The “ownership society” …

… is a bad idea if it means a society that treats non-owners like dirt.

… will obviously be a major Bushite theme for the next few months, at least. I’m sympathetic to the idea that spreading the benefits of ownership more broadly would have personal and social benefits. The current distribution of wealth is much more lopsided than the distribution of income. Moreover, at any given income level, African-Americans have much less wealth than whites. Those are big problems, and worthy of big solutions.

But ownership brings with it risk. Risk-taking is indeed a vehicle of economic dynamism, but risk itself is always bad. Increased economic insecurity seems to be a fact; it would be absurd to make it into a policy goal.

Indeed, one way to encourage risk-taking at an individual level is to have a strong safety net, so that someone who quits his job to start a business doesn’t have to worry that his kids won’t be able to get high-quality medical care, or go to college, if the business fails (as most do).

So should liberals be in favor of an “ownership society”? If that means a society where public policy supports and encourages wealth formation at every economic level, absolutely. If it means a society where only owners are full citizens, and non-owners are treated like dirt, absolutely not.

Now what we need is a leader who can communicate that simple point to the voters.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

One thought on “The “ownership society” …”

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