Time To Own Up, America: The Dawn Of An Ownership Society

Scott Krummey

Despite the best wishes of those who turn their back to reality, the Bush Administration is poised to accomplish an aggressive second term agenda. The keystone concept for a wave of reforms is developing an Ownership Society in America. It is the boldest initiative since the New Deal (FDR’s vital post-Great Depression economic reconstruction plan). Targeted reforms include social security, taxes, health care, and education – four programs that desperately need a facelift. To properly address the importance of these issues for America’s future, this column will happily embark on an upcoming series of commentary to thoroughly examine each major area of reform. Your columnist, for one, is elated at the prospect of increased Ownership in the upcoming years. Like it or not, this is the beginning of a new chapter in America-the simultaneously anticipated and marauded second edition of the Bush White House. Sure, there are still some yo-yos who refuse to grow up, while in the meantime protesting things like the Inaugural Ball, and each passing day is one closer to the first sight of Hillary ’08 campaign signs (read: Democratic party hits rock bottom). But, the Krummey Truth of the matter is that most Americans are on-board with the Administration to continue on the road to improvement. So what is this business of an Ownership Society all about? In theory, it is a vision consistent with individual liberty, free markets and entrepreneurial capitalism. The concept has been mentioned by the likes of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and (believe it or not) the Founding Fathers. The main theme of an ownership society is that humans generally take best care of the things they own, thereby exercising liberty. Thus, property rights inspire people to act responsibly; to treat one another with dignity and respect; and to create wealth for themselves and others. In reality, moving towards an Ownership Society entails updating sloppy elements of US domestic policies. In 2005, Americans face increasing stress from union-controlled slouching public schools, billowing health care costs, and constant reminders that Uncle Sam might not be able to provide return on decades of social security payments. The reality is that the US is a considerably different place economically, demographically and politically than when these antiquated policies were developed. The response of the Ownership Society is to reform these outdated programs with two themes: accountability and competition. By increasing these, key changes will significantly increase stability and benefit to Americans, and that is the name of the game. As with any reforms, there are potential problems with the transition. For example, as health care and social security are increasingly privatized, reformers must ensure that adequate protection still remains for those who need it. Also, plans must be enacted in a way that minimizes transition period costs that undermine reforms. Further, as these programs grow more complex and specialized, care must be taken not to flood customers with information and options that undermine the value of the system (such as exists with Medicare programs now).These complexities will intensify the debate about Ownership, and such debate is very healthy. What is clear is the need for reform in these vital American programs, and President Bush is bent on pushing towards these ends sooner rather than later. Certainly, in this turbulent (yet pivotal) point in history, we have every reason to be optimistic (and realistic) about the Ownership changes in the future.