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Economy - Distributism could deliver
The Liberal Party exists to build a Liberal Society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Its chief care is for the rights and opportunities of the individual and in all spheres it sets freedom first.
The Preamble of the Liberal Party which many members may very well be familiar with. However, are we also confident the type of society we wish to build, as described in the Preamble, can be created through any programme of unrestrained capitalism? Should Liberals as part of a long term vision look and think outside the box, be bold and radical and embrace distributism, an economic ideology championed by former Liberal MP Hillaire Belloc?
So why would distributism provide the solution to delivering the Preamble where other economic doctrines have clearly failed?
Perhaps the easiest way of explaining this is to quote the old saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.
In my opinion, this saying sums up the whole concept of distributism and the foundation for delivering a society where no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
Distributism is the science of providing ordinary people with the means to support themselves, their families and their communities (teaching them to fish), and slowly replacing much of society’s current dependency on big business.
This potential, of spreading the means of production as widely as possible, has seen distributism squeezed from both left and right wing thinking economists. Capitalists are critical and fearful of distributism because the money they presently control will eventually be spread more evenly throughout the population, therefore the reliance on big business will be reduced. Socialists are also critical of distributism, as the state capitalist economic model they champion, so often seen as being liberating by sections of the working class, is seriously challenged by an economic doctrine which widens ownership. Whilst distributists do not directly advocate the redistribution of wealth, this will nevertheless be the outcome through the redistribution of the means of production to as many people as possible.
For distributism to thrive and provide opportunity for all, it means giving small businesses an equal chance and levelling the extremely uneven playing field which currently that favours larger players. Ask yourself the question, how many shops have closed in towns when a large supermarket opens nearby? At present what political party is standing up for the local baker trying to compete with a large supermarket chain prepared to sell bread at a loss to capture the small operator’s slice of the market?  Admittedly the consumer may now choose to shop at large, often out of town superstores, to purchase their weekly shop in one hit, but why does this have to rule out creating a fairer economic playing field for the smaller operator?

To expand out of the box thinking and further develop the distributist concept in enabling real opportunity for all, a large supermarket chain, as an alternative to employing a baker, could offer the chance for someone to set up a small bakery business within their store. In the present economic age this might seem a far-fetched and an almost impossible concept, but if it was introduced the reality would be everyone would be a winner. The large store would still have customers, the small operator would have an income and consumers would have what they need. An economic direction from national government, maybe through forms of incentives and local authorities through planning, could make this possible. It would be an example of redistributing the means of production.  There are already thousands of small businesses, very often sole traders or partnerships, or in larger instances co-operatives. A liberal distributist economic policy would provide the means to expand the numbers of such businesses offering increased opportunities for all.
Distributism can also work in a larger economic sense, allowing companies to thrive in the global marketplace. If we look across to Europe and the Basque Region of Spain, the Mondragon Corporation is a federation of worker co-operatives. Whilst in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, co-operatives provide around 35% of regional GDP.  The well respected American Professor of economics, Richard D. Wolff, praised the Mondragon co-operatives, the decent wages they provide and the empowerment of ordinary workers in the decision making process, and cited it as a working model that’s an alternative to the capitalist system.  For those that are looking for an alternative to state or privatised run railways or mail delivery, the Mondragon Corporation provides an ideal example. Likewise it’s an ideal model for larger industry and the new, largely untapped green economy.
A question often asked is where ordinary people will get the capital to fund new business ventures and take advantage of the openings a distributist economic programme would deliver. Just as in present day business, a number of people will provide their own capital or source their own financial means. But economies also require investment, and another angle could be the creation of county or regional investment banks. Such institutions would not be owned by shareholders, but by the county or region itself. Far from being some untouchable, remote entity that could take risks and make money for the so called ‘fat cats’ of this world, these banks would be established as accountable local institutions, to lend money to local businesses, with all profits reinvested within that county or region.
It can be argued that both capitalism and socialism stifle the prospect of the Preamble ever being delivered, by offering a less than favourable climate for thriving small businesses and economies as well as a lack of opportunity. Personally, I feel see the need for an economic programme which discourages mergers, takeovers and monopolies, and one instead which allows the break-up of monopolies and larger companies into smaller businesses and producers co-operatives. Such a programme would offer an alternative to state ownership/state capitalism, yet offers fairness and opportunity. In addition to this a liberal distributist programme would support local, regional and national economies. Where capitalism and socialism fail, I believe distributism can as a long-term economic strategy deliver.  I am under no illusions that such a strategy is radical and would require fundamental economic changes. Nevertheless, the present economic path Britain has followed for generations,  where often the strings of economic planning are at the whim of large multi-national organisations, only stifles opportunity and in such are counterproductive in offering real opportunity.  
Just want to point out that both the Basque country and Emilia-Romagna region look good economically due to the fragility of the national economies that they form with both Spain and Italy having big economic crises and both being close to bankruptcy. I like your idea and feel it should also work to divert funding the constant extra funding to big cities especially London which is crippling smaller towns and regions in the extremities of our country. I live in South Devon and year on year we are losing more money as it goes to places nearby such as Exeter or further afield. An over-reliance on one city will eventually cripple our economy as many others in Europe have struggled thus a diversion of funds more equally would be great. Finally, i am also tentative about moving away from a capitalist system as socialism as an alternative lacks a key element with incentive and the option you proposed would be difficult to impose as caps or quotas etc would have to be enforced and businesses would just take their services elsewhere. Big companies which have economies of scale actually reduce prices for customers therefore to move away from that would be extremely difficult as people would feel and would be less well off. Problem with a change like this is it takes so long for the effects to come through that no one party would be in power long enough to see the transformation through.

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