Framed: Ownership Society

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"Ownership Society"

This page contains a summary and refinement of ideas presented in the diary and comments of the DailyKos diary Frameshop: Ownership Society (HOLIDAY ADVISORY!). It is intentionally inclusive, since its purpose is to continue stimulating ideas. Therefore, please be very sparing in deleting anything. Rephrasing, refining and additions are most welcome.

The Problem

Feldman states:

The phrase "Ownership Society" is an umbrella phrase, the big picture concept behind all social program reforms to be proposed by the Bush administration. The basic premise of an ownership society is that individuals--not "big government"--are responsible for themselves. According to this flawed conservative vision, if the country dismantles all social programs and "returns" both tax money and social responsibility to individuals, the net result will be an general increase in "liberty" and a brighter future for all. This logic is flawed. President Bush and the Conservative movement do not want to increase liberty and create a brighter future for all. The goal of the Bush administration is to dismantle the social welfare state because they believe that social programs unfairly burden the wealthy and privilege the poor (viewed as weak by the conservative movement). The real motivation behind the push for an "ownership society" is to eliminate all barriers to unregulated free markets, allowing unlimited concentration of wealth, and the emergence of an American aristocratic permanent ruling class.

The Power and the Purpose

As Feldman points out:

The phrase "Ownership Society" is a very powerful metaphor, because it invokes a noble vision of an America where everyone owns their own home. When we imagine ourselves as home owners, we imagine ourselves happy, warm and secure. The "Ownership Society" concept is a broad strategic initiative designed to convince Americans that government programs to help the poor, the indigent, and the disadvantaged are the real problems preventing them from realize the dream of home ownership and a secure future.

The Reality

The most valuable thing that most Americans own is their home--if they are lucky enough to be homeowners. Home ownership is the de facto prototype for the "Ownership Society." Therefore, it is instructive to consider the historical reality of home ownership in America.

Home ownership was relatively rare before the 1930s. During the Great Depression, the Roosevelt Administration dramatically restructured the housing market, creating a new financial instrument--the long-term mortage--which dramatically lowered down payments and monthly payments, thus vastly expanding the number of people who could potentially afford to buy homes. During World War II, another great step in home ownership was laid in the form of the GI Bill, which enabled veterans both to get a college education, and to buy homes on extremely favorable terms.

Thus it was big government, under FDR, the most liberal President in American history, which created the conditions that made home ownership possible as a mass phenomena.

Re-Aligning the Frame

Other points made in Feldman’s diary:

  • Liberty is about "Opportunity", not Ownership
  • "Ownership Society" Is GOP-Speak For "Deregulated Markets": Conservatives talk about ownership without bothering to talk about how the under advantage will become owners. This is dangerous. It spreads the false idea that ownership is the pure product of hard work, rather than the result of well managed social and economic opportunity.
  • An "Ownership Society" Would Be Ruled by Aristocrats and Kings: Who's the symbol of an ownership society? The King of England, that's who. The framers of our constitution understood that in order for everyone to have opportunity, government must insure equal opportunity for all by limiting the ability of a few wealthy owners to slowly amass the majority of the nations wealth. Conservatives disagree with this vision held by the very founders of this country.
  • "Ownership Society" Doesn't Mean You'll Be Able To Own a Home: It means that you'll have an increasingly difficult time buying that first home because there will be no regulations in the market. Ownership will be the exclusive domain of those who already have equity--either through inheritance, access to corporate wealth, or through personal gain. To be against Bush's "ownership society" is actually to be FOR the rights of first home buyers.
  • America Is the Land of Opportunity for Everyone, Not a Land Where a Few Wealthy People Own Everything: When Americans think about "Liberty" they don't think about ownership, they think about the Statue of Liberty. Nobody can own liberty because it only result from freedom and opportunity for all, not the amassing of wealth.

