A major political realignment is the
only way plutocratic control over our current elected officials in DC
will change, according to Chuck Collins in his new book, "99 to 1: How
Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do about It."
Truthout recently interviewed Collins. You can receive his book with a
minimum contribution to Truthout by clicking here.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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