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   Vol. 69/No. 18           May 9, 2005  
The owndebtorship society
In his speech to the Republican convention in New York last September, President George Bush promised to foster an “ownership society” in the United States. A society where health care, pensions, home ownership—you name it—are a private matter between you and your bank account. A “nest egg” of savings, investment, and property that guarantees economic security and is free from government interference.

But from the look of things, as the trends of the last two decades continue, for working people this “ownership society” is increasingly a debtorship society.

The banks, mortgage brokers, auto loan sharks, and credit card companies have more and more ownership over things that working people consider ours. As real wages decline, pensions shrink, and hospital bills and rents skyrocket, those of us who own nothing but our labor power are finding out that all we hold is a growing burden of debt. Working farmers are even more subject to debt slavery—and to losing their land.

As a percentage of disposable income—personal income minus taxes—household debt in the United States has risen from 60 percent in 1984 to a whopping 115 percent today.

In Bush’s convention speech he bragged that “home ownership in America is at an all-time high.”

He forgot to add that the homeowner whose share is growing fastest is the bank.

Since 1995, home prices have risen much faster than the rate of inflation, while the average percentage of the market value of a home paid off to the bank or finance company—equity—is at an all-time low of 55 percent.

That’s the ownership society for you—ownership for the rich, while working people are owners in name only.

“More people will own their own health plans and have the confidence of owning a piece of their retirement,” the president said last September.

About half of the nearly 1.6 million personal bankruptcies in 2001 were due to crushing medical expenses. Is that what owning your own health plan means? Not to mention what we will face when the growing capitalist crisis leads to a financial collapse and millions are thrown out of work.

The new bankruptcy law is aimed primarily at making it harder for working people to get out from under these debts. It is a cash bonanza for the owners of the auto finance companies, credit card companies, and other lenders. At the same time, it leaves a million little “millionaire’s loopholes” to keep their wealth from being touched by creditors.

Bush said that “ownership brings security and dignity and independence.”

It seems, however, that given the disaster capitalism has in store for us, working people are going to have to find another road to become secure, dignified, and independent.

How about the Utah coal miners who have been fighting a year-and-a-half-long battle for a union? They are fighting for security, dignity, and independence. Not by buying into the dog-eat-dog propaganda that the bosses use to divide us, but by learning that working-class solidarity is the only road to winning such a future.

Ask the Westchester, New York, bus drivers about owning your own retirement. They waged a strike for 48 days against bitter opposition by the bosses and, by sticking together, won a three-year reduction in the age when they can retire with a full pension.

Through these struggles, working people learn there is no individual way out of this disaster for our class. If we place our hopes in bankruptcy court, or a government labor board, or a Democratic Party snake-oil salesman instead of a Republican one, we will always end up holding the short end of the stick. Those all serve the bosses, not workers and farmers.

The “ownership society” is in reality a capitalist society. It’s a class-divided set-up in which a small number of propertied families own the factories, mines, railroads, and land—the means of production—and control the government and all its agencies. Meanwhile, workers and farmers, who produce the wealth, are the ones who bear the brunt of the economic and social catastrophe of capitalism.

The only road to a secure and dignified future for working people—both here and around the world—is to rely entirely on our own strength, our organizations, and our unity. To fight together to rid ourselves of this decaying, crisis-ridden profit system, putting the government and the ownership of the economy in the hands of workers and farmers.
Related articles:
U.S. gov’t curbs personal bankruptcy protection  
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