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book review: "Born on Third Base"...

Sunday, June 24, 2018
... written by Chuck Collins, published by Chelsea Green of White River Junction, Vermont in 2016. I had  no knowledge of him before the interview on public radio some months ago, but he has several other books listed, most co-authored with others who have common philosophies or goals. The sub title explains: 'A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home and Committing to the Common Good.'

Collins was born into wealth, the great grandson of processed meat producer Oscar Mayer (I was surprised to discover there actually was a Mr. Mayer, thinking he was invented like Betty Crocker.) As a young adult Collins had a number of opportunities to experience life that changed his perspective as a member of the upper-crust of American society. He began to realize how fortunate he was to have the advantages that created his inherited fortune. Then he told his family he wanted to give his inheritance away. After his dad made every effort to persuade him otherwise, the funds were put in a grant-making foundation to give it all away.

Collins toured the country with the father of Bill Gates, meeting people and talking about the necessity for an estate tax on the ultra-wealthy, to fund government programs. One of his books was co-authored with Bill Gates, Sr. Others authors he worked with are mentioned in this book as having an influence on his philosophy, lifestyle and writings. He has met with people nationwide in small groups, explaining and discussing his vision: inequities/advantages given to so many as others are born with disadvantages that are often insurmountable.

Middle class citizens are often provided with benefits, passed along by their parents who were able to take advantage of government loans for home buying, free tuition under the GI bill, start up funds at absurdly low interest rates for businesses, and gifts from well-established relatives. They see themselves as 'self-made', without being aware of the benefits of being born into these circumstances. Otherwise they would struggle throughout life like many minorities who were not fortunate enough to have the family support those baby-boomers did. Even the people across the nation working in agriculture, growing crops or livestock benefit from federal subsidies that have been in place for years. Family farms over many generations have long taken advantage of government support - free grazing of cattle/horses, sheep on public lands, payouts for not growing certain crops. Gifts from the Uncle Sam.

Individiuals we often think of as struggling: small business owners, or farmers are the recipients of government loans or subsidies that give them a leg up. Folks who receive a financial advantage for a lifetime then pass along a legacy to future generations. Whereas minorities/immigrants will often lag behind with jobs/skills and income, unable to set aside savings or invest in home ownership. An endless struggle just to break even, provide for families with minimal resources.

Collins did not specifically say this, as it might not be something he ever considered: but I believe much of the inequity in our culture/society is due to the fact that the US Constitution was written by wealthy, class-conscious white men. They were not deliberately small minded, but just the opposite - desiring to give everyone opportunities to be free from the demands of monarchy, successful, establish a comfortable life (by their standards.) But they were men. White men. Men who were the most influential in the nation, blessed with many advantages simply due to their birth circumstances, the families they were born into as English citizens. Men who would never see females as equals. Men who would always look down upon women, as inferior, second class humans.

Being a 'one percenter' means deliberately ignoring the other ninety-nine. Being aware, but unwilling to see the struggles of those who want to change and improve their lives. Collins currently lives in a neighborhood in Boston, where he has a family, employment, and makes an effort to connect. He tries to help neighbors, friends, small business owners: helping them develop plans and methods to have a small but positive impact on society and their world/environment.

"People who are privileged in our society, for a variety of reasons, don't see the wind at their own back, nor do they see the headwinds that other people encounter. If you're like me, judgments toward others run though your head all the time. Why don't you work harder? Why don't you exercise? Why don't you eat better food? In these hasty judgments I often forget all the privileges that have come my way. From healthy food and suburban open space to enrichment experiences, I had a mammoth boost long before kindergarten. But like most people in my circumstances I somethings forget I was born on third base. It is easy to think I got here on my own." (page 60.)

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