Chuck Collins, whose latest book is 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About it, spoke to the Henniker Peace Community yesterday.
Chuck Collins didn’t come to Henniker to “foment antagonism or class warfare,” he said, but instead to encourage people to do some “simple math.” It’s pretty much the same thing.
The richest 44 households in the USA hold more wealth than the poorest 95%, for example. The wealthiest 1 percent controls 36 percent of US wealth and more than 42 percent of all financial assets.
It hasn’t always been that bad. According to Collins, there’s been a “dramatic upward redistribution of wealth” in the past three decades. That was no accident, but followed policy changes in which the rules of the economy were “rigged” to benefit asset owners over wage earners. “These are the folks we need to defend ourselves against,” he told an audience of more than fifty people at the Henniker Congregational Church.
Historically, Collins said Americans have been comfortable with wealth and income inequality as long as they thought the rules were fair. But that has shifted since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. Now, 70 percent of Americans believe extreme inequality is a problem.
It’s a problem that can be addressed with three types of policy changes:
1) “Raise the floor,” through a higher minimum wage and a stronger safety net;
2) “Level the playing field,” through reforms of the political process, such as overturning the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision; and
3) “Break up concentrations of wealth and power.”
It’s that third point that would meet the most resistance from the natural persons, organizations, and corporations where power and wealth are unfairly concentrated. But there are specific steps to advocate, such as restoring the progressivity of US income taxes, raising the estate tax, closing loopholes that enable corporations to evade taxes by assigning profits to overseas subsidiaries, breaking up the megabanks, and imposing a tax on financial transactions. Some of the One Percenters even agree.
One place we can take this message is into the presidential campaign, now warming up in both major parties. New Hampshire and Iowa may soon be awash in candidates. Let’s tell them what we think.