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Conservative Case for Cooperatives, Part 1: The Servile State
This month I'm doing a series of blogs and vlogs on the conservative case for cooperatives.  This first blog will be based on Hilaire Belloc's work critiquing both capitalism and socialism at the turn of the 20th century.  While some of his conclusions are obviously off, I hope to show that his prescription for a distributive state is very similar to the prescriptions for a social economy from the left.  The other two blogs will be "Land Reform" and "Intersectionality as a Cooperative Management Strategy."

This blog grows out of conversation that I've had with conservatives, who, without fail, when I describe the cooperative economy say, "that's not liberal."  It's not hard to see how the cooperative economy has correlates within conservatism.  The conservative philosophy, sans the nationalist variant, is small government, personal and community independence, low taxes, low regulation, private property, and the market, understanding that these stated beliefs are different in practice for both left and right wing mainstream politics in the USA.  Certainly cooperatives also rely on a philosophy of small government, personal and community autonomy, commons, which in the US are governed under private property regimes (this could be changed), and the market.  So, it's pretty easy to see why conservatives see cooperatives as congruent with their values.  Belloc takes this analysis deeper into the role and function of the state.

Belloc makes an argument that capitalism and Leninist socialism lead to "The Servile State."  He argues that workers will be compelled by law to work in exchange for stability and security.  The instability of capitalism, in his view, leads to attempts to stabilize through the guarantee of security and stability to workers in exchange for compelling workers to work, or slavery.  This obviously never happened, and the closest time to this happening was the Fordist-Keynesian bargain of the post-war USA, but workers were not compelled to work; instead they were incentivized through demand management.  Basically, instead of compelling people to work by law, The Servile State made working more attractive than not working, and almost achieved full employment before the bargain fell apart and led to neoliberalism.

Belloc also argued that the simplest solution to capitalist instability was the socialist state, but felt that the socialist state would lead to similar servility except that it would be servility to political operatives instead of owners of the means of production.  Under capitalism, the means of production were owned by the few; under socialism, the means of production were owned by no one and both led to servility.

Instead, Belloc argues for a "distributive state," in which land and means of production are distributed to the workers to be owned in small collectives or individually by the working class.  In his view, the alternative to land and other means of production being controlled by the few or by no one is that they be controlled by many.  I believe this finds congruence with the far-left autonomism of Negri and Hardt, who argue that the multitude must become independent of the owners of the means of production producing "commonwealth."  Importantly, the multitude is a body of infinitely diverse individuals and groups, which seems to imply a Bellocian prescription of ownership by the many.

Belloc's error was not factoring in technological changes into the development of capitalism.  Instead of requiring workers to work, capitalism introduced technological changes that required fewer and fewer workers.  In our late neoliberalism, sci-fi dystopia, the servile state never came into being, but the automated state certainly is becoming a reality. 

But, this makes Belloc's argument for a distributive state even more salient, not less so.  Without ownership by the many, the means of production will become increasingly centralized and automated, undercutting the ability of workers to organize.  A state that distributed land and the means of production to workers could create a situation in which technological changes that save labor could be used to free workers up for creative purposes such as art, music, philosophy, and so on, while providing them with the ownership necessary to grow wealth and stability.

I believe that the conservative notion of ownership by the many is congruent with the left wing notion of the social economy.  Thus, in order to build a working class movement across ideological commitments, we must push for a distributive state that makes land and other means of production available to the working class.  

The next blog, land reform, argues for the forcible taking of land using land banks and eminent domain and distributing those to the working class, an argument that is at once right- and left-wing.