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Demystifying Property Owning Democracy (POD)

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On the penultimate day of the month of October, on Radio Gold, Kwesi Pratt Jnr. discredited and heaped scorn on the concept of property owning democracy (POD). According to Mr. Pratt, this political philosophy is so alien and bad to the extent that it should be rejected. My worry about his pronouncements is that in his malicious quest to discredit this concept, it was obvious that he doesn't understand the meaning of a property owning democracy or he was only trying to be mischievous or populist. His equation of a property owning democracy to mean the wanton grabbing of property—especially State ones was not only mischievous, but also a blatant exposition of his ignorance of the concept.

In history, especially philosophical history, it is established that the only person who had a very good knowledge in almost every discipline was Aristotle. This is an undisputable fact; but Kwesi Pratt is trying to wrestle this accolade from him. He talks about everything when the arguments he is espousing are spurious. Our brother Pratt should allow objectivity to be paramount in his submissions. A property owning democracy—like any ideology should not be expected to be flawless; we expose our ignorance when we assume that. Let us examine its cardinal principles to unearth its efficacy before we throw it to the dogs like Mr. Pratt and others are seeking to achieve.

Before looking at what a property owning democracy is, let us first look at what it is not. A property owning democracy is not the insatiable desire for property by politicians or public office holders to satisfy their egoistic desires as people like Mr. Pratt always insinuate. The penchant for political and public office holders to use unfair means to grab or acquire State property—lands, houses, etc. is not and cannot be a tenet of a property owning democracy. This practice explained above could best be described as sheer wickedness and insensitivity to the plight of the ordinary folks and should be discouraged. It defeats the very essence of democracy.

What Mr. Pratt fails to appreciate is that in this day and age no single economic regime will ever succeed. They never succeeded in the prior century and will never survive now. I think Mr. Pratt—a socialist apologia should come out and tell us the evidence of the invincibility of his ideological inclination. Socialism is dead and buried; In fact, it is dead in water. It can only work when used in tandem with capitalism or a property owning democratic regime. If the Chinese had stuck or held on to only communism, they wouldn't have been able to make inroads in this 21st century in terms of economic progress. Capitalism, even though, had had its challenges—especially in the 1930s (the great depression) and the 2008 global economic meltdown, has been able to stand the test of time.

What then is a property owning democracy? A property owning democracy is hinged on the political philosophy of John Rawls, a 20th century political philosopher. In his work, Rawls sought to develop a concept of justice that is relevant to a democratic society. His conception of justice hinges on two principal principles: (1) certain basic liberties, such as freedom of thought and association, are so important that they transcend other social values such as economic efficiency and improving the welfare of the poor; (2) offices and positions of authority are to be open to all under conditions of equality of opportunity.

From the above it is clear that Rawls condemns a welfare-state capitalism and illustrates a property owning democracy and a liberal socialism as economic regimes consistent with his justice as fairness. The main tenets of his property-owning democracy are as follows: (1) provisions for securing the fair value of the political liberties; (2) provisions for realizing fair equality of opportunity in education and training; (3) A basic level of health-care provided for all.

From the cardinal principles of a property owning democracy shown above, how could it be ill-intentioned? Why could it be counter-productive, Mr. Pratt? In my candid opinion, successive governments should pursue this political/economic philosophy in their attempts to improving the fortunes of this country and the citizenry. So I believe we now appreciate the fact that a property owning democracy has been misconceived by many a people in the country who try to do politics with anything without looking at the merits. Anyhow, who doesn't want to own a property when given the opportunity? I'm not talking about dubious means, but rather by the dint of hard work.

A property owning democracy is about the folks. It is about creating an enabling environment—efficient health-care system, an efficient education system, fair opportunities in order to release the energies and efforts of the citizens in realizing their potentialities in owning property. Property in this context should not be misconstrued to mean only tangible properties; the acquisition of knowledge, skill, and ability are a property of the individual. Margaret Thatcher, the former British premier explained the concept better during her interview with the Times Magazine “….. As you know, we are building a property-owning democracy. Far more people own their own homes now. We are nearly up to the United States—not yet quite—but now one in five of our people owns company shares. Far many more people have savings accounts. That's all extending opportunity ever more widely” (Times, 1987).

This revelation by Margaret Thatcher had been observed earlier by J. B. Danquah as captured in the New Patriotic Party's constitution of 2009. He stated that “the party's policy is to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property owning democracy in this land, with the right to life, freedom and justice, as the principle to which the government and laws of the land should be dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property and liberty of each and every citizen.” What then is wrong about the concept of POD? If anything at all, its intent is to produce a strong and stable economy, with a vibrant citizenry: a citizenry that can take their own destinies in their own hands and change the course of their life trajectories. This economic regime, I endorse and hope it becomes the fulcrum of our socioeconomic transformation.

Every modern industrial state is a welfare state and none of them permits natural or social contingencies in their entireties to determine the life opportunities of its members. All of them have interventions whose overt aim is to protect adults and children from the degradation and insecurity of ignorance, illness, disability, unemployment, and poverty (Gutmann, 1988). In this regard, Rawls's property-owning democracy could in a way be seen as a welfare state, even if not as a welfare state capitalism rooted in the utilitarianism. We can see evidence of its impact during the reign of the New Patriotic party. The school feeding program, the capitation grant, free maternal health care, the National Health Insurance Scheme, the Metro Mass Transport, the change of the educational system, especially making kindergarten education mandatory, the Getfund, the proliferation of banks, the competition among the telecommunication industry and the media, among others are the interventions that are the results of a property owning democracy.

When Mr. Pratt was accused sometime this year or last year by Alhaji Bature for living in affluence and owning cars and a house, he gave reasons why he has those cars, but denied owning a house; although he admitted that the wife owns one. For me, that is fantastic! Strangely, he said that the wife was able to build the house via loans from the bank; and he doesn't believe that that was made possible via property owning democracy. The essence of POD is to help people like Mr. Pratt's wife and numerous others to own their own property and to see the better side of life as long as they are capable: given the opportunity to nurture and utilize their efforts and energies in productive ways. In Ghana at the moment, most people own property—houses, companies, lands, schools, institutions, shares, intellectual property, and what have you. And this is a sure testament of a property owning democracy. I can't wait to own a legitimate property through my sweat, made possible by POD. God bless Ghana!!

Source: Kingsley Nyarko, PhD, Educational Psychologist, Accra ([email protected])

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