Thursday, July 16, 2009

Distributism Pops Up in the Oddest Places

Like the Wall Street Journal, f'rinstance.

Joseph Epstein in praise of shopkeepers:

. . . .My friend Edward Shils, the Cambridge and University of Chicago sociologist, used to say that he judged a city by the number of blocks of interesting shops it contained. By this measure, he felt, London and New York surpassed all others. By the same measure some cities scarcely qualify as cities at all: Los Angeles, for example, and possibly San Francisco. I do not count as interesting those shops in parts of cities that I think of as Poloville, after the logo of Ralph Lauren. Ah, those gentle strolls through Poloville, its shops filled with goods only a person who no longer cares about money would buy: Prada, Dunhill, Chanel, Barney's, Gucci, Emilio Meshuganah, and the rest. . . .

. . . ."England is a nation of shopkeepers," remarked Napoleon, unconsciously quoting Adam Smith and suggesting that they, the English, as mere shopkeepers, were unfit to fight the French. Well, we know how the shopkeepers fared at a place called Waterloo. No great surprise, really. Considerable courage and perseverance are required to start and keep a good shop running. Especially is this so today, when real estate rental is expensive, taxes on profits high, and the prospect of being clobbered by a national chain store moving in discourage the initiative needed to open a useful shop.

Running a good shop is a service to one's community, of much greater value, in my view, than the work of two hundred social workers, five hundred psychotherapists, and a thousand second-rate poets -- and more honorable than the efforts of the vast majority of the members of Congress. A nation of shopkeepers, far from being the put-down Napoleon thought, sounds more and more like an ideal to which a healthy country ought to aspire. . . .