Mark Karlin: Given the frustration at impacting the grip of the plutocracy on the US and our government, let's start off with the subtitle of your book: "Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It." What are some of the activities individuals can do to create change, because the oligarchs have control of Congress, for the most part, and the backing of a one-vote majority on the Supreme Court?
Chuck Collins: We need to recognize that the 1 percent and a few thousand transnational corporations currently have captured and hijacked our political system in Washington DC. Over 238 members of the US House of Representatives and 41 Senators have taken a pledge never to vote for a tax increase under any circumstances. Very little meaningful change will happen without a major political realignment.
To shift this, we need to work to eliminate legalized bribery through our current political campaign system. But we must also organize for bold proposals to reduce concentrated wealth and power. These include: taxing the 1 percent, inheritance taxation, shutting down the "off shore system" that enables corporations to dodge taxes, break up the megabanks, and establish federal charters for large corporations that require greater accountability and transparency.
MK: Who are the 1 percent? What characterizes them?
CC: To join the 1 percent, you have income over $500,000 and/or wealth over $5 million. Within the 1 percent there are good people who have devoted their lives and money to a fair economy. They are part of networks like Wealth for the Common Good and the Patriotic Millionaires.
But there are also "rule riggers" and "game fixers," the greedy people who use their wealth and power to rig the rules of the economy in their favor. These are the people, like the billionaire Koch brothers, that we must defend our communities from. They use their power in the form of campaign contributions, charitable foundations, and organizing their peers,
MK: You have a chapter, "How Inequality Wrecks Everything We Care About." You discuss how it disrupts our sense of community. Would you expand upon that?
CC: Extreme inequalities of wealth tear our communities apart. A growing body of research shows too much inequality undermines public health, happiness and social mobility. At the root of this, extreme inequality leads to a breakdown of social solidarity and a sense that "we are all in the same boat." Extremely unequal societies stop making investments in education, infrastructure, public health and public programs that create opportunity and sustain the common good.
MK: How are the rules rigged for the 1 percent?
CC: A segment of the 1 percent uses its wealth and power to tip the rules of the economy in their favor. These rules include tax policy, trade policy, and corporate regulation. Rule changes such as whether the minimum wage goes up or workers have the right to organize.
For the last 30 years, the rules of the economy have favored the wealth holders at the expense of wage earners, favor global corporations at the expense of small business. Taxes on rich have gone down since the mid-1950s.
MK: You have a chapter that claims "the sleeping 99 percent giant wakes up." There is no question, as Truthout daily covers this, that there is an increase in public protest movements and even corporate media coverage of income inequality (limited, but still more than in the past). Yet, many citizens of the US who are in the 99 percent support politicians who vote on behalf of the 1 percent. To what is the gap here due?
CC: Yes, its true. Right-wing organizations - and the media that they control - does a bang up job distracting people and deflecting anger that should be directed at the greedy 1 percent and the "built to loot" transnational corporations. But some of this is cracking - with the further erosion of the middle-class - has increased the percentage of the population that understand that shrink government, pro-rich policies aren't going to improve their economic security.
MK: Given the license to buy elections granted under the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, what makes you hopeful that the super-rich can be removed from pulling the strings in DC?
CC: First, there is a huge awakening in a lot of different sectors about corporate domination and wealth inequality. Fewer people in the 99 percent are swallowing the snake oil - and recognize that "we the people" and representative government is the only countervailing power to runaway corporate power. Secondly, there are allies in the 1 percent like the Patriotic Millionaires. Third, people aren't waiting for President Obama to lead - they are taking action and pressing for what they believe - evidence of the "move our money movement" or "move to amend" resolutions at the local level to reverse Citizen United.
MK: Don't the ultrawealthy have more in common with their global equals in assets rather than with their own nations?
CC: Yes, the wealthy 1 percent in different nations have more in come as a global elite than they do with their own country-women and men. Their wealth is mobile and they are huge users of the "offshore tax haven system" - that give global capital the ability to avoid taxes, regulation and accountability.
MK: How does our current time period compare with the Gilded Age of the robber barons?
CC: There are amazing similarities. One hundred years ago was the last time the richest 1 percent had over 40 percent of all private wealth. Corporations dominated and corrupted our political system. Similar to 2008, extreme inequalities in 1929 contributed to economic instability and depression.
It's important to remember that we reversed these extreme inequalities of wealth between 1929 and 1940. We taxed concentrated wealth and made investments in education, like the GI bill, to expand education and housing opportunity.
MK: Advocates for the wealthy keep touting small businesses as the backbone of America. Yet, global corporate giants are in the business of putting small businesses out of business. Isn't that the case?
CC: The vast majority of small businesses are rooted in localities and are "built to last," as business journalist Jim Collins calls them. They won't stay in business for long if they mistreat their customers, employees and communities.
In my book I describe the couple thousand big global corporations that are wrecking the world as "built to loot" companies. Their business model is all about shifting their costs off their own balance sheet - shedding jobs, dodging taxes and trashing the environment - and leaving the rest of us to pick up after them. They are not "job creators," they are job destroyers.
MK: How did Wall Street and the emergence of financial firms that engage in everything from banking to hedge funds nearly bring down the Us economy with their manipulation of "funny money": financial manipulation of trillions of dollars that they basically xeroxed and have no relation to actual assets?
CC: Over the last 40 years, the financial sector gained more political clout - and they used that power to ward off regulation and oversight. Even today, Bank of America and the 5 other mega financial institutions have gained market share and power. We have to advocate for breaking up the megabanks, allocating their assets to community-based financial institutions that are meeting the real credit needs of our communities - not speculating in finance.
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