That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column,. After a discussion of Spotify, Netflix, Kindle, and Uber, I move to the more general point:
Each of these changes is beneficial, yet I worry that Americans are, slowly but surely, losing their connection to the idea of private ownership. The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system. It set Americans apart from feudal peasants, taught us how property rights and incentives operate, and was a kind of training for future entrepreneurship. Do we not, as parents, often give our children pets or other valuable possessions to teach them basic lessons of life and stewardship?
We’re hardly at a point where American property has been abolished, but I am still nervous that we are finding ownership to be so inconvenient. The notion of “possessive individualism” is sometimes mocked, but in fact it is a significant source of autonomy and initiative.
And as software continues to “eat the world,” we often have fewer ownership rights when it comes to revisions, upgrades, and repairs. The piece closes with this:
Does that sound like something our largely agrarian Founding Fathers might have been happy about? The libertarian political theorist might tell you that arrangement is simply freedom of contract in action. But the more commonsensical, broad libertarian intuitions of the American public encapsulate a more brutish and direct sense that some things we simply own and hold the rights to.
Those are intuitions which are growing increasingly disconnected from reality, and no one knows what lies on the other side of this social experiment.
Do read the whole thing.