The Investor Class
The President, in attempting to sell private accounts as a part of his Social Security plan, has asked, “Why should people not be able to own and manage their own assets, who are not the investor class.” I suppose the problem is really one of perspective. The difference in perspective is that between those who believe that everything they have accumulated in their lives is solely due to their ingenuity and industry and those who realize that, regardless of their industry and ingenuity, much of what they have been able to achieve is a resultant of the commons within which they operate.
What do we owe back to this commons? Should we expect to benefit from it yet feel ill used when obliged to contribute to its continuity so others might likewise prosper? Even discounting the potential prosperity which it may bring, and regardless of our individual lack of current need for economic security, without which real liberty is meaningless, there remains the social responsibility of caring for “the least of these.” I use that term in its economic and perceptual context rather than as an actual measure of human value. We have collectively agreed to be guided, not by some invisible hand, but rather by the very real, present and tangible responsibility that we share for each other. We have collectively agreed that all should be afforded those things minimally required to make a good life for themselves. Whose assets are those we have acquired? To be sure, we have a right to that which we, solely by our own efforts, have acquired. Where is that line, however, which divides what we have acquired by virtue of our individual acumen and that which could not have been gained apart from the benefit of the commons?
Social security is an integral part of that commons. It is a commons where no neighbor tells another that their misfortune is not their concern. It is a commons in which we all realize the mutual benefit derived from caring for the least of these. It is a commons where everyone’s voice is heard, not simply the voices of accumulated capital. It is a commons where there is a conscious and practical recognition of our responsibilities one to another rather than simply to ourselves. Should everyone be able to own their own assets? You bet. Tell me. By what degree should individual ownership be decreased due to the use of the commons to acquire it? Regardless of this percentage, what is our moral responsibility to ensure that our neighbor has the means to live with dignity? Far too much is being made of our ownership rights and far too little focus is being placed on our communal responsibilities.
We have a right to property. We also have a responsibility to piety. We have a right to liberty. We also have a responsibility to
liberality. We have a right to
individuality. We also have a
responsibility to community. We have a
right to free expression. We have a
responsibility to understand the limits which decency and kindness place on
such expressions. We have a right to
life. We have a responsibility to use
that life, not solely for ourselves, but in service to our family, our
neighbors, and humanity. Those that
choose this latter path are the true investor class.