Author Chuck Collins shares both sides of inequality in new book

Saturday, July 22, author and activist Chuck Collins made an appearance at Oblong Books & Music in Millerton to talk about his recent book, “Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good.” Collins, left, was welcomed to the bookstore by owner Dick Hermans. Photo by Kaitlin Lyle

MILLERTON — When it comes to the subject of inequality and wealth, many authors tend to portray the issue from one side of the story. This can’t be said for author and activist Chuck Collins, who has personally experienced both sides of the wealth divide. He’s used the perspective in his new narrative, “Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good.”

This past Saturday, July 22, Oblong Books & Music in Millerton invited the public to attend a free talk, Q&A and book signing, featuring Collins and his latest publication. 

A current resident of Boston, Collins began his narrative by explaining that he grew up in the 1 percent in suburban Detroit. His great-grandfather was Oscar Mayer — of Oscar Mayer hot dogs.

Collins said the 1967 Detroit riots, which took place when he was 7 years old, made a big impact on his life. Collins remembered how his mother said the riots had to do with “things not being fair” and how her explanation planted the seed in his consciousness. 

After admitting that he “grew up in a bubble” as a member of the 1 percent, Collins said he’s been mobilizing against inequality for the past 30 years. He recounted a story from his first job working at a mobile home park. 

Collins remembered how park residents were nervous about sales, and that homes were being taken out from under residents. Collins found himself conflicted as he contemplated the inheritance he had from the Oscar Mayer Company.

Shortly afterward, Collins called a meeting with the residents, explaining their financial situation. One by one, he watched as they began to put everything they had on the table and offered to buy each other’s shares in addition to their own. By the end of the meeting, the residents cheered as they figured out a way to raise the necessary $3,500 themselves to buy their homes back. 

“I had grown up in a wealthy environment and I had never seen people make sacrifices for each other,” Collins said, “so that was the kind of world I wanted to live in.”

At age 26, Collins made the bold decision to give away his inheritance, which he described as “four generations of economic well-being coming my way.” Though his parents were initially concerned about his decision, they eventually accepted his choice — Collins spent the next 30 years working on issues of inequality. Despite challenges along the way, Collins’ determination paved the way for better things to come. When an unexpected hardship came his way, he recounted how the residents from the mobile home park he worked at helped him put his life back together.

Originally taken from a quote by former football coach Barry Switzer, the term “born on third base” refers to individuals who act as though they deserve the privileges that come with having distinct advantages. When discussing the subject of inequality, Collins said society’s biggest barrier to fixing inequalities is a “reflection of deservedness.” He proposed a way to “disrupt the story” by telling the story through the lens of those who have benefited from their advantages and the help they received.

“The reason I wrote “Born on Third Base” is because I’m hearing these stories all the time now …” Collins said, “and my experience is that people are waking up, that there’s a realization that these inequalities are really undermining us down the road.”

Since his book came out last fall, Collins’ message to his fellow 1 percenters is to “come home, put your stake in a place and say, ‘Let’s make this as equitable and decent of a place to live as possible.’” He has also encouraged people to protect their communities from extraction capitalism and to understand that while it’s good to give to charity, there’s no guarantee that philanthropy will end inequality.

“Think of wealth as a reservoir, and that water level keeps going down,” Collins said at the end of the talk.

The author welcomed questions and comments from the audience.

When one attendee asked where America stands today with the wealth divide, Collins stated his belief that the country is currently in a volatile time. He said there’s going to be a pendulum shift some time between 2019 and 2020, and that “it’s in our hands.”

Sitting off to the side of the talk, Hermans asked how long it would take to generate a worldwide understanding of what was at stake. In his experience, Collins replied that he has been impressed with individuals recognizing the inequalities and said, “We are actually capable of rewiring ourselves quicker and there’s a part of our nature that wants to be part of a reciprocal connective community.”

For more, Collins recommended the website, www.inequality.org.