When Chuck Collins started United for a Fair Economy (originally called “Share the Wealth”) in the 1990s, some economists denied that economic inequality was growing. That debate is over. Speaking in Manchester May 29, Collins said the debate is now whether inequality matters and what can be done about it.
The trends which increased inequality are reversible.
We are in “a new period of extreme inequality,” Collins told more than 80 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester, and it’s “trashing all that we care about.” It’s not jut that some people are poor and some are rich, but that the growing gap leads to a breakdown in social solidarity as the wealthy stop investing in the social infrastructure . Our children, our health, our culture, our environment, and our democracy all suffer.
Collins outlines the problem and some solutions in his new book, 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It. The prescription has three basic components: invest in opportunity, raise the floor, and tax wealthy people and the corporations they own.
While the 99 to 1 framework is a tad simplistic, he said, trade and tax policies really have been changed to benefit the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.
As the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer (yes, that Oscar Mayer), Collins knows a thing or two about the 1%, including his former schoolmate Mitt Romney. In addition to development of creative educational techniques to demystify economic issues, Collins has also worked to find allies for change within the ranks of the wealthy.
A Q&A session that could have gone on much longer touched off an important discussion about whether solutions can emerge from the existing political system. Collins is not ready to throw out lobbying or electoral politics, but sees the greatest potential in social movements made up of small groups of like-minded people working together on common projects. He reminded the audience that Gandhi based his program not only on mass nonviolent resistance but also on the “constructive program.”
“Exercise your democracy muscles each day,” he said.
Collins’ talk was sponsored by the UU Church of Manchester, the American Friends Service Committee, Granite State Priorities, Occupy Manchester, NH Citizens Alliance, and the Granite State Organizing Project.
Occupy activists posed with Chuck after the talk.