Inequality rising: A chat with Chuck Collins on what’s driving the world crazy

A map of the world showing how countries rank in terms of inequality, based on the most widely accepted metric known as the Gini coefficient. More green is better; the redder it gets, the bigger the gap between rich and poor. Most recent data 2015. Wikimedia Commons

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we talk with Chuck Collins at Inequality.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C. Collins is the author of several books warning against rising wealth concentration and inequality, most recently Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home and Committing to the Common Good. That’s a much longer book title than his earlier book co-authored with Bill Gates Sr. Wealth and Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes.

The point here is that Collins, who inherited substantial wealth as an heir to the Oscar Mayer meat family (if we can call it that), has long been fighting to push back against wealth concentration and its abuses of power in this country. As editor Tom Paulson notes in his interview with Collins, he and Bill Gates Sr. took up the cause against the George W. Bush Administration’s attempt to get rid of the estate tax (which President Trump and Congress are seeking to do again). Talking about ‘inequality’ back then made folks nervous, even liberals, who thought it sounded a bit, well, like a communist.

Income inequality trends. US Council of Economic Advisers. 2017 report

While Collins, Gates and others helped foil the previous attempt to kill the estate tax, wealth concentration and inequality have since gotten worse. The problem today certainly has grown, Collins says, yet this appears to have led to greater public attention and concern. It’s this silver lining we explore with Collins, who like many is worried about the current state of affairs in our politics and the rising tide of nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia worldwide. Our headline “Inequality Rising” is meant to convey this yin-and-yang – the fact that we are at a crisis point but one in which truly transformative change for the common good may finally happen. Crazy times, yes, but perhaps just crazy enough to get us out of some dangerous, destructive ruts.

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Speaking of crazy times … As usual, Paulson and I precede the interview by revisiting some of the top news stories in and around the Humanosphere lately, beginning of course with President Donald Trump’s arguably crazed announcement that he intends to renege on the Paris climate change agreement. We had a few stories bouncing off this, one by Tom Murphy noting it isn’t so simple or easy as Trump may think to walk away.

We also liked a story that Joanne Lu did on the positive economic impact for India if they would do more to increase the number of women in the workforce. We took note of Lisa Nikolau’s story reporting on the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s request for an apology from the Vatican for the role it played in perpetrating abuses against indigenous peoples there.

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Finally, in a nice segue to our chat with Collins, Lu takes note of a recent self-published study by economist who contend wealth concentration and inequality is fueled largely by tax evasion. Oh, and Collins is again part of a movement in defense of the estate tax given the renewed attempt to get rid of it.

(Producer’s note: The sound quality on Tom’s side is not NPR quality because he was on the road, using his phone instead of the studio shared with us by our wonderful partners at KNKX. But it’s a great interview and very timely so listen in!)

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About Author

Imana Gunawan

Imana Gunawan is Humanosphere's social media manager and podcast producer. A University of Washington graduate in journalism and dance, Imana's interests include underrepresented communities, the intersection between politics and culture, global-local issues and the arts. She can be reached at @imanafg on Twitter or imana@humanosphere.org

  • Rosalie

    Thank you very much for this inspiring and challenging podcast.