Broadcast 12/8/2015 at 3:07 PM EST (65 Listens, 35 Downloads, 2544 Itunes)
The Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show Podcast
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Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and directs IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good. He is an expert on U.S. inequality and author of several books, including 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It.
He is co-author with Bill Gates Sr. of Wealth and Our Commonwealth, (Beacon Press, 2003), a case for taxing inherited fortunes. He is co-author with Mary Wright of The Moral Measure of the Economy, a book about Christian ethics and economic life.
He is co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good, a network of business leaders, high-income households and partners working together to promote shared prosperity and fair taxation. This network merged in 2015 with the Patriotic Millionaires. And he is co-editor of inequality.org
99 to one how wealth inequality is wrecking our world and what we can do about it.
Book co-authored with Bill Gate's Dad Wealth and our Commonwealth
He's co-authored a new report, Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us.
Rob: tell us about the report
Chuck: America's 20 wealthiest people -- a group that could fit comfortably in one single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet -- now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households.
Forbes 400 has more wealth than the entire African American population and a third of the Latino population combined.
Institute for Policy Studies
Rob: What are some of the problems extreme wealth inequality produces
undermines democracy and our democratic institutions
Half of the donations have come from 158 families.
As wealth concentrates it undermines economic stability.
Bad for health, breaks down social cohesion and community connection
Richard Wilkinson book-- Spirit Matters-- you're better off living off in a community that has lower incomes but more equality than in an area with greater inequality.
Rob: It sounds bottom-up-- like a connection to a community produces health
when we become too unequal people don't care--
It's not like other side of the tracks inequality it's like parallel universe inequality. Wealthy people stop making investments in the well being of the commonwealth. Too much inequality stretches our social fabric.
Rob: The report also refers to opportunity and social mobility.
People think of the US as a land of opportunity. That image is about 30 years old, like being 50 and thinking you have a 20 year old body. That American dream is further out of reach today than it was a couple of decades ago. If you're not born wealthy in the US then you are better off living in Canada or Scandinavia
Rob: What are the solutions
There are two categories. Inequality is probably more extreme than we are able to document because huge amounts of wealth are going into the shadows, hidden offshore or creating trusts using billionaire loopholes. I would estimate the level of inequality is almost twice as great if we factor in the hidden wealth escapes.
We have to close off offshore billionaire loopholes. Then we can tax the top, tax wealth with progressive taxation. After WWII we taxed wealth at high levels and taxed
We've learned some things. We've learned how important it is to provide access to opportunities
healthcare, early education, helping economically challenged families create stability in their lives.
Rob: In the report you list some approaches to reducing inequality.
1-Raise the floor-- tuition, child health care
2- level the playing field-- same taxes for US and transnational businesses
3- reduce concentrations of wealth and power.-- tax them
We could link the revenue to debt free education-- means-tested, so Donald Trump's kids don't get it.
Tax luxury items
Rob: You're a trust fund baby.
My great grandfather was the meat packer Oscar Meyer.
I was born on third base. At the age of 26 I made a decision that I didn't want that wealth to shape my life-- so I gave it to a couple of foundations. The good news is there's life after enormous wealth and privilege. And there's still a lot of privilege.
I'm very committed to this idea that we should not have huge intergenerational transfers of wealth.
Rob: I've written about creating aggressive dynasty taxes
these are anti-dynasty taxes.
Mark Zuckerberg says he's giving away 99% of his stock in Facebook over his life.
Rob; That was a conversation we had in our last interview-- the idea that individuals create wealth all by themselves. That's pure bull.
Individuals do create, but these levels of extreme inequality have nothing to do with effort" it has to do with luck and timing. They live in a society that together we've created a fertile ground for wealth creation. We have an obligation to pay back.
My argument to Mark Zuckerberg is where would you have been without 50 years of public investment in the internet.
Rob: You've worked on getting the wealthy to give back, with Bill Gates father.
I've helped found Patriotic Millionaires advocating for things that decrease inequality-- 250 people on board. Not all rich people are greedy and just want more.
Rob: some of the top 20
A number have committed to the Giving Pledge to give away half their wealth at the end of their life.
Some, like Warren Buffet have pledged to give all their way.
Rob: I've come to the conclusion that becoming a billionaire regardless of
disconnects people from community, challenges their humanity-- think they're better, smarter
Stops them from being interdependent. it's a prescription for alienation and disconnection
Sociopathic tendencies, if they fall to people at the top they can do tremendous damage.
