Remember the satirical “Billionaires for Bush” protesters? Around this time in 2008 I asked them to become Oligarchs for Obama, and they refused. But I predict Tycoons for Trump will be born this month. Inequality, like war and climate destruction, has its face now.
Chuck Collins’ book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good, presents the problem of inequality as well as any I’ve seen. Collins was born into wealth, gave it away, but still refers to himself as one of the wealthy, perhaps because of all the lasting privileges wealth brought him. Collins sites other examples, as well, of the wealthy putting their wealth to better use than hoarding.
Collins explains how a lot of philanthropy is, however, counterproductive, benefitting those least in need of it. He argues for a popular movement to create progressive taxation and progressive restraints on income. But he also makes a case for appealing to one percenters for solidarity, rather than demonizing them — apparently because this has proven to work better but also because it’s too late for anything else. Wealth has been so concentrated that without defections at the top it will never be truly shared again.
Collins also makes the best case I’ve seen for reparations. Donald Trump’s money, Collins writes, came from his father, who sold homes to white people who could only buy them because of government subsidized mortgages. Trump’s father also got military contracts to build houses for sailors. What Collins calls the Greatest Subsidized Generation (post World War II) — or at least the white portion of it — benefitted widely from subsidized mortgages and insurance, free college, and grants and loans from the Small Business Administration. Imagining that the racism of the day, rather than these willfully forgotten government programs, made America “great” (for some) is nonsensical.
Collins makes the case that the median wealth of white households is 13 times that of blacks in large part because of massive privileges handed to whites over the decades, including not so many years ago. And now the United States is becoming a caste society with extremely low economic mobility, and those castes parallel racial divides created by the benefits of government created wealth.
Collins paints a powerful portrait of how a wealthy childhood gives a person a permanent advantage. And he conveys the radically different, more convenient, more worry-free lives of those in the United States with great wealth. He later comes around to noting that many of those advantages are widely enjoyed in Europe. Collins argues that the wealthy are not fundamentally different from the rest of us, but his facts suggest that in fact they are. And the book’s foreword by Morris Pearl suggests to me a perspective I find it difficult to relate to. Pearl writes:
“I read about the Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park in the newspaper from the comfort of my Park Avenue apartment. When I have wanted to complain about something to President Obama, I have arranged to do it face-to-face.”
This suggests that there have been days on which Pearl did not want to complain about anything. Of course I can imagine meeting with Obama, but I can’t imagine only occasionally wanting to.
I also have a hard time relating to the phenomenon of the Missing Military as it exists in Collins’ and virtually every other liberal book published in the United States. Collins laments that $200 billion per year may be lost to the super wealthy hiding their wealth in tax havens. Collins never mentions the $1 trillion per year wasted on the murderous enterprise of militarism. In his to-do list at the end of the book, he has no mention of opposing militarism, but one of his items for us to do is to pay our taxes (because of all the good that supposedly comes of doing so).
There are some things, Martin Luther King Jr. said, to which we should not wish to become well adjusted. I include in that list all discussions of U.S. economics that erase the military.