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Scholar, politician, activist give talk on inequality at All Souls Church

  • Chuck Collins, of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C., talks about combating income inequality at the All Souls Church in Greenfield on March 17. Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Chuck Collins, left, state Rep. Paul Mark, center, and Al Norman, right, talk about income inequality at All Souls Church in Greenfield on March 17. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan



Recorder Staff
Sunday, March 18, 2018

GREENFIELD — Three crusaders against growing income inequality sat at the sanctuary of All Souls Church Saturday and addressed a concerned crowd.

All three had the same message: Income inequality is a problem in the United States, but it can be fixed.

Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., was the keynote speaker. State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Greenfield, and Al Norman, an activist known for his prolonged fight to keep Walmart from opening a store in Greenfield, were the other two speakers.

The discussion, “The Power of an Equitable Community,” was part of a day-long conference on economic and social issues, and drew more than 50 people to the Main Street church.

“You have a story that says the wealthy are there because that’s where they deserve to be,” said Collins, a former Greenfield resident.

According to Collins, the notion that success is tied merely to hard work is one that is “hard to dislodge” from Americans’ minds.

“This is deeply systemic inequality,” Collins said.

Indeed, income inequality is growing in the U.S., Collins pointed out, and the wealthiest few have taken in a larger and larger portion of wealth.

One of his problems with this, he said, is that the wealthy have a responsibility to give more money back to society — because of the benefits society has afforded them — but aren’t. Collins didn’t come without potential solutions, though.

“One idea is to defend the estate tax,” Collins said.

The estate tax, commonly known as the death tax, Collins termed as a form of public inheritance, and said the money the government brings in through the estate tax can be used to benefit the poor.

Collins had some advice for all members of society — from the top 1 percent, to the impoverished.

“Come home,” he said, explaining his message to the very rich. “Put your stake back into a community and not an enclave.”

Collins said he has visited Bermuda, where he asserted much of the world’s wealth is hidden, and said the rich have a moral obligation to leave such tax havens.

“Bring the wealth home,” Collins said. “Put it in the real economy — food services, things we can touch and feel.”

He also said fighting for a clean environment and against climate change is in everyone’s best interest, including the very wealthy, because “there is no wealth on a degraded earth.”

“To everyone else,” Collins said. “It’s time to get really organized. Fight for 15 (dollars an hour); fight for a living wage.”

Engaging with the rich could help the causes of the lower class, Collins said. There are some people like him, who are successful but willing to fight against income inequality, and there are people who are “potential allies,” yet unengaged.

From Mark’s point of view, there is a lot more the state and federal legislatures could be doing to fight income inequality and improve the lives of the lower class in general.

The “millionaires’ tax,” Mark said, would create a graduated income tax system in the state and raise $1 billion to $2 billion earmarked for education and transportation.

He noted that all five times such a tax system has been on the ballot in Massachusetts, voters have shot it down, and stressed that people should talk to their neighbors about the importance of voting for a graduated income tax.

Norman, however, brought some statistics to the conversation, many of which focused on senior issues.

In Massachusetts, Norman said, 61 percent of seniors live above the poverty line but beneath the elder economic security line — a measure of how much money is needed for a senior to pay their bills. The only state with more than 61 percent of their senior population in that gap is Mississippi.

New England is often characterized as a liberal region that cares about the needy, but when it comes to taking care of seniors, it falls behind, Norman said. Many other northeast states have similarly high numbers of seniors who can not pay their bills, and 19 percent of Massachusetts seniors live below the poverty line.

“Why?” Norman asked. “Because these are all high-cost states.”

Norman recalled some flak he received from state officials for publicly characterizing Massachusetts as a place that does not pay enough attention to its seniors.

“I felt the state had become demographically deaf,” Norman said. “And I’m going to keep saying it.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.