Every adult a share-owner (Shirley R. Letwin & William Letwin, 3/08/24, CapX)

USO would, first of all, give every adult a sense of increased independence in relation to his economic environment, a sense at present confined to a few. Unlike a bank deposit or an insurance policy, a share gives its owner a direct stake and active voice in the management of an enterprise of his choice. It gives its owner a definite relationship to a business. A firm that would otherwise be a remote abstraction – a name, a set of buildings seen from the outside if seen at all, an entity enigmatically discussed in the back pages of the newspaper, an organisation directed by unknown magnates – becomes instead an operation in which the shareholder has a measurable interest, and which, as an active participant, he comes to see more clearly, closer to the inside.

Just as voters in a democracy sense that they exercise some control over how they are governed because they have the power, at the very least, periodically to turn the rascals out, so shareowners acquire an enlarged sense of being in control of their lives. By being a shareowner, a person becomes a freer man.

To value freedom is to hold that every adult ought to have a sense, accurate rather than illusory, of controlling his own life. In the past, certain advocates of free government maintained that nobody could enjoy real political or economic independence unless they owned land. Today, in an industrialised society, this is no longer feasible nor necessary. The ideal of independent proprietor-farmers has yielded to the ideal of a property-owning democracy.

Not all forms of property however can serve that ideal equally well. Title to one’s dwelling – which some 60% of British households now possess, thanks partly to the policies of the present Government – is in many ways desirable and commendable. But it does not give one a direct interest in, or what is more important, a right of control over, productive enterprises. In other words, owning one’s home does not, like owning shares, involve one in public economic life.

Further, the vast majority of British adults own investments in bank accounts, life insurance, unit trusts, and pension funds; and they thereby, though often unknowingly, possess indirect claims on shares owned by such financial intermediaries. But here again, however rewarding such investments are financially, they do not and can not give their owners a sense of enjoying a rightful and potentially active voice in determining the policies of the nation’s enterprises. In short, the ideal form of a property-owning democracy in today’s world is a share-owning democracy.

The future of all American policvies is the past of W.