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.


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.