Public ownership and government control are synonymous terms—two ways of expressing an identical concept.
The popular notion is that a resource or service is the possession of we, the people, when it is under government ownership and dispensation, and that we, the people, are objects of exploitation when resources are under private ownership and willing exchange. Socialism—public ownership—will continue to expand as long as this notion dominates.
Had our Indians followed the Brazilian type of logic, they could have exclaimed, 500 years ago, "The oil is ours," even though they were unaware of this untapped resource. Or, to suggest a comparable absurdity, we can, after planting the American flag on the moon, claim that satellite to be "ours." I only ask, what’s the point in avowing ownership of any unavailable resource or service?
Public ownership, so-called, contrary to popular notions, is definitely not we-the-people ownership. If it were, we could exchange our share in TVA or the Post Office for dollars, just as we can exchange a share of corporation stock for dollars.
At least two conditions are necessary for ownership to exist: (1) having title, and (2) having control. In
While in some vague way "we, the people," are supposed to have title to TVA, for instance, we have not even a vestige of control. I no more control that socialistic venture in power and light than I control the orbiting of men into outer space. "But," some will counter, "neither do you control the corporation in which you hold stock." True, I do not perform the managerial function, but I do control whether or not I’ll retain or sell the stock, which is to say, I control whether or not I will share in the gains or losses. Further, I am free to choose whether or not to work for the corporation or to buy or refrain from buying its products. My control in the nongovernmental corporate arrangement is very real, indeed.
Who, then, does control and thus own TVA, the Post Office, and the like? At best, it is a nebulous, shifting control—often difficult to identify. Rooted in political plunder, government ownership and operation is an irresponsible control; that is, there is never a responsibility in precise alignment with authority. The mayor of a city may have complete authority over the socialized water system, but responsibility for failure is by no means commensurately assumed by him. He "passes the buck," as they say. Most people crave authority provided responsibility doesn’t go with it. This explains, in part, why political office is so attractive and why "we, the people," do not even remotely own what is held in the name of public ownership.
One truly owns those things to which he holds exclusive title and exclusive control, and for which he has responsibility. Let any American inventory his possessions. These will be, preponderantly, those goods and services obtained from private sources in open exchange: power and light, cameras, autos, gasoline, or any of the millions of goods and services by which we live. The things that are privately owned by others are far more available for one’s own title and control than is the case in "public ownership."
Public ownership often creates distracting and, at the same time, attractive illusions. For instance, people served by TVA are using twice as much power and light as the national average. Why? TVA charges less than half the price. Because of lower production costs? Indeed, not! The rest of us around the nation are taxed to cover the TVA deficit. But power and light acquired in this manner can no more classify as "ours" than can any good or service forcibly extorted from true owners. To grasp what this socialism means if applied to everything, merely take a look at the Russian "economy."
Or take another example: The political head of
If private availability—ownership in the sense of use, title, control—is what interests us, then we will do well to preserve private ownership and an open, willing-exchange market. For proof, merely take a look in the gas tank, or the closet, or the garage, or the pot on the stove!
Reprints available at 2¢ each.
Problems of Compulsion
Amending the Social Security Act to exempt the Amish from coverage and taxation, on grounds that insurance is contrary to their religion, embraces the idea that different laws shall apply to different religions.
Personally, I want the same law to apply to all—regardless of religion or race. But if that concept of justice is to prevail in the
If Social Security were voluntary instead of compulsory—and if all its costs were paid by those who choose to join—Congress would not be faced with this issue of different laws for different religions.