Today, something that has been pretty inevitable since the 1980s will take another step towards happening - the government will agree to sell the Royal Mail. This has, perhaps inevitably, been greeted by lots of people (mostly left-wing people) talking about the evil Tories selling off something they "own". Here's a good example:
It's been nice owning a part of the Royal Mail. Pitty, without asking me, they're selling my bit to some rich dude.There you have it folks! Except I know that I don't own the Royal Mail, not even a little bit of it. Let me explain. I own a bit of Barclays Bank (just a tiny bit that's not worth as much as it once was). And I can sell this and will get a nice cheque, real cash money I can spend. The same goes for my car, the table in the dining room and the wine in the cellar.
— Adam Ramsay (@AdamRamsay) September 12, 2013
But it doesn't go for the Royal Mail. When that's sold I won't see a penny of the value realised, which tells me that I have no stake in the business, I do not own it. The government owns it and the government will get all the money from selling it off (and, in the manner of governments everywhere will probably waste that money).
Once it is sold, I might get a chance of own a little bit of the business. It just might be possible for me to buy some shares, to invest a little bit of my money in the business. That - not some sort of nebulous and collectivist wibble - is what we mean by ownership.