Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Every working person dreams of sharing in the nation's wealth, of owning their own home and controlling their own future. That dream is the hook on which President Bush's Ownership Society hangs — it's a visceral appeal to our naked self-interest. And even if you live on a commune, there's something compelling about relying on your own strong back and standing on your own two feet — forget about social contracts, collective risk and safety nets.
The Ownership Society represents a new form of distinctly right-wing economic populism. It turns the notion on its head; while liberals offer a populism that promises underserved groups that "We will stand with you against the heartless and powerful," the central theme of the Ownership Society is that we're all big capitalists just waiting to blossom — even the lowliest among us. If only we could get the yoke of taxes, asbestos litigation and regulations off our backs we would all be in a position to worry about losing a piece of our multi-million dollar estate to the "death tax." Forget about a semblance of economic justice, it's about giving you, the individual, the tools you need to beat your neighbor. And if you can't beat him, he'll beat you. It's a populism born in the Hobbesian belief that we all struggle alone in a world where life is nasty, brutish and short.
This is Bush's narrative that winds its way through cradle-to-grave issues as diverse as the move from universal public education to school vouchers, transitioning from Medicare to Health Savings Accounts and privatizing Social Security. The Ownership Society touches almost every major social program we've enacted since the New Deal.
Of course, the Ownership Society's policies — which President Bush will be selling hard in the coming months — won't do anything to add to the wealth of average families. As Lew Rockwell, founder of the Libertarian Mises Institute wrote in an e-mail, "The Ownership Society has become the rhetorical mask for the newest form of right-wing central planning." We know from experience how that impacts ordinary Americans.