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Ownership vs Control - What exactly do you have over your wealth?

Popularity 4Viewed 1239 times 2015-4-16 08:08 |Personal category:Quote Me|System category:Economy| ownership, versus, control, over, wealth

Ownership and Control:

These are two different concepts. By these terms I mean legal ownership and legal control. In an intuitive and traditional sense, ownership implied the highest level of control that someone had over something. This is no longer true. People have always have had or sought control over things they did not own, or things they owned partly. 

The often less discussed aspect to ownership is the responsibility that comes with it. It is the highest level of responsibility for the 'object' that is owned. This responsibility cannot be separated from the ownership. While having control over something also can imply some responsibility, one can often escape it, legally. By an 'object' of ownership, I mean intangible assets too. 

Ideally, I would expect that ownership should come with the highest level of control and that the highest level of control came with the highest level of responsibility over an object.

Lets say that you own some money in the bank or an object like a watch or a car or a house fully. With some you can exercise the maximum level of control to dispose of it or use it as you please (so long as it does not interfere with anyone else's rights, legal rights mostly). 

While technically we have the right to do what we want even with a cup of coffee that we purchase, we do not have too much right to do as we please with it. We cannot legally even dispose of the cup or coffee in other than the appropriate sink and rubbish bin. We can get fined for littering otherwise. We cannot dispose of a car battery in any way. There are a large number of goods and services created to 'allow' or make us do things in a legally appropriate manner. While no one might object to someone throwing away a piece of diamond or gold jewellery in the wilds of a forest or desert, do not be surprised if someone who tripped on it or stumbled over it and got hurt would come to sue you legally, if they could identify you as an owner and decided not to claim the item for themselves. Such is the nature of the laws regarding goods, services and assests in today's society in most places on earth.

With other assets, one cannot exercise the most control. Someone else or some other entity has the maximum legal rights. A house cannot always be sold to anyone. It may not be modified without permission from the appropriate authorities, local councils, national governments etc. The same goes for intangible items that represent tangible and intangible wealth - shares in companies, bonds etc.

As I observe, based on understandable human nature, the thing we all really seek is 'control' rather than outright 'ownership' over things, mostly over our lifetimes and perhaps a bit beyond that. If we were offered complete legal control over something without any legal responsibilities that would be the ideal for most! We would not care, who claimed to 'own' it.

If you look around and observe, all individuals and institutions try hard to achieve the control without responsibility (or minimal responsibility for which someone else pays). Institutions like governments, their branches, companies are most successful in legally achieving this goal. It is no wonder that large companies and governments work in tandem, symbiotically to achieve this in so-called democracies. Extremely wealthy individuals are virtual institutions in this aspect. They create an organisation or institution that becomes too big and powerful to fail.

Note that if you are a majority shareholder in a company, unless you want to devote time and energy and do a lot of work, you cannot simply get the benefits of majority ownership. That power lies with those who 'control' the company. They may be minority shareholders, but they put in the effort, time and energy to control the voting of the majority. They exercise the most control over decisions and direction of the company and how its profits are actually put to use or shared. So, who really controls your assests or the value of your assets that you own?


The interesting thing about the concept of ownership, that still lasts, is the idea of complete or the highest level responsibility that goes with it. It is too much for an individual today to realistically take care and address their responsibilities for everything they 'own'. There are hundreds of objects. They are encouraged by the system to pay a fee and delegate their responsibilties to others. This is the subtle catch in today's idea of ownership.

This reminds me of an old joke. 
A rich man's son told his friend who was poor, "My father left for me a big estate worth millions, so much gold and cash."
The poor friend said, "My father left this whole world for me. Even the moon and stars! They are all mine!"
They both had a good laugh.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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