Wrong path to an 'ownership society'

July 13, 2005

President George Bush has placed the ideal of an "ownership society" high on the national agenda by proposing to have Americans "own" their health plans and "own" a piece of their retirement. However, a trio of policy experts warns that he has veered far off the path to true economic security. In Building a Real "Ownership Society," a new publication from The Century Foundation, the interdisciplinary team of scholars from Brandeis University applauds President Bush for espousing an ownership society, but concludes that his policies contradict his ideals and are leading the country away from the very goal that he says he wants to achieve.

The authors of the publication are all on the faculty of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis and work at its Institute on Assets and Social Policy. J. Larry Brown directs the Institute and hold the position of distinguished scientist; Robert Kuttner, coeditor of the American Prospect, is a visiting scholar; and Thomas M. Shapiro is the Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy.

According to the authors, 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. They say, however, that 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. Analyzing how risks have shifted in a variety of policy areas including health, pensions, housing, education, and jobs, they conclude that the wrong sort of ownership society can actually make Americans less financially secure, less socially mobile, and less independent.

In addition, the authors of Building a Real "Ownership Society" discuss how government policies such as Social Security, the G.I. Bill, the Federal Housing Administration, education grants and loans, and home mortgage deduction helped create a middle class and encouraged more ownership. They believe that a true ownership society requires more social investments to build the middle class, not more privatization and individual risk as the president proposes.

"There are two distinct narratives about how to build financial security for Americans, one being broader social investments based on programs like Social Security and the G.I. Bill, the other is the Bush privatization and individual risk model," said J. Larry Brown. "One provides a chance to build a stronger middle class and the other places individuals solely on their own."
The Institute on Assets and Social Policy works to help broaden wealth, reduce inequality, and improve the social and economic well-being of American households by fostering the adoption of an asset policy framework through research, analysis, education, and public engagement The authors are available for interviews. For more information or complimentary press copies of this publication, contact Christy Hicks at The Century Foundation (212-452-7723 or hicks@tcf.org) or Laura Gardner at Brandeis University (781-736-4204 or gardner@brandeis.edu.)

Building a Real "Ownership Society"
Sponsored by The Century Foundation and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy
The Century Foundation Press
August, 6 x 9, 64 pages
paper, 0-87078-496-X, $9.95
To order call 1-800-552-5450
In Washington D.C. 202-797-6258

Brandeis University

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