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Conference tackles ills of wealth inequality

  • Photo/Institute for Policy Studies Photo/Institute for Policy Studies

  • Al Norman at his Greenfield home. August 1, 2017 Paul Franz

  • Rep. Paul Mark at the GCC Down Town Center on Monday. February 27, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Monday, March 12, 2018

GREENFIELD — In his recent Sun magazine interview, former Greenfield resident Chuck Collins discusses why the growing disparity in wealth in this country is a critical issue.

“Extreme inequality of wealth, income and opportunity is warping everything we care about,” he says. “It takes away the sense that we’re all in the same boat. It screws up communities. You can see it in the housing market, where wealthy buyers bid up prices, making homes unaffordable for everyone else. … We live in a society where even people who don’t appear to be at risk can lose it all, and the fear of that happening makes them greedy and shortsighted. Inequality rips communities apart. … As we divide into affluent and poor enclaves, people’s sense that they share a common destiny withers, replaced by fear, misunderstanding, and class and racial antagonisms.”

Collins, who lived in Greenfield and Turners Falls into the 1980s when he worked for then-Greenfield-based Institute for Community Economics, will be keynote speaker at a daylong conference on “The Power of an Equitable Community,” as well as a panelist along with state Rep. Paul Mark and former director of Mass. Home Care Al Norman.

The event takes place at All Souls Church on Saturday.

Collins, Norman and Northampton civil liberties attorney Bill Newman will also lead simultaneous workshops, respectively, on the economics of climate change, on defending Medicare and MassHealth and on immigration, deportation and sanctuary churches.

The third conference of social justice sponsored by committees of the 13 western Massachusetts Unitarian-Universalist churches, Saturday’s event is open to the public by donation, and following registration beginning at 9:30, Collins is scheduled to give a 10 a.m. keynote address on “The transformative power of equality.”

“Political scientists are finding that too much inequality is bad for democracy,” Collins said in the February Sun interview. “It disenfranchises voters and warps lawmakers’ priorities. A polarized economy creates polarized politics, which makes it hard to get any movement on climate change, infrastructure repair, health care and an already weakened social safety net.”

Collins, the great-grandson of meat-packing baron Oscar Meyer who gave away his half-million-dollar inheritance, is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank where he directs the program on Inequality and the Common Good. Among his recent books are “Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good,” “99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It” and, with Bill Gates Sr., “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes.”

Pam Kelly, who chairs All Souls’ Social Justice Committee, said, “This is a tremendously timely issue, since wealth has been concentrating in the upper 1 percent, and working people and people who can’t find jobs are struggling, with some people needing two or three jobs.”

Social justice committees are finding, she said, that “Everything is related. You work on (paying for) health care, and you find it’s all hooked into job creation and housing and economic inequality ...”

Among the ideas that will be discussed at the conference, which will include three two-hour workshops beginning at 1:30 p.m., are Mark’s proposed legislation to create a state “green bank” to attract public investment for renewable energy projects, legislation to raise the Massachusetts minimum wage and a proposal to be presented to the Greenfield City Council on March 21 to adopt the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program for commercial and industrial buildings.

PACE, offered through MassDevelopment, provides loans for energy-efficiency and renewable energy improvements to help owners to undertake comprehensive energy upgrades with payback of up to 20 years.