The ideal of an “ownership society” is deeply rooted in the American psyche. Americans have long associated ownership of homes, farms, and businesses with independence, security, and dignity. President Bush recently proposed several initiatives that expand this idea of ownership, promoting policy that will allow Americans to “own” their health plans or “own” a piece of their retirement.
Ironically, this push for an ownership society comes at a time when government social investments and protective regulations are being reduced and when a variety of risks are being shifted from institutions onto individuals. In this context, the wrong sort of ownership society actually may make Americans less secure and less independent. Nonetheless, the president has put the ideal of a society of owners front and center in national debate. The authors of Building a Real “Ownership Society” argue that, while we can all agree on that goal, we need a full debate about the means.