America's Future: The Ownership Society

Physician's Money Digest, Nov30 2004, Volume 11, Issue 22

The object of a presidential electionis for Americans to makechoices. That was done. Amongthe things that President Bushran on and won, but doesn't get muchplay in big media, is the concept of theownership society—that is, the promotionof a policy that individuals shouldand must have greater control over theirlives, personal and financial.

Only through ownership can citizensbe in a serious position to demand thatgovernment be more efficient and accountable.For most thoughtful Americans,the notion that people who ownthings take better care of them is settled.And while ownership is deeply engrainedin our society (68% of citizens are homeowners and 50% hold stock), more mustbe done to advance this American dream.

Doctor Owners

The issue has resonance with mostphysicians. According to a 2004 survey ofour readers by Akel & Associates, about70% of doctors said they "own"theirmedical practice. Still, the challenge ofrunning a successful business (ie, medicalpractice) is great. About 90% of doctorsbelieve their ability to grow practice revenueis "much more"or "more"challengingcompared with 5 years ago. Intheir view, the chief impediment is governmentaland bureaucratic interference.

To make the dream of ownership formore people a reality, society must expectaccountability and reward hard work.Just consider two ownership issues, onesthat doctors clearly understand:

•Health care—While some peoplewill always need free care, the system willnever work until Americans assume morepersonal responsibility for their health—physically and financially. It's easy toblame HMOs, drug companies, and doctors.In fact, Americans are too insulatedfrom the true cost of health care.Moreover, too many people don't takecare of themselves even fundamentally.

•Tax cuts—For the average physician-reader, your income group pays about80% of all federal taxes. Add state andlocal taxes, and it's a wonder how (orwhy) doctors can open their office doors,let alone be owners. Today's doctors facedemanding work for declining pay. If ownershipis to be expanded, hard work andsacrifice must be rewarded, not penalized.

Who's in Control?

Some will have you believe that promotingan ownership society is aboutgreed. No, it's about empowerment.Opposition to this goal from big mediaand government is easy to understand.These elite institutions have a huge stakein maintaining power—telling and givingus what we "need."But genuine ownershipis not a gift, it's an achievement.