Universal Ownership in the Age of COVID-19: Social Norms, Feedback Loops, and the Double Hermeneutic

38 Pages Posted: 28 May 2020 Last revised: 6 Apr 2022

Date Written: May 21, 2020


The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare many preexisting conditions of modern society. Besides the obvious lack of pandemic preparedness, these include biodiversity loss, air pollution, supply chain vulnerabilities, and inequality, to name a few – all systemic risks that threaten the health and wellbeing of humans, the environment, or both. For universal owners this is their belief made manifest, proof that externalities generated in one part of the system can add outsized costs to the rest. What has changed is that this concept – of system-wide threats that can only be addressed at a system-wide level – has become much more widely known and understood by politicians and the public. For good or ill, crises present opportunities; in this metacrisis, systemic risks, externalities, and inequalities have been exposed, and with that comes a chance to counter the attendant harms. Through an exploration of the relevant evidence and theory, this paper lays out some of the systemic risks the COVID-19 crisis has revealed; identifies a number of shifting norms that are already in evidence; quantifies the opportunity that unprecedented fiscal stimulus measures present in countering these systemic risks; and explores the theory and practice of norm-building, feedback loops, and the double hermeneutic. It ends by proposing a set of five experiments for asset owners to test whether universal ownership theory could become self-fulfilling – and therefore whether universal owners might be capable of mitigating the systemic risks this crisis has revealed.

Keywords: Universal ownership, climate change, COVID-19, inequality, double hermeneutic, feedback loops, social norms, responsible investment

JEL Classification: A13, A14, E02, E12, E21, E24, E44, E62, F55, F64, F65, F66, G01, G02, G11, G12, G15, G18, G23, G28,

Suggested Citation

Quigley, Ellen, Universal Ownership in the Age of COVID-19: Social Norms, Feedback Loops, and the Double Hermeneutic (May 21, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3612928 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3612928

Ellen Quigley (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

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