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.