The Ownership Society (Makes me want to puke)

That’s the title of my new song, as yet unwritten. It harks back to the days when long, parenthetical song titles dotted the top 10. I like to think it’s something Jello Biafra would come up with.

OK, so what is this concept? This is something that the President has been touting, especially in reference to Social Security. But here are some key areas:

* Home ownership — this is the cornerstone of the ownership society. America has one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world — about 2/3 if you believe the CATO Institute. In an ownership society people would all own their own homes, because people take care of what they own. Specifically, this means shifting HUD’s focus from Chapter 8 subsidized apartments to Fanny Mae-style subsidized home loans.

* Medical care — a big Bush policy drive here is the expansion of the Medical Savings Account, something that was available to me when I worked for a government contractor. Basically, instead of (or supplemental to) traditional health insurance, patients can save a portion of their income tax-free to use for medical treatments. The catch is if you don’t use it you lose it. My benefits advisor at my company was intentionally vague on this, but she let me know that the money is simply put back into the company if you decide not to have that kidney surgery.

* Social Security — Here Bush wants to make it so people can take their money and “invest” it. I’m not even going to comment here.

There are other parts to this policy, but you get the idea. Basically he’s saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had the infrastructure of a functioning welfare state, but instead of using tax money we shift that part of the ledger to the individual who will know what to do with it.”

As much as the media reiterate that these changes are really significant, I don’t think they are making it clear enough. Shifting the responsibility for taking care of the old and the ill from the government to the individual is a FUNDAMENTAL change from what we’ve been used to. Until the mid-1990s, there were some solid welfare programs for certain segments of the society, especially single mothers. Then came Welfare reform which shifted a lot of welfare responsibility to the states and placed time limits on how much assistance you can receive (caveat: I only have an extremely general idea of what I’m talking about. Please feel free to correct/clarify what I’m saying). The idea was that those who can work should work, and that it’s not society’s responsibility to foot the bill for some irresponsible people who dont want to work.

Now, with Ownership Society reforms comes the next step: even working people don’t deserve government benefits. They just need the taxation system structured properly so they can make the right decisions with their money.

I see things a different way. Placing “ownership” of things like health care in the hands of individuals is the perfect way to both free companies of the obligation to providing their employees with comprehensive health benefits and avoid any talk about government-funded health care.

The move toward individual “ownership” has manifested itself in the job market, too. Take a look at this job listing:

Elex, Inc. (http://www.elx.iz) is looking for one or more freelancers to do page layout work with Japanese text in the *latest versions* of Quark-J and InDesign on the Macintosh platform. You must already own the necessary software and hardware.

Listings like this are the norm for translators and many other industries: you, the lowest bidder, provide all the expertise and equipment and give us a quality product, and for that we’ll hand over our money. Nothing more. As you all may know, companies are experiencing a vast movement toward “strategic sourcing.” Rather than taking on the vast expense of a full-time employee, companies can find “solutions” to all but the core aspects of the company. There is no more need for full-time, low-level workers because why train them and pay them benefits when they might just quit?

In such a job market one is forced to become what the larger companies want: a small-business aka a “consultant.” You build up your expertise and then sell it to the companies just as you would a haircut.

Now, as a small business, you are required to find health care and all other traditional benefits yourself. Nevermind that you are an undergrad fresh from college with only the most rudimentary marketable skills.

Why does an ownership society make me sick? Because it places everyone at odds with one another. Companies are no longer entities that hire people, EVERYONE is now a corporation, a self-sufficient entity that can rely on no one but themselves to survive.

The major flaw in an ownership society is that a lot of people simply don’t want to have to constantly worry about every little detail of their lives. Full-time employment for qualified workers was supposed to provide some sort of security. I suppose that in the end, as corny as it sounds, people just get in the way of profits. The growth industry these days is making people shrink and productivity grow.

5 thoughts on “The Ownership Society (Makes me want to puke)”

  1. bq. EVERYONE is now a corporation, a self-sufficient entity that can rely on no one but themselves to survive.

    YES!!! That is perfect. I _love_ being my own corporation… And it is so easy to do! If only my government (Canada) would stop taking 40% of my income for other people’s healthcare, a perfectly healthy young man like myself might be able to pay off the money I owe the bank for university.

    But I digress… Ownership society currently is the stuff of early-adopters and pro-consumers. Many people aren’t equipped with the knowledge or _self-confidence_ to be a “self-sufficient entity.” But I think this will change. In fact, it once was the norm before the Industrial Revolution came along, so why can’t we return to a similar model?

  2. Thanks for reading my long rant. Now, don’t get me wrong. I would like nothing better than to be completely self-sufficient and run my own business. And eventually I probably will. What dismays me is that not everyone feels the same way. Call me crazy, but I honestly wouldn’t mind having some good, trusted, full-time employees under my wing. They would be those very people who don’t have the knowledge or self-confidence to be in business for themselves.

    I mean, Canada and Japan might be extreme in some cases when it comes to taxation. But taxation, in my view, is simply the cost of doing business. Without order and peace there would be no way to carry on business as we’ve come to expect it. You and Curzon might see it coming, but I don’t wish anarchy on the world. I want a system that takes care of the weak rather than send them out to pasture.

  3. Oh, and one more thing. I think fundamentally people might be able to get used to the new system. It just might cause some side effects at first — such as nausea.

  4. People can get used to anything, that doesn’t mean that they prefer it.

    Younghusband, aren’t you a freelancer residing in Japan? Does your government actually make you pay income tax on money earned outside of the country? I know the US IRS has an exemption up to something like $75k per year.

  5. Technically since I have been living in Japan for x-amount of years I am exempt from Canadian taxes. I was being a bit rhetorical in my above comment.

    One more thing to add to this:

    bq. An ownership society 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. “Read more here…”:

    The thing I like about the idea of controlling your own health benefits is that freelancers like myself, and people with small businesses have a hell of a time getting all kinds of benefits because we aren’t tied to some huge corporation. This will level the playing field on that level.

    And I doubt that _all_ salaryman-type work opportunities will dry up. This will just make the employment system much more flexible, hopefully allowing more people to say farewell to welfare.

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