The idea of “empowering” people was all the rage a few years ago. The answer to all of India’s woes, it seems, lay in empowering people, whatever that meant. I thought it was basically stupid. Why? Because people who are not free in any meaningful sense of the word cannot be empowered. Here’s what I wrote back in October 2005 on what is an “Ownership Society.” Brief excerpt follows:
The quality of the law in an economy fundamentally and essentially determines the nature of the economy. That is the bottom line that we have to focus our attention on. It is the law that assigns ownership and it is an ownership society that is a good society. That is what is missing in India. The rest of this essay is an exploration of the basic notion of an ownership society. Remarkable results follow from it and the operational details of how to implement an ownership society—both in the private and public spheres—will naturally evolve.
If we follow the simple logic of what an ownership society is, we will avoid all sorts of dead-end rhetoric of how malls are wonderful and how great India is because shiny malls dot the landscape, or how “empowering” villagers with “knowledge” will solve our problems, or how internet kiosks will transform India, or how yet another employment guarantee scheme will perform the magic of lifting millions out of poverty that many similar schemes that have merely shifted rubble so far failed to perform.
So what exactly does an “ownership” society mean? It means that for every bit of the economy, there is someone who is identified as the owner. I stress the word someone. It has to be a person, not an abstract entity such as a corporation or a government department. There has to be an identifiable person at whose desk is the sign “The buck stops here.” He or she owns that bit, albeit temporarily, and that means two things. First, the person has total control of that bit and, second, that person is accountable for the consequences of exercising his or her control over that bit.
For this to happen, rules have to be agreed upon regarding who will be the owner of a particular bit and what rights that are attached to the ownership, and what will be the consequences of exercise of those rights by the owner. The set of rules form the Law.
Go read it all.