NOTE: I tend to use the word “capitalism” differently now. While reading this article, it might be helpful to substitute “capitalism” with “corporatism”, “fascism”, or “national socialism”. Nowadays I tend to use “capitalism” as a synonym for the “free market”.
Continuing with last week’s theme, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is not only politically aware, but economically aware as well. My Little Pony is a fantasy show, officially, but many episodes are spent simply in the day-to-day lives of the ponies, frequently giving us glimpses into the workings of the Equestrian economy.
Equestria’s is basically a market economy. Goods and services are traded for compensation decided by the buyer and the seller. Currency exists in the form of coins, but other forms of compensation – i.e. other desired goods, food, time, and, especially in Ponyville, precious gems – are accepted and legal as well. Caught up in the comings and goings of the plot, it is easy to miss that Equestria seems to be an immensely wealthy society, far more affluent than we could ever hope to be. The ponies in the capital, Canterlot, and in the big cities of Manehattan and Cloudsdale (the abode of the pegasi), are aristocrats. They live in high society and spend most of their time going to balls and musicals. They are the professionally rich. The more suburban towns like Ponyville still enjoy an unusual amount of luxury. No resource ever seems to be in want, barring natural disasters and external threats, and the ponies there have an ample surplus of both currency and gems with which to barter and trade. Even ponies we might consider ‘poor’, like the “Old West”-style ponies in Appleloosa, live well within their means and have more than enough to live on.
What explains all this? Is it realistic to think any modern society could be so wealthy and yet so egalitarian? The key to these questions lies in the distribution of property. In the feudal system, which we discussed last time, public property was in no conceivable understanding of the term a reality. The King was the owner of the realm. Any land which was not owned by his subjects belonged to him. There was no collective ownership like we have in capitalist democracies or in socialist utopias. Private property is to the anarcho-monarchist a sacred inviolable right. There is no eminent domain in this world, and even taxes are something to be sneered at even in their scarcity.
When I said before that Equestrian economy was market-based I did not mean to imply that Equestria is capitalist. It is most certainly distinct from traditional capitalism. A better term might be distributist. Distributism is a school of thought which emerged out of Catholic intellectualism following Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum, which laid out Catholic social teaching in light of tradition and in response to the growing popularity of both socialism and capitalism. Its leading figures were G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who passed on their ideas to the liked of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Basque people and, in the present, U.K. prime minister David Cameron. The big beef distributists have with capitalism is not that it produces too many capitalists but far too few. It allows wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few, while the less fortunate get poorer and poorer. Distributism favors not the equalization of all people and the redistribution of wealth, but wider distribution of private property, thereby making each family unit, in many ways, an economy unto itself.
I would hesitate to say that My Little Pony fulfills the distributist’s dream in every way, but it comes mighty close. Distributism as a system is based firstly on the principle of subsidiarity, basically that issues should be dealt with by the most basic unit of society possible.
“It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno.
Order should not be imposed by higher authority unless local and immediate authority has proved incapable. This is exactly what we see in Equestria. There appears to be little government intervention in the natural flow of economics in Equestria, except occasionally to settle trade disputes. No mention is made of taxes, which we can assume are either minimal or non-existent. Ponies trade what they want for what they want at whatever price they want. There are no tariffs or price limits or any of that garbáge. Every pony owns the means of his or her own livelihood. Five of our six main characters are either self-employed or provide a service for their immediate community. Rarity makes clothes which she sells on the market. Fluttershy takes care of animals. Rainbow Dash controls the weather. Apple Jack, along with her family, owns an apple farm. And Pinkie Pie is an apprentice at a bakery (and she plans parties, though whether or not she receives compensation for this is debatable). Each pony is in control of her livelihood and, with the exception of Rainbow Dash, is beholden to no one. This is what we mean by the wide distribution of private property.
And all runs well and smooth for the most part (until some new villain arises or the Flim Flam brothers come to town). The ponies do not choose their careers in the modern sense. Rather they are called to do some work. They receive their calling when they receive their cutie-mark, an image which appears on their flanks at maturity and indicates their special talent. In this way careers in Equestria are similar to the Catholic notion of vocation, which means calling, not to the modern notion of career options. This allows the ponies to be satisfied more or less with what they have, confident in their place in the world, and uninterested in envying others who have “more”*.
Many people point to the massive expansion of the power of technology since the Industrial Revolution as a reason why traditional economies are not desirable – that a system which favors the status quo will not tend to encourage innovation. The objection is valid. Certainly without the rise of capitalism and the destruction of the Old World Order after the American and French Revolutions, no Industrial Revolution could ever have occurred. But it is a mistake to think that if the feudal system had continued we would still be living in a primitive world.
Equestria seems to be semi-industrialized. They have trains and something like early automobiles. They understand hot air balloons and photography, and they even are aware enough of digital technology to listen to electronic music. It is unclear whether personal computers have been invented or if the ponies simply have no interest or need for them. Even with all this they have not lost their agrarian roots. Most of the earth ponies are still involved in farming. They have not, like industrial society, almost completely abandoned agriculture. This prevents food shortages due to overpopulation because food is locally grown and it is not necessary to bring in food from afar, syphoning it from places who could use it better (Africa, anyone?). Though they know of internal combustion technology, the ponies are often content to travel on hoof or by cart.
I believe, though I have no real evidence to prove it, just as the opposition has no real evidence to prove their argument, that many of the inventions we hold so dear today were inevitable and would have come along sooner or later regardless of capitalism and industry. What certainly would not have happened is the strain on the world’s resources we now face due to the globalization of the economy following the Industrial Revolution. Food would be plentiful because it would be locally grown, not imported and stolen. People would be more at ease with their place in the world, instead of constantly needing to ascend the social ladder. So not only is greedy Wall Street style business discouraged, it is also in the best interest of no one, including the potential robber baron. A good social theory works whether or not humans are behaving well (which we want) or badly (which we expect).
I hope these past two posts have helped to illustrate just what a radical show My Little Pony is. I wonder if any of this is intentional (anarcho-monarchist distributists are not in high demand outside Catholic intelligentsia), or maybe I’m just reading my own views into a politically benign kids’ show. Anyway, it’s a fun thought experiment even if it’s made up out of thin air.