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A Real Ownership Society
Robert B. Reich spells out what he thinks would be a real ownership society.

By Robert B. Reich

The below comments are by Robert B. Reich, Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at Brandeis University, and was the secretary of labor under former President Bill Clinton.

I want to be among the first to commend the president for choosing as his major domestic theme the "Ownership Society." What could be more important than giving more Americans an opportunity to own assets and build wealth? The president is obviously concerned that ownership in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it's been since the days of the robber barons in the late 19th century. The richest 1 percent now own as much as the bottom 90 percent put together.

I can't tell you exactly what he'll propose, but if his goal is to spread the wealth I expect he'll acknowledge that the present tax system isn't fair. People earning over half a million dollars a year are subject to the lowest tax rate in more than 50 years, and much of their unearned income isn't being taxed at all. Meanwhile, he'll explain that if you figure in payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, average working Americans are paying more in taxes than ever before. So in the president's Ownership Society, middle and lower-income workers will pay less tax. And this won't bust the budget because he'll reverse course and raise taxes on the rich.

I expect the president will also call for massive new federal investments in education—the key to spreading wealth in the new economy. In the Ownership Society, Washington will spend more on the nation's schools than it now spends on Iraq—starting with universal early childhood education so the minds of toddlers and pre-Ks are ready to learn, followed by smaller classrooms with fewer students and better-paid, highly qualified teachers. And access to college for any young person who can make good use of it, regardless of parental income.

Finally, the president will surprise some by saying he's not in favor of privatizing Social Security after all. That would just line the pockets of Wall Street bankers who'd rake in huge fees managing all those private accounts. No, in the Ownership Society, the first $10,000 of income will be exempt from Social Security taxes—and the president will make up the difference by raising the cap on earnings subject to the tax.

Now I may have some of the details wrong, but assuming the president is serious about creating an Ownership Society, he'll be announcing initiatives just like these. Won't he?

This commentary originally appeared on Marketplace, public radio's only daily business news program. Marketplace is produced by Minnesota Public Radio and is heard on 322 public radio stations nationwide. More online at>

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Date Added: 1/20/2005 Date Revised: 1/20/2005 12:17:43 PM

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