Responses

  • Use the "Land of Opportunity" frame symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. To undermine the GOP vision--particularly during the Holiday season--link the "Ownership Society" model to the nightmare sequence in the movie It's a Wonderful Life:
  • We combat "ownership society" by pointing out who exactly owns us.
  • Every time they talk about the ownership society, we say something like: "Hah, that's just code for the rich-get-richer society/rich-own-everything society they're trying to put in place."
  • An "ownership society” is a “country club."
  • Don't you mean “credit card debt society”?
  • That’s the very thing the framers of the Constitution tried to protect us from!
  • Yeah, George W. Bush is king of the ownership society.
  • Owned Society: As opposed to a free society. Americans want to live in a free society, not an owned society. But that's what Bush's "ownership society" would actually be: a society where everything is property owned by someone, and nothing is left in common for the good of all. And since the top 1% owns 40% of everything, and the bottom 40% owns less than 1%, eliminating what we hold in common would only make the rich that much richer. They're the ones who would be the owners of the owned society.
  • The “You're on your Own”-ership Society or the “You're on Your Own” Society.
  • Trading the social safety net for a social safety bet. How safe is that? (Also, see rap below.)
  • Insecurity Society
  • Debtorship Society -- I don't own my home, my bank owns it. I don't own my car. If I decided I completely owned it and stopped making payments, how long would it sit in my driveway? Even those of us who think of ourselves as homeowners or car owners are not. Try missing a payment and see how long you "own" your assets.
  • Indentureship Society
  • “Rent-to-own" Society -- Always paying, never owning.
  • Get-Rich-Quick Society -- It sounds too good to be true. And it is!
  • Corporate Ownership Society
  • Owners' society -- Meaning those who own everything get to run society.
  • “If-You-Own-A-Ship” Society -- If you own a ship, this society's for you. If not.... “Sorry, we sold off all the lifeboats!”
  • Silver Spoon Society
  • Rich-get-richer Society
  • Foreclosure Society: "Foreclosure" will soon be a familiar word to the millions of Americans who will be unable to make their mortgage payments when the interest rates start to climb. An online dictionary defines "foreclose" as "to bar or hinder somebody or something." The Bush Administration has foreclosed any hope for economic and personal advancement for ordinary Americans.
  • Slave Ownership Society or Feudal Society: When this is all over, working-folks will be working harder to support their families (as well as the government), while those who "earn" their wealth through inheritance and corporate dividends get the benefit. This is serfdom--one step above slavery. Serf's Up!
  • Plantation Owner Society: More subtle than using the "slave owner" term, but everyone will get what we mean. Using the word "slave" is a bit over the top, and somebody will start screaming "racists!" even though we're rightfully pointing out that the GOP's plans are racist.
  • Hacienda Owner Society: This Hispanic/Latino version of the Plantation Owner Society. Dovetails nicely with the Banana Republican phrase--that's what Latin American immigrants are trying to get away from.
  • Risk Ownership Society: A more real reflection of what the Republican intent is. They want us to take on the risk of our own retirement, our own medical care, and our own job searchs, among other things. Right now, government cushions us against the harshest blows. If they get their way, that will end, and we will be buffeted in the winds of economic change, with only our own resources to help us.
  • Pawn Shop society. It rings close - ownership/pawn shop. It gives it a very lowdown connotation, and is also accurate for today's home buyers, who have been seduced into home equity loans, a potential ticking time bomb. When interest rates go up, so many people are going to realize that it's as if they have pawned their homes. The Pawn Shop Society - "ownership" is just a step away from foreclosure! (See Potential Ad, below.)
  • Enron-omic Society / Enron-O-Magic Society / Enron Secret Society: Remember what happened to the 401K (private accounts) of employees of Enron?

Come-Backs

An "Ownership Society" is great... as long as you're not the person that is owned.

In George W. Bush's "Ownership Society" we'll all be slaves on the corporate plantation.

The Confederacy was an ownership society.

Any time a Republican on TV talks about "Bush's Ownership Society" a Democrat should reply, "Well, I don't think a return to slavery is good for the country..."

The "Ownership Society" means "YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN, BABY!"

The "Ownership Society" benefits the owners. How much of our society do you own?

The "Ownership Society" benefits the owners. Who owns you?

The Ownership Society = they own us.

Bush really means an "Owners' society." Meaning those who own everything get to run society.

Contrasting Visions

Opportunity Society: We aim for the day that no matter what your family owned when you were born, you are entitled to the opportunity to work and receive a good wage for that work. We don't support special benefits for the families that do nothing but let their money sit and make more money.

Land of Opportunity: Avoids echoing the "society" in "ownership society" and harkens directly to the Statue of Liberty, patriotism, etc.

Economic Democracy: Reminds people that the Democratic ideal of a fair and honest free market that fights corruption and near-monopolies works better than the Republican frame of free, no-regulation markets of crony capitalism and backroom deals.

In an Economic Democracy:

  • The financial future of average Americans is not owned by the corporate elite.
  • You have the freedom to be successful by working hard.
  • A small business gets the same breaks as conglomerates like Wal-Mart.
  • You are not owned by a corporation because you need health insurance.
  • You are not owned by your creditors because they operate using fair practices that ultimately strengthen our Economic Democracy.

Partnership Society: See the rap below.

Reward culture: As in rewards for hard work, commitment, dedication.

Just Society: spelled out as distributional justice.

Fair Society: as in obtaining a fair wage for work. Might be a bit old-fashioned though.

Stakeholder Society: It mirrors the ownership society, but as opposed to focusing on what is owned, it focuses on interest. Say the interest in clean air and water, or other environmental issues. This can also apply to labor issues, where workers have a stake in fair wages and single-payer healthcare. It can also have a national security element to it - after all, who doesn't have a stake in a secure nation. And ownership does not extend to public goods like security.

