Ownership and Democracy

A Facebook friend is pushing for the adoption of a new phrase: red washing, where it indicates a false sense of ownership and control. This friend has collectivist leanings, so perhaps that’s where the red comes from. It doesn’t make logical sense to me, but rather than focus on the phrase itself, I want to discuss the sentiment and intent. Essentially, his contention is that some forms of ownership don’t offer the same sense of control as others. If I own a car, or a pencil, it’s mine to do with it what I please. But if I only own a piece of something, my control diminishes. This is especially true where my ownership is a minority share.

The first mistake my friend makes is to presume that ownership and control are one in the same. I don’t feel we need to discuss the case where the State controls the limits of any ownership. You can own property, but what you can construct on it is limited by zoning laws and perhaps community guidelines. You can own a car, but you can’t drive it on public roads at 200 MPH, or paint it like a police car affixed with blue and red lights. You can’t stab your neighbour with the pencil you own. And you can’t own or even possess heroin under normal circumstances. I feel that these ownership restrictions are obvious. These are aspects of control ceded to the State. Some Libertarians may baulk, but for the most part, these are generally accepted limitations.

My interest here is the notion of diluted ownership. This really underscores the difference between ownership and control. A simple illustrative example is a publicly traded company. One can own a share in that company, but ostensibly, this gives you no control. If one holds a million shares, maybe they have a voice. If one has a majority share or can create a coalition to compose a majority share, one ostensibly has control. Otherwise, although your ownership may grant you other advantages, control is not one of them. One can benefit by price increases in the marketplace, perhaps collect dividends, and you can cast your proxy vote, but these don’t represent control.

Likewise, this is how democracy operates in practice. One has a vote. Theoretically, it’s one person, one voteā€”one vote per person. Though in the United States this is the system de jure, not de facto system, where it’s closer to one vote per dollar.

Consider the United States. In 2020, there were 239,000,000 eligible voters. Each eligible voter is an owner of this democracy or republic. Pick your poison. Effectively, this means that one’s ownership share affords them 1/239,000,000 control. This wouldn’t even qualify as homoeopathic, and that’s a pretty low bar.

Dehydrated Water

I’ve commented elsewhere on how democracy is a specious proposition. That it only provides an ‘illusion of control‘. This is fine for the power structure. All they need to operate is to maintain this illusion and for the people to defend their voiceless voices.

Of course, the Republican flavour of Democracy is even worse. Not the Republican party. The sense of representative democracy over direct democracy or even anarchy. Republicanism adds a principle-agency challenge to it’s already weak-tea proposition.

And all I have is a keyboard.

Body Self-Governance

One topic I hear often, and most often from Libertarians, is that people ‘own’ their body. These people espouse body autonomy and self rule. In fact, this is a starting point and they extend it out to some imaginary boundary of limited government.

This sentiment is captured by pithy statements like

Your right to extend your fist ends at my nose.

Some guy

This all sounds well and good, yet there is no objective case that defends body self-ownership. Taking this position is simply latching onto normative, emotional rhetoric.

Personally, I like the idea that I should have some control over decisions leading to what happens to my body, but save for the idea content, I am under no delusion that this is self-evident or otherwise guaranteed. By extension, there is no reason in particular why sovereignty can be defended except through mutual contract and the tacit (and sometimes explicit) violence and the threat thereof, as I’ve commented on before.