chapter  2
22 Pages

Repoliticizing the Ownership Society and the marketization of security

Since the 1980s, a growing number of middle-class Americans have become increasingly reliant on the stock market to augment and protect their old-age pension savings. This phenomenon is not a natural progression of market forces; but instead, as we will see below, has been constructed and legitimated historically in a complex and often contradictory manner by powerful political and economic interests. Through its bid to partially privatize the Social Security programme, for example, the Bush II administration has sought to widen the scope of the so-called ‘Main Street America’ investor base to include lower-income Americans, who represent the majority of the population (Mishel et al., 2007). The administration has proposed accomplishing this goal by creating tax-free retirement accounts for lower-income individuals, supplementing existing private accounts and establishing government matching of personal contributions to those accounts. The amount of the match would depend on the income of the family and how much family members save. The establishment of voluntary personal retirement accounts would pertain to all workers under the age of 55. Proponents of the plan believe it is not only more efficient in terms of costs to taxpayers, but also that it is more socially just than the existing, state-managed system (New York Times, 2006a). The Social Security programme was designed to advance the ‘economic security of the nation’s people’.1 In its efforts to persuade Americans that privatizing Social Security is a viable, indeed desirable, strategy to save the programme, the Bush II administration leaned heavily on the conceptual battering ram of the ‘Ownership Society’. The Ownership Society embodies all of the virtues of a fully privatized society. According to its supporters, the Ownership Society will help create conditions that empower individuals

by freeing them from dependence on government handouts and making them owners instead, in control of their own lives and destinies. In the Ownership Society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children’s education, and workers control their retirement savings.