to the Lord/serf model you are refering to, which took the means of production out of the hands of the common man and gave it to the lord. That is Capitalism.

    I share some of your fears and questions. But a guild system can (and in history, has) answered some of the good questions you raise about modern tech. Suffice it to say capitalism is not the cause of the explosion of technology. If anything blast furnaces to make cast iron are, and they were on the verge of being invented just before the Reformation broke out and killed the knowledge sharing that would have made them possible.

    If anything, I would say a Distributist model could easily have made things even MORE modern/advanced than we have seen. With more minds in the game (owning the means of production) there should be more inovation and creativity right?

    I listened to a great interview about distributism today which asks many of the same questions you ask.
    it is the “backyard rad trad interview” on this page:
    http://distributistreview.com/mag/audiovideo/video/

    Cheers

  16. Ryan Kracht says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking article(s) and comments. I found your site by searching for Catholic, community, farming, and family. It appears that many like minds are thinking along similar lines.

    Perhaps interesting to add to this conversation is that our economic system is not inherently “capitalist” or “distributivist” as I believe the terms are being used here.

    In my work as an engineer, I have worked with companies that are “employee owned”. And for one company in particular that really isn’t in name only. I don’t know the details about how exactly it works, but the corporation apparently is shared and the employees have a voice in management.

    Additionally, this is at least the ideal behind employee stock ownership, the stock market, Wall Street…

    The question I really have is how do I best provide for my family (time spent with them, physical needs, education, faith formation, etc.) As of right now I haven’t found a better way to do this than to work in my job (that I happen to enjoy) which provides a comfortable salary, and then spend the remainder of my day working “as a family”.

    The ideal of the pre-industrial age for me is that the family unit could theoretically be maintained through stronger bonds formed by shared labors, holidays, and love. This is part of what I feel is missing in our society, however given where my talents are, I am not sure I would have more “family time” by giving it all up and buying a farm.

    But, having said all this, I do believe that there is a need for a lay Catholic community centered on our shared faith, family life, and if possible, prosperity. When and how do we start?

    • Devin Rose says:

      Welcome to my blog, Ryan, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      It is true that our economy is not purely capitalistic. It’s in an in-between state that Hilaire Belloc spoke of in The Servile State. And it is also true that for some of us, including many engineers and other currently in-demand professions, our wages provide us a very comfortable (even luxurious) living. Further as you pointed out it is the only way we know how to make a living for our family.

      But if your job is like mine, 1) you do not own the means of production, 2) the products of your work are not owned by you but are solely owned by your employer.

      The challenge with having a lay Catholic community, given these economic practicalities, is that we don’t actually share life together. Consider the Amish: they build their homes by hand together, help each other in their daily labor (out in the fields, working with wood, etc.), and they also live close by each other. We, however, drive off early to work in the morning and are gone for nine hours, working at the factory or cubicle or office, come back home just in time to eat dinner with the family, see our children for a few hours before bed, and then have an hour or two with our spouse before we do it all again the next day. So it’s hard, given these duties, to build a shared life with other families.

      That said, I think doing something is better than nothing. I’ve seen communities spring up around religious orders, solid parishes, and monasteries. You want to have your community center around the Faith, especially in the celebration of the Mass. And there are ways to make the most of the time you do have to form bonds of friendship with other families, but often it’s hard because they live across town and it takes fifteen minutes to drive to their house.

      Not trying to be a downer, just wanted to share the issues we’ve run into given my normal employment.