Shareholder Society In America, all of us are already shareholders--responsible for the good of the whole and deserving of the benefits of our common prosperity, such as Social Security. The term sharing is designed to evoke a more communal spirit than the term "ownership," but "shareholder" could be a double-edged sword.

Raps

"You're on Your Own"-ership Society vs. Partnership Society

What Bush is really talking about is a "You're on Your Own"-ership Society. It's great for people who have a lot of money--especially those that inherit it. But it's not so good for the rest of us, and it's downright terrible for the country as a whole.

Do you know how America became a nation of homeowners? During the Great Depression, FDR changed the rules about how mortgage markets worked. Instead of 5-year mortgages, the market was restructured around 20-year and 30-year mortgages. Down payments went way down, monthly payments went way down, home ownership went way up. That was government in partnership with people.

We need more of that today. We need a Partnership Society, not a "You're on Your Own"-ership Society. We may need new ways to do it, along with, or even instead of the old. But America has always been a partnership when it has been at its best. That still hasn't changed. And it never will.

Ownership Of What?

Ownership of our bodies? Apparently that is one area where they DO want gov't to intrude and take ownership - of our reproductive system.

We Own, They Manage

In the past, ownership of shares of public companies was largely limited to the well-to-do. Stockholders merited respect and devotion (fiduciary duty etc.)

Now the true ruling class is controlling companies by managing them. Larger and larger part of net profits is taken away from the stockholders to pay the rapidly increasing salaries of the managers, as well as assorted extra-ordinary payments. The larger part of common stock that is owned by small investors, the easier it is to manipulate them.

The future lies in owning mutual funds of stocks, and have overpaid managers of mutual funds defending our rights against overpaid managers of the companies. The cost of having all of that management will be higher than whatever profits will trickle down to the "owners".

You can't buy enough to matter

The "ownership society" isn't about someone trying to sell you a piece of "society", it's about who already owns everything. Sure, you can buy a piece, but you'll own such a small piece as to be negligible. It's like voting in a publicly traded company; the shareholders vote and get as many votes as they have shares. Anyone can buy a piece of a publicly traded company and vote their shares, but only people with a large enough stake really count.

That's the fraud of the "ownership society", they'll tell you how everyone can own a piece, they won't tell you how you still won't really matter because of course it's only fair that those who own a bigger piece have a bigger say.

Potential Ads

The Pawnshop Society


Visual: The camera zooms into one of those really sleazy pawn shops, on a dark and dingy street.

Voiceover: The Pawn Shop Society

Visual: And right there people are signing papers for a home equity loan.

Voiceover: "Ownership" is just a step away from foreclosure! Our national debt is skyrocketing.

Visual: Picture [faded picture postcard style] of pawn shop in the Orient.

Voiceover: Our nation is in hock! It's out of control!

Visual: Back to couple in pawn shop. Camera zooms slowly past couple signing papers...

Voiceover: Bush has pawned our future, our social safety net.

Visual: ...And comes to rest focused on a dusty shelf. Sitting there are: Medicare and Social Security.

Woman's voice: Oh, look, darling! Remember those? Maybe we should have kept them.

Other Resources To Draw On

Rhetorical

These may not be direct responses, but help to direct our thinking in ways we want to go.

Positive:

  • Howard Dean's "American Restoration" frame.
  • Barn-raising as imagery/example of partnership society.
  • NFL Capitalism A slogan of the NFL is that 'on any given Sunday,' any team could win. This is done by forcing the strongest teams to share income and talent with those who are the weakest. Translation:
    • Maximum responsibility for the strong
    • Maximum support for the weak
    • Maximum freedom for everyone in between.

Negative:

  • Pottersville, from "It's A Wonderful Life."
  • Pass-the-buck-onomics
  • Enron-omics

Contrasting:

  • Republicans want to make sure the rich can buy a second home. Democrats want to make sure everyone has a place at the kitchen table.

Factual

How much of our society do you own?

How concentrated is wealth in the United States?

Distribution of Net Worth, 1998

Percentile This % of Owns this %

              the population    of the wealth
99-100%            1%               38.10%
96-99%             4%               21.30%
90-95%             5%               11.50%
80-89%            10%               12.50%
60-79%            20%               11.90%
40-59%            20%                4.50%
1-40%             40%                0.20%

Source: Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1998," April 2000. Table 2. Available at Jerome Levy Economics Institute.

Their pie chart is a better representation of this gross discrepancy in wealth but here is the data in table form:

No wonder they need those tax cuts, the top 1% is only 190.5 times richer than 120,000,000 Americans. I think the French started a Revolution over smaller discrepancies.

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