What does Awaiting Jubilee refer to?
A Jubilee is a special event. The one referred to in this site’s title is described in the Book of Leviticus. The Jubilee of Leviticus is to happen every 50 years. Here is what Leviticus says:
‘Land must not be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to me, and to me you are only strangers and guests.’ – Leviticus 25: 23
‘In the Jubilee year, a purchaser must relinquish [the land he has purchased] and return to his own property.’ – Leviticus 25:28
‘[a man who has sold himself into servitude] shall go free in the jubilee year, he and his children with him.’ – Leviticus 25:54
Jubilee is a time of restoration. Property is returned. Indenture is forgiven.
Imagine an 87 year old Donald Trump voluntarily deeding Trump Tower to the City of New York in 2033 (the 50th anniversary of its completion.) Imagine SallieMae voluntarily forgiving student loans. Imagine employers releasing guest workers from what is substantially indentured servitude.
The book of Leviticus was probably completed 2500 years ago, but:
‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ – Ecclesiastes 1:9
Awaiting Jubilee is about the meantime, the time between now and Jubilee.
So what of the meantime?
Awaiting Jubilee is about life lived according to Catholic Social Teaching as explained by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (Rights and Duties of Capitol and Labor.)
A school of economic and political thought has developed around this and subsequent letters by later Popes. It is called Distributism. The pivotal feature of Distributism is called ‘subsidiarity.’ Subsidiarity describes a principal of social organization that considers decentralization desirable. Tasks should be realized on the most local level at which they can be performed effectively. Central authority’s role should be subsidiary, that is it should perform only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a local level.
McDonald’s Corporation had $25 billion in revenue in 2015.
Is a $25 billion company needed to serve up a hamburger? $25 billion is the GDP of Jamaica.
As a Distributist, I argue that this is an inappropriate balance of capital and labor. Capital is concentrated, and most of the people working for McDonald’s are servile.
At the heart of Distributism is governance that provides for fair and effective employment of capital and labor, a practice that demands engagement on the part of the citizenry.
The opposite of engagement is servility. And this raises a terrible question. What is the role of servility in our society?
In 1912, the Distributist Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953, writer, Member of Parliament 1906-1910) wrote:
The future of industrial society, and in particular of English society, left to its own direction, is a future in which subsistence and security shall be guaranteed for the Proletariat, but shall be guaranteed at the expense of the old political freedom and by the establishment of that Proletariat in a status really, though not nominally, servile. At the same time, the Owners will be guaranteed in their profits, the whole machinery of production in the smoothness of its working, and that stability which has been lost under the Capitalist phase of society will be found once more. – The Servile State, page 183
“Proletariat” refers to workers who earn their living by selling their labor. “Servile” means slavishly submissive. Belloc argues that Capitalism is inherently unstable. A recent, and rather tame, example of destabilization would be the “Occupy” movement that objects to the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals. This meager reaction to the inequities of the government’s response to the 2008 financial crisis supports the idea that certain workers are servile. Less tame are the violent consequences of racial disparity in wealth. Ferguson, MO in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015, and Charlotte in 2016 are examples.
Again, Belloc says capitalism can be stabilized by guarantees of “subsistence and security.” Who has these guarantees, today? What is guaranteed?
Belloc argued against unemployment insurance and single payer health care. (These programs were new ideas in 1912.) He saw these programs as palliative limiters of social progress. Instead, he supported distributed wealth, no more concentrated than is needed to do what is required.
Over the last five or six years McDonald’s performance has been variable. Stockholders’ equity has ranged from $7 billion to $14 billion. If this equity were divided among McDonald’s 420,000 employees, the average employee would have had between $16,000 and $32,000 in wealth. This, in very crude and hyperbolic terms, is Belloc’s and Leo XIII’s argument: distributed wealth empowers civic engagement (how can I attract more customers to my restaurant?) whilst palliative programs instill a servile way of thinking (can I work this job and get food stamps, too?)
In recent years, there has been a tendency to limit subsistence programs (AFDC was replaced by TANF, for example) but there has been no empowering distribution of wealth to offset it. This is emblematic of the increasing concentration of wealth, and, I believe, inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching.
So who are you and what do you want?
My name is David Danforth, and I write about practical things to think about and do while Awaiting the Jubilee.
Redistribution of wealth will come about because of the Jubilee, or a revolution… as though there was much light to be found between the two.
But in the meantime, I will work to find and publicize local opportunities to retain wealth within the community, to resist the consolidation of wealth and to avoid consolidation’s stupefying consequence, servility.
‘Local’ refers to matters that I might hope to influence, somehow. I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, a college town 60 miles north of Denver. I am a common man, and a common man’s influence is all I claim.
For further information.
An ongoing effort to assemble theoretical and historical information on Distributism can be found at a web magazine called the Distributist Review. The Distributist Review is a project of the American Chesterton Society. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), for whom the Society is named, was a journalist, novelist, and essayist who with Hilaire Belloc and others promulgated Distributism. Coloradans on the Front Range with an interest in Chesterton can learn more from the Denver Chesterton Society. The American Chesterton Society maintains a list of local Chesterton societies throughout the world.