Americans own less stuff, and that's worrisome

Some social problems are blatantly obvious in daily life, while others are longer-term, more corrosive and perhaps mostly invisible. Lately I've been worrying about a problem of the latter kind: the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.

The main culprits for the change are software and the Internet. For instance, Amazon's Kindle and other methods of online reading have revolutionised how Americans consume text. Fifteen years ago, people typically owned the books and magazines they read. Much less so now. If you look at the fine print, it turns out that you do not own the books on your Kindle. Amazon.com Inc does.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2018, with the headline 'Americans own less stuff, and that's worrisome'. Print Edition | Subscribe