That question has generated all manner of controversy and frictions over the years.
Labor bosses, presuming to speak for all union members, maintain that jobs are owned by the workers. Although the claim is seldom made in such plain terms, when unions go out on strike, making use of threat and violence to prevent anyone else from doing the jobs they have just refused to perform, it is evident that both union leaders and members consider jobs to be the property of the unions.
Management, on the other hand, tends to argue just the reverse. Pointing out that it is the company or corporation which does the employing and furnishes the necessary capital involved, management contends that the job belongs to the company or corporation.
Government, of course, goes them all one better. Regulating both employees and employers and taking its "cut" off the top in taxes, government acts on the assumption that it owns, not only the job, but the human beings involved, as well.
What is the truth of the matter? Who, indeed, does own the job?
Well, as usual, when you ask the wrong question, you are likely to get the wrong answer.
In truth, no one owns a job. A job is something to be done, not something to be owned. A job is not property. And only property can be owned.
And that, we believe, puts the entire question into its proper perspective.
We can now ask, not who owns the job, but who owns the property involved and who should control it?
The employee, as the owner of his own body, life and energy, is the only proper authority to decide how his property should be used.
Likewise with the employer. As the owner of the property his capital has bought and paid for (buildings, tools, equipment etc.), he is the only proper authority to decide how his property should be used.
Getting the job done involves a coming together of the two and the use of the property involved on a basis mutually acceptable to the owners concerned.
And how is this accomplished? The process occurs in the market place based on the principle of voluntary exchange — a place where, and a process in which, owners come together and peacefully decide to exchange what is theirs.
Who, then, should do the job? The answer comes fast and clear: The owner who can, and will, do it to the satisfaction of the owner with whom he makes the voluntary exchange; both of whom, in a free market, would be free to seek other owners who might do it better.
Reprinted by permission from the editorial page of the July 21, 1974 edition of The Gazette Telegraph, Colorado Springs, Colorado, published by Freedom Newspapers, Inc. Mr. Grove is editorial writer in charge of the editorial page.