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Allan Sloan

Far From Great, Bush's 'Ownership Society' Could Cost Americans in Unseen Ways

By Allan Sloan
Tuesday, September 7, 2004; Page E03

By now, if the Republicans did their job right, the term "ownership society" is still rattling around inside your head. It sure sounded great when President George W. introduced it at the Republican convention last week. Instead of depending on government or an employer, you'd own your own future.

"Ownership," Bush said, "brings security and dignity and independence."

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What's not to like? You could own an individual Social Security account, new high-powered retirement and savings accounts, your own health care account.

If the government trims Social Security and Medicare benefits -- that's inevitable, given the looming retirement of the baby-boom generation -- you'd own accounts that no one could take away.

But the president didn't exactly burden us with details about paying for all this.

It's great marketing: Show your audience the goodies but not the price tag. It's like going to the supermarket, picking out your stuff and taking it home without stopping at the checkout line to pay.

The bill? That will come later -- or maybe get sent to your kids. Sound laughable?

Consider the recently enacted Medicare prescription-drug program. Cost: hundreds of billions of dollars. How we're covering the cost: government borrowing, to be paid for by taxpayers yet unborn.

Who can argue against ownership?

Ownership's great. Take housing. More than two-thirds of us own our homes. Not only is homeownership socially desirable, but rising housing prices have multiplied the wealth of tens of millions of ordinary Americans. I love it. But the individual Social Security accounts that are the centerpiece of Bush's "ownership society" aren't an unalloyed good, as homeownership is.

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