Chuck Collins to speak about income inequality in Manhasset

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(Photo courtesy of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock)

When Chuck Collins was 26, he gave away a $500,000 inheritance.

“He’s really led the movement to encourage people of wealth to understand their responsibility and accountability to the rest of us and to be engaged in rebalancing the inequalities that have occurred,” Shelter Rock Forum Chairman Colin Woodhouse said of Collins.

“Right now, his message is very appropriate to the current situation and the brutal concentration of wealth that’s occurred. To me, it’s the worst period of income inequality since the robber barons roamed the earth in the early 1900s.”

Collins, author of “Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good” and a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., will speak at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock as part of its ongoing Shelter Rock Forum.

As the grandson of American composer Edward Joseph Collins and the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer, Collins grew up in the top 1 percent and said keeping much of the country’s wealth in the hands of a small percentage of Americans is not good for any class.

“The perspective I have is these inequalities are not good for anybody,” Collins said. “There are wealthy people watching this debate and my argument is these extreme inequalities are going to destroy the foundations of wealth and they’re going to undermine quality of life for everybody, including the wealthy.”

Collins said there are a few barriers to dissolving wealth inequality, including political power and the myth of deservedness.

The myth of deservedness is “the idea that people have a lot of wealth because they got up early and worked hard and applied themselves in comparison to those other people who didn’t,” Collins said.

While Collins said inequality has been growing for about 40 years, the passage of the recent tax overhaul will only accelerate the trend “like throwing oil onto a fire,” he said.

Collins, however, does not see this as a permanent way of life in the United States. Members of the millennial generation are more attuned to inequalities as they deal with student debt and grapple with the economy.

Privilege spreads to this same generation, Collins said, with many young adults being financially assisted by their parents well beyond previous generations.

“The dynamic I see is compounding advantage at the top, meaning if you’re in the top fifth of households, you are starting to see parents helping their children get access to all kinds of advantages,” Collins said. “It’s the way in which advantage is accelerating for people at the top because people are helping their kids buy houses, join the workforce and pay for their education.”

Woodhouse said the theme of Shelter Rock Forum speakers, which recently included Afghanistan’s first female Parliament speaker, Fawzia Koofi, and Richard Reeves, author of “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It,” focuses on moral courage and doing what instinct says is right despite the potential personal risks.

“Chuck betrayed his class for the common good, and that takes a lot of courage to put yourself at risk for being disinherited,” Woodhouse said. “I’m hoping this is a message that will resonate with our community.”

Collins will also sign copies of his book during the event.

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