Episode 35: Chuck Collins
Chuck Collins directs the Institute of Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good. He is also co-founder of United for a Fair Economy and Wealth for the Common Good, a network of wealthy individuals who embrace fair taxation to support the broader good. He has authored of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It and has joined Bill Gates, Sr. to co-author Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. I learned about Chuck through David Korten, only to realize that I already had Resilience Circles—another project Chuck is affiliated with—on my list of potential episode themes.
At this point you have probably guessed that Chuck and I spent a lot of time talking about wealth and class, but it’s hard to cover those issues without digging into assumptions about human nature. Are we individualistic and selfish? Social and communal? All of the above? Chuck gives us a glimpse into how he pitches economic equality to the 1%, a pitch that involves the importance of the social and ecological commons while recognizing the importance of individual determination. Education makes an appearance and Chuck stresses that, in addition to the social/civic education Lawrence Torcello discussed, we need to remember that we are embedded in an ecological system. Resilience Circles make a brief appearance and new economies come up towards the end of the conversation.
You’ll probably notice more commonalities and contrasts with plenty of other thinkers. Obviously there are a fair number of similarities between Chuck and David Korten, though our conversations focused on very different themes. Equally interesting, how do Chuck’s assertions about human nature and brain science pair with Colin Camerer? Priscilla Grim and Cameron Whitten have discussed class without sharing the environmental concerns of other thinkers in the project, but Chuck suggests that an awareness of the ecological commons is key to encouraging a robust sense of the social commons. It is easy to find contrasts between Chuck and libertarian-leaning thinkers like Max More and Ariel Waldman, but he also shares their appreciation of individual agency.
Both Chuck Collins and Priscilla Grim imply that for greater equality, for some people to do better, others need to lose something. For Chuck, that means paying higher taxes.
There’s a split between these two and others in the project (maybe Tim Cannon or Robert Zubrin) who see it possible for everyone to do better through a ‘rising tide’ of prosperity and technology.
The things he went over during the midpoint, where he talked making meaningful contributions to the herd and disconnection from sources of labour, there was something that struck me very recent.
It’s been a few years now, but I’ve not been long out of high school. This is a Canadian context, but I found the structure of the way secondary education was taught to me, very much reinforced a disconnected and unjust view of the world.
All the students, essentially from day one in grade nine, were divided into “academic” and “applied”, university-bound and college/trade school-bound, respectively. The applied students were usually heavily discouraged from taking subjects like history, science, or anything of the social studies. But on the other note, the academic students were often so overloaded with so many different class prerequisites for graduation that it left very little room for hands-on classes like cooking, construction, business, horticulture, and auto repair.
The really odd part was that for the core classes, like the maths and languages, the only things that really differed between academic and applied was the teacher’s expectations of the students, and often how highly or poorly they treated them. Many times, I would find the actual curriculum between the classes was more or less the same stuff.
This always struck me as unfair. On my end of things alone, you end up with a lot of highly educated young people with no life experience going off to university to be brainwashed by whatever brand of classic liberal humanities or neocon economic ideology that gets in them first, and on the other hand you end up with a lot of students that, while knowing the basics, don’t end up knowing nearly enough about the trades they’re interested in because apprenticeship programs aren’t as available and they just spent the past 8 years sitting around and being warehoused by the public system.
I know school is a thing that just isn’t for everyone, and I know of other countries like Germany whose attempts at streamlining this problem ended up with highly exaggerated solutions that breed worse problems, so I can’t think of any possible alternatives to this sort of system. Granted, this style of assembly-line schooling was based on the Fordist view of the world, and only became commonplace with the rise of the middle class in the first place. Perhaps this sort of thing was the unsustainable Achilles’ heel of the education system in the first place?
(Just for a note about this, my primary source on that last bit was from “The Case Against Adolescence” by Robert Epstein, a book that I liked very much at the time, but… probably isn’t as good in retrospect.)
I wonder if there’s a type of Cartesian dualism lurking in the division between academic and applied studies? It’s like the (questionable) bifurcation between mind and body.
That education question also seems to fold out into an economic question and a question of our expectations of social mobility. It makes me think of Torcello and Rawls, actually—we’re trying to reconcile an unequal natural lottery with our aspirations for an equal social lottery.