We should have extreme
Rob: I think we need to get rid of billionaires altogether. Get rid of the existing ones by taxing their wealth away and then make it illegal to accumulate more than a billion.
Have 100% tax on wealth over half a billion dollars.
Rob: Is this a conversation that's happening?
My co-author JOSH HOXIE, wrote a little a piece asking if we should tax wealth over a certain amount.
Rob: You've been talking to some very wealthy people. Are they talking
new housing starts are behind walls.
Are there any billionaires willing to give up their billions?
Some have said that they are going to give away all their wealth.
There's a network called Resource Generation of wealthy who are very thoughtful about their role in society
Rob: What are the edges of the conversations you are discussing
patriotic millionaires see how student debt crisis is a loser for everybody. The fact that 40 million households have an average debt of $33,000"
There are patriotic millionaires who got a debt free college educeation and saw how a public investment in them worked for them and are asking why can't we tax wealth and invest it in things that broaden economic opportunity
Taxing wealth, taxing carbon, particularly luxury, like luxury jets.
Carried interest for hedge fund owners. $12 billion minimum a year that could be invested in creating green infrastructure
Taxing wall street financial transaction.
People are l poking at creative.
Rob I see them as incremental steps. Are there big picture ideas
A wealth tax. We could have a tax targeted at billionaires. You could have a 100% tax on billionaires. IN 1930s FDR proposed a tax close to 100%.
After a certain amount of wealth, it's about power.
Rob: Talk about power.
You can have concentrated wealth in the hands of the few, or you can have democracy, you can't have both-- Justice Brandeiss
Rob: I've written that Billionaires are bad for democracy, bad for capitalism.
Having over a billion dollars produces a long list of adverse effects on society.
subvert democracy, bad for the economy, bad for social cohesion,
Talk more about the adverse effects of billionaires:
carbon footprint, ecological impact is so enormous-- multiple houses, private jets-- just one person burning huge amounts of carbon
Economic-- if so much wealth is going to the top and real wages are stagnant or falling, then you don't have a middle class to buy".
If the rich are not content with investing in the real economy, they have all these incentives in gambling-- a huge amount in the gambling casino-- derivatives, hedge bets about the movement of money. That speculative economy is like a vampire.
158 families have given half the money the 2016 cycle. Our whole system of elections has been taken over by the billionaires. For any candidate to be viable you need to have your own billionaire. The reason there are still 14 GOP candidates is they all have their own billionaires or multiple billionaires.
How has big money affected art, sports, what's it done to local culture. Our whole concept of culture is warped. Culture is what all of us do. Culture is what all of us do, the theater and storytelling and sport in our communities. Sport is what all of us do-- the things we do to better ourselves and deepen our community ties. If you go to a culture where sports has not been billionairized, you see it. In Ireland there are all amateur sports. If you are child growing up in that society you think of sport as something you will do, representing your local parish and local town.
Rob: You're really talking about a massive, top down, squashing of culture.
What's driving that are these billionaire communications moguls who, for every song and touchdown pass, they want to get more and more money, and it's corroded the most important things in our culture.
Rob: How about community?
It's very hard to have community with extreme inequality.
The very very wealthy occupy a rung of existence where they don't have interactions across the economic divide. People begin to become disconnected and become fearful of one another.
leads to a breakdown in community, to breakdown in social solidarity. We don't
Rob: How does extreme wealth affect relationships between individuals?
We're at risk of commodifiying or creating a calculus in our interactions. People very rarely create intimate relationships across class. There's a lot of work for people to overcome wealth differences.
It doesn't have to be this way. We have to imagine a culture and families outside these driving.
Rob: If we could create a new system, what would it look like.
The most essential things are our human connections with others and with nature. We would live in harmony with each other and it would be a radically different life. We're here to enjoy the gift, to help one another". to create a society where all people share those gifts.
Rob: Are there more psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists at the top of the economic pyramid.
Part of my organizing work with the patriotic millionaires is let's shift the culture.
Rob: What are your thoughts on psychopaths and sociopaths as billionaires?
Some have a theory that if we limit taxes on the wealthy it will be good for everyone.
There's a segment of the 1% who really thinks, "who cares." Who cares about poverty, access to clean water, basic health care." To have gotten to that place you have to wall off your heart.
You need a theory that can explain away human suffering.
It's interesting to look at the owning classes-- the English went to schools in which they were brutalized so they could become inhuman.
A life of disconnection
But the good news is there is a group of what I call the open-hearted wealthy.
I have a TED talk coming out-- Wealthy come home.
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