The Missed Opportunity of George W. Bush’s ‘Ownership Society’ (Kevin D. Williamson, Dec 22, 2023, The Dispatch)


The Wall Street Journal reports: “More Americans than ever own stocks.” In fact, a majority of U.S. households—58 percent—are corporate shareholders, either directly or indirectly through retirement accounts or managed funds. That is up from 53 percent in 2019—many Americans became investors, or more active investors, during the COVID-19 shutdowns and disruptions: Not all of those stimulus checks were spent on rare whisky and expensive sneakers.

One way of understanding the “ownership society” is this: The best way to spread the wealth is to spread the wealth.

If you are concerned that returns to labor are not keeping pace with returns to investment, then you could try to goose the labor market in various ways and pray to the gods of central planning that the unintended consequences of your monkeying around do not cost more than the value of whatever benefits you are able to achieve. Alternatively, you could encourage people who work for wages and salaries to invest in equity—and here I do not mean equity as the social-justice knuckleheads use the word but real equity—so that returns to capital end up in their pockets. Progressives talk about “putting people over profits,” but the “ownership society” understands that the relationship is not, or need not be, fundamentally rivalrous.

Napoleon supposedly spat that England is “a nation of shopkeepers,” being so ensorcelled by the prospect of la gloire that he could not appreciate what a fine thing it was to be a nation of shopkeepers—thrifty, prudent, commercial, not given to urgent enthusiasms. To be a nation of shareholders would be a very fine thing as well, for similar reasons.

We have, of course, been doing this with some success for many years, not only in the United States but around the world, with a great share of the world’s business enterprises being owned not by men with pinstriped suits and manicures but by ordinary people of ordinary means, in large part through retirement accounts and similar funds. The top 20 worldwide owners of assets—which hold something on the order of $27 trillion in investments—include the Government Pensions Investment Fund of Japan (which has long been at the top of the list), the Government Pension Fund of Norway, and the National Pension of South Korea, along with such U.S. representatives as the Federal Retirement Thrift and the public employees of California. The typical corporate shareholder in the United States does not look like Gordon Gekko—more like a retired teacher from Sacramento departing Port Canaveral on a weeklong cruise.