Free Enterprise - Principle 4

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Principle 4: “Pride of Ownership” comes from people earning and owning the things they use.

people gardening

The girl works to make her yard beautiful. She owns the yard and takes great pride in it looking good! It takes a lot of work to keep houses, machines, gardens, clothes, cars and other things looking and operating their best. Things need care. People can take great pride in how nice their things look and how well their things operate when they have taken good care of them. This is called a “common human trait found around the world. It is pride of ownership.” Pride of ownership means that when people own something they will take better care of it than they would if they just rented or borrowed that same thing. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general, the pride of ownership principle applies.

It also means that giving things to people to help them usually does not lead to pride of ownership. Dr. Paul Polak, in his book, Out Of Poverty, (p 35) speaks of the many times aid groups have given free irrigation pumps to farmers in the 3rd world—only to see the pumps end up in the junk pile! In two year’s time, most of the pumps don’t work. Without personal investment, no one assumes ownership! Therefore, when pumps break, no one fixes them.

People like to own their things. They feel proud that they worked to earn the money to buy the item. Being given an item usually does not make owning it feel personal or special. Even if the amount is small, buying an item with their own money gives people “pride of ownership.”


Sabetha walked up to Allen and said: “I hear you and Andre are going to be building huts—is that right? I’ve got money; I could pay … that is, if you will promise to make my hut more special than the average hut. And I will want it on one of the better lots— you know, up high with a view.”

“Well”, began Allen, “for the right price we can build you a real fancy hut on one of the best lots.”

“Yes, that’s what I want—something I can call my own and feel good about it being mine. You know, it feels good to be the owner of something nice.”

“Even though you will hire us to build it for you, you’ll still have to take care of it. The hut will need care or over time it will start to fall apart. Then it wouldn’t look so special!” He hoped she wasn’t mad at him for giving her advice. But being a spoiled rich girl, he thought she needed to know—things have to be maintained in order to look good and to keep on working properly.

“Of course I want my place to look good! And yes, I know that means it will need maintenance. I’m just spoiled, not stupid! And remember, I am your first customer. Do a good job for me and others will want to hire you too.” And, as usual, feeling a little superior, off she went—with visions in her head of being the most important lady in their new village.

Andre felt he and his partner, Allen, should do something nice for the three kids who had been sleeping in the worst part of the airplane shelter. They all three had bad colds.

So Andre and Allen took some of their materials and put in two days making a temporary, but warm and dry, small hut for the three. The lot wasn’t great, but it was one the others weren’t likely to be fighting over. At first the three seemed grateful.

But after a few weeks things started going downhill. The three, with Phillip as their leader, tore some of the material off and sold it. They did not keep the hut clean. When leaks developed they refused to use tar to fix the leaks. Allen and Andre were furious!

“That’s it!” Andre exploded. “No more giving it away! We gave them a nice little hut and they let it fall apart. Did they take a personal interest in it and treat it special? No! They just moved out and left it!”

“We should have sold it to them—so they would have had something invested in it,” Allen said. “I think if they had owned it they would have taken better care of it—you know, personal pride and all.”

Activity: Ask students for stories of a time when they worked hard to get something. They may tell about working hard and saving money to buy a bicycle or a pretty hairbrush. Get several different students to tell their story of working to get something. As teacher, you can tell a story of working hard to buy something that was special to you.

Now ask students to tell stories about someone getting something given to them without having to work for it. The stories may be about someone else. Point out the difference in how the thing or situation was valued when it was earned versus when it was given.

You can explain that people seem to bond emotionally with something they have worked hard to acquire. It is almost like they have put a part of themselves into the item or situation while they were working to earn the money to buy it. Or perhaps they worked for it by giving their labor, not money. Either way, they have a kind of emotional investment in the item or situation. For example, some say that students work harder in university when they earned the money themselves to pay the tuition as compared to students whose parents paid the tuition.

Have three simple drawings ready—like a child would draw; a house with a tree by it, a cabin in the mountains with a stream running by or something that might take a child 15 or 20 minutes to draw/color. Give them to three students. Take a student aside and tell him/her, when you give the word, to take the picture away from the three students you gave them to and tear them up. Hand out the three pictures and instantly signal the other student. He/she will rip up the three pictures. Stay calm.

Now announce that all will draw their own picture. Allow 15 to 20 minutes. Have a few explain their picture and tell why they like it. Signal your secretly co-operating student and have him/her grab a few drawings and tear them up.

Discuss the greater sense of loss, the greater anger at having their property violated when it was something they had drawn themselves as compared to the one merely given to them. You can say, “When we feel invested in something we feel more like looking out for it—that is pride of ownership!” You also can say, “If you give something to a person, don’t expect them to take care of it like they would if they had to buy it with their own money.” You can apologize for tearing up their drawing—explain that it was planned for their learning this principle.

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