Ownership society

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On his ownership society agenda, December 16, 2004, President George W. Bush said "I love the idea of people being able to own something ... People from all walks of life, all income levels are willing to take risks to start their own company. ... And I like the idea of people being able to say, I'm in charge of my own health care ... I particularly like the idea of a Social Security system that recognizes the importance and value of ownership."[1]

In the Bush administration: Inaugural Message 2005, Bush added: "To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools and build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance -- preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society. By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear and make our society more prosperous and just and equal."

The oft-touted term, ownership society by President Bush refers to the theories of mass privatization his administration is in the midst of injecting into the American way of life.

An ownership society, as defined by the Cato Institute, is "values responsibility, liberty, and property. Individuals are empowered by freeing them from dependence on government handouts and making them owners instead, in control of their own lives and destinies. In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings." [2]

David Boaz, of Cato, makes the following assertations in "Defining an Ownership Society":

  • "People have known for a long time that individuals take better care of things they own."
  • "Just as homeownership creates responsible homeowners, widespread ownership of other asssets creates responsible citizens. People who are owners feel more dignity, more pride, and more confidence,"
  • "Margaret Thatcher saw that private ownership allows people to profit from improving their property by building on it or otherwise making it more valuable. People can also profit by improving themselves, of course, through education and the development of good habits, as long as they are allowed to reap the profits that come from such improvement."
  • "An ownership society can also improve environmental quality. People take care of things they own, and they're more likely to waste or damage things that are owned by no one in particular. That's why timber companies don't cut all the trees on their land and instead plant new trees to replace the ones they do cut down. "

James A. Glassman asserts in "A Nation of Citizen Voters":

  • The idea behind what the President has called the "Ownership Society" is far larger than any proposal to reform Social Security, or make homebuying easier, or boost the economy by cutting taxes on dividends. Bush wants more ownership because he wants to change the shape of America.
  • If he succeeds, the President may be able to shift the entire foundation of our domestic politics. Today's Entitlement Age, based on New Deal assumptions that discourage economic independence and often place government in a role antagonistic to the private sector, will fade.
  • Dramatically more Americans possess financial wealth now than in the recent past. As recently as 1980, only 4.6 million U.S. households owned mutual funds; by 2003 that figure had roared upward to 53.3 million. More than half of American families currently own stocks, bonds, or real estate. Meanwhile, a record 83 percent of married families now own their own homes.
  • Investors are far more likely to vote than non-investors. We commissioned an exit poll of 1,000 voters in the recent November election and found that 70 percent those casting ballots identified themselves as investors (owners of stocks and bonds, either individually or through mutual funds, in accounts that they themselves manage).
  • In an earlier study conducted just before the election, we found that among respondents under age 50, some 63 percent of investors said that, given a choice, they'd rather put money into a personal account than into payroll taxes. That view was held by 50 percent of non-investors of the same age.

Robert Reich in "What Ownership Society?" states:

  • The Republican "Ownership Society" is hokum. Ownership of America is now more concentrated than since the days of the Robber Barons of the 19th century. The richest 1 percent of America owns more than the the bottom 90 percent put together.
  • An Ownership Society based on the stock market would be a casino. The Bush administration would like you to put your Social Security payments into the stock market, but beware. If your timing is bad, you could find yourself retiring in a bear market. It’s happened before. That’s one of the reasons Social Security—as social insurance—was invented.
  • The Republican rhetoric assumes most Americans can save and invest. The reality is, most Americans are deep in debt. Before they can join the "Ownership Society" they’ve got to pay their credit card bills, their rising variable-rate mortgages and their auto loans. After that, there’s no money left because jobs are in short supply and wages are stuck in the mud.
  • It's true that more than half of American households now own stocks in corporations. But for most, it's just a few thousand dollars worth. And the total value of their current portfolio is less than they invested. They got lured into the stock market during the late '90s when stock prices were pumped up with accounting steroids.

Mark Weisbrot explains in "No Taxes for Owners, Only for Workers":

  • In fact, the problem is the opposite of what Bush asserts. It is that his tax cuts are shifting more of the burden of taxes to middle-class and working-class households.
  • Getting rid of the estate -- that is, inheritance -- tax benefited less than two percent of taxpayers; about half of them got a windfall averaging $3.4 million. Reducing capital gains taxes is another giveaway to the rich, enabling billionaires to pay a lower marginal tax rate on their income from stock sales than that what a nurse or truck driver pays on their wages.
  • The real purpose of the Bush team's tax policy was to rewrite the tax code to create, as Mr. Bush calls it, "an ownership society": one in which owners do not pay taxes, but workers do.

Joshua Holland writes in "Corporate Americans" that "George Bush’s 'Ownership Society' represents a new form of economic populism — a populism born in the Hobbesian belief that we all struggle alone in a world where life is nasty, brutish and short."

David Morris asks "Who Owns What?": "George Bush’s 'ownership society' leaves out the things we actually own — our bodies, our privacy, our dignity, our bedrooms."