The Ownership Society vs the Ownerless Society

Canada Free PressBy Daniel Greenfield Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How do you trick someone into giving you something they have? First you offer them something worthless, while convincing them that it’s actually much better than what they have. Second, you convince them that what they do have is worthless. This is a typical approach used by both con artists and governments.

So one day you’re driving down the street, and you run out of gas. And that’s where a fellow in a shiny hat comes up to you, and asks why you’re bothering to drive cars, and spend money on gas and repairs, when for just 25 dollars a month, you can give up your old clunker and be enrolled in a People’s Collective Motor Pool, which will always be available when you want it, and extend the benefits of transportation to those who don’t own cars.

Of course the 25 dollars a month quickly turns into 50 and then a 100 dollars, and there are never enough available cars in the pool, the waiting period to actually get to where you want is many times what it used to be when you owned your own car—and the only people benefiting from the system are the ones who run the People’s Collective Motor Pool, where a statue of the fellow in the shiny hat stands in the parking lot, lauding him for the wonderful contribution to mankind he made to mankind by convincing everyone to give up their cars.

This is how the game is played. To turn an “Ownership Society” into an “Ownerless Society”, you have to convince people that they’ll be much better off having their possessions in a common pool than actually owning anything themselves. This is tricky, because Wealth Redistribution is hard to sell to people who are owners.

Remember the Beatles song, “Taxman” that’s played every April in the US? It was written by George Harrison, when he realized that he could be an owner, but was being robbed by the government instead. “‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and still is typical.” Becoming an owner has turned many a liberal, to thinking right wing thoughts. Getting mugged by the realization that the system is designed to deprive you of the proceeds of your work will do that to you.

Once you can afford a car, the People’s Collective Motor Pool doesn’t look very attractive anymore. Which is why the left has had a lot more trouble selling the “Ownerless Society” in prosperous Western countries than they did in Russia or Third World backwaters. While Karl Marx had anticipated a Western European revolution, Communists did their best business in countries with a small or virtually no middle class, ruled over by tyrants and oligarchies that deprived ordinary people of economic mobility.

That is why America, a nation built on the possibilities of economic mobility, was always their greatest challenge and threat. Because while workers in the Third World might have no real hope or aspirations beyond a revolution that promises to put them in charge (or emigrating to America), American workers always had the promise of economic mobility. The kind of mobility that could make a Carnegie into an economic titan. In the countries where Communism thrived, work meant senseless and meaningless labor, while success meant bribing or stealing your way to the top. In America, work actually could translate into success. Which meant that Communism’s promises of collective prosperity had nothing to offer.

And so despite its “working class” posing, the left long ago discovered that there was no real future in organizing workers. It was to be only a sideline at best. Instead it had to organize the middle class. This was a daunting proposition because while the middle class was the source of revolution, left wing dogma depended on using “oppressed workers” to conduct overthrows. The bourgeois were anathema to it. They were the definition of the “ownership society”, the people who believed in prosperity through hard work and owning their own cars. Sure, their disaffected children were useful for handing out leaflets and planting bombs, but only because they were motivated by that same hatred of the middle class.

Still, as the left institutionalized, it understood that to win, it had to gradually convince the “middle class” that what they had was worthless, and that security could only come from collective ownership. The ObamaCare debate is a classic example of the left preying on middle class fears about security (with a subtle dose of guilt about the less well off to make the case seem like a moral one) and promising them “ownerlessness” as the preferred alternative to self-reliance.

Unlike his mentor, the not particularly reverend, Jeremiah Wright—Barack Hussein Obama avoided harsh direct attacks on “middle-classness”. His community organizer background had taught him to convince people that his approach would empower them, rather than admit that he was trying to deprive them of opportunities and tear them down. So he focused instead on the unpredictability of self-reliance, and the benefits of an ownerless system in which everyone can “drive the car”. While his tame media blasted existing health care as worthless (think of how much gas costs, and all those repairs) and touted the wonders of a system in which everyone would have all the health care they wanted (except Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays). This was in tune with the same two pronged approach of arguing that an ownership society is worthless and an ownerless society provides infinite benefits through “pooled resources”.

But to the disappointment of the man in the shiny hat, people still felt safer being able to drive their own cars, because as part of an ownership society, they understood that security comes from ownership, not from collectivism. America was built on security through ownership and on success through economic mobility. And so most people would rather own, than have access to a shared pool of resources. Obama still got his way, but he didn’t do it by making his case to the people, but by ramming it through his politicians. That forced him to rule through tyranny, rather than propaganda. And people in an ownership society don’t like tyranny, because they have a Constitution that says they own the system. Not that the system owns them.

That, of course, is the hidden clause in the ownerless society; that it is not about owning, but about being owned. That participating in the system means that you are now owned by the system, which can dictate to you as it wishes. You can either own the system or the system owns you. The Founders understood that; So does the modern day left, working at cross-purposes with them because while the Founders wanted Americans to own their system of government, the left wants their system to own all Americans. And the entire world beyond.

That is why the left fears the Ownership Society, for the same reason that all tyrants fear freedom. The Ownership Society is the only tool that genuinely changes the balance of power, because it gives people the freedom to take control of their lives and change their circumstances. The tyranny of the left is built on convincing people that they have no freedom and no hope, that they can never be owners and that ownership is too dangerous and too much of a burden anyway. That they should just embrace the collective and gain security through by submitting to the system that decides what resources they have access to and when they have access to it.

Where the Ownership Society empowered people through economic mobility, the Ownerless society removes economic mobility through regulation, and replaces it with resource control that determines who gets what. This modern form of feudalism creates a new class of lords and a new class of peasants, and while both may use high end technology, the nature of the system is directed from the top down, and freedom vanishes like water into an open drain, leaving only lives directed by a vast inflexible bureaucracy. In the Ownership Society, power can be traded and achieved through economic activity. In the Ownerless Society, it can only be achieved by being the regulator, rather than the regulated. By joining the Party, the Union and staying on the right side of those who make the rules for everyone else to keep.

The Ownerless Society is tyranny in the name of the common good, but in reality, like every tyranny, it exists only for the benefit of a few, at the expense of the many. But its seduction is based on the promise of everything for everyone, when it’s really more like nothing for no one. And so one must ask whether the common good is really served by a population of owners or a population of the ownerless. Whether prosperity, medicine, shelter and food are more abundant in ownership or ownerless societies. A quick look around the world answers that question. The degree of economic mobility in a society is tied in with its standard of living. While the Have Nots are actually much more abundant in societies that rely on collectivist strategies, on the tribe and the tyrant.

Obama is the left’s latest shot across the bow of the world’s greatest free market economy, here to market socialism with a human face. To make the idea of a vast bureaucracy running your life seem soft and pleasant again. To sell the middle class on the false notion that the People’s Collective Motor Pool is better than owning your own car and having to fix it and gas it up all the time; But the left has been great the marketing the packaging, but terrible at actually selling the product inside. Obama is the packaging, but his socialist policies are the product inside. Unsurprisingly, Obama has remained marginally more popular than his product; But that just testifies to the degree of socialism’s unpopularity for owners.

The left has done its best to position this as a battle between the owners and the ownerless, which is why they lost the ideological war. Again. Most Americans want to be the owners, not the ownerless. They believe in aspiration through economic mobility, rather than in hitting the lowest economic common denominator in the name of rigidly regulated equality. While unions and minimum wages and economic regulation have become a staple of public life, Americans are still not ready to commit exclusively to the ownerless society. And that is our best hope for freedom yet.