The Tax Deal and What It Means for Wealth Inequality—and Us

December 10, 2010 by

Despite a mighty mobilization by progressive groups, this past week, President Obama struck a deal that would extend high-income tax cuts and gut the estate tax.

These policies will widen the already gaping wealth divide.

As young people with wealth and privilege, what role can we play to challenge policies that create further inequality, policies that also increase our own wealth and privilege?

Resource Generation and Wealth for the Common Good are getting ready to launch a joint tax campaign in early 2011 that will grapple with these very questions.

In this context, I thought it would be useful to repost this article by Chuck Collins about the tax deal and the work ahead:

Obama Tax Deal Further Concentrates Wealth and Power: Stop the Death Spiral to Plutocracy

by Chuck Collins, Originally posted at Common Dreams, December 9, 2010

In 2010, an essential moral test of a public policy choice is: Does it further concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few?

Or does it disperse concentrated wealth and power and strengthen possibilities for a democratic society with greater equality, improved health and well-being, shared prosperity and ecological sustainability?

Does it move us toward Plutocracy or Peace and Plenty?

Read the rest of this entry »

Our Dear Co-Director Featured in New Book

November 12, 2010 by

Co-Director Mike Gast has a great quote in the new book Generation Earn by Kimberly Palmer. Check out the excerpt below!

If you’re lucky enough to know that you’ll have some money coming your way from parents or grandparents, consider talking to them about it in advance. Many families decide to pass money on to their kids and grandkids while they’re still living, not only to avoid estate taxes, but also so they can talk about how they want the money spent and give some of it away together. It might sound like as much of a challenge as deciding whether to vacation in Rome or Turks & Caicos, but navigating these kinds of intergenerational wealth transfers can be tricky, and it is a situation faced by a significant chunk of the population. The Government Accountability Office estimates that, on average, the wealthiest 10 percent of baby boomers own $3.2 million worth of assets—much of which they intend to eventually pass on to their kids.*

The group Resource Generation helps young people of wealth figure out how to wield it responsibly. Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Gast turned to the group to help him decide how to handle money he received as a gift from his grandmother. He had $40,000 left in the trust after paying for college and knew he wanted to give part of it away to social justice causes. “I wanted to align my relationship with that money to the values in the rest of my life—the values of economic justice and sharing resources—and I was really struggling with how to do that,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »

Rich Kids on TV: Watching Gilmore Girls

October 26, 2010 by

I was home yesterday with an awful cold, watching television and feeling grumpy, when I got sucked into an old episode of Gilmore Girls. Here’s the part where I admit my pet project of analyzing pop culture portrayals of rich kids. It comes with a disclaimer—I know how painful these stereotypes can be, and, what’s worse, how they sometimes stem from extremely problematic assumptions about race and ethnicity. So it’s not always funny.

But then stuff like James Spader in Pretty in Pink just cracks me up. (Someone even made a montage!) And I used to listen to “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates before I’d go talk about Classified sometimes, just as a reminder not to take myself too seriously. (I always thought there was more than a little truth to the line, “She’s a rich girl and she’s going too far ‘cause she knows it don’t matter anyway,” in light of some of the “brave” things I’ve done.)

Anyway, even though the seventh season of Gilmore Girls is agreed by most to be a travesty, the episode I was watching includes a fascinating scene between Rory and her boyfriend Logan in which he calls her out for being a secret rich kid. A little background info to set the scene: Rory, a college student and aspiring journalist, has just given Logan an article she wrote about a party he took her to last night. Read the rest of this entry »

Tales of a New Co-Director, Part 1

October 21, 2010 by

Holy cow. It’s been a little over a month since I became Interim Co-Director of Resource Generation, and just a few short weeks since Elspeth and I found out we would be co-directors. What a whirlwind.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. Capture my thoughts and share with my community as I set off on this new adventure.

So the first thing I want to tell you is that I never wanted to be an executive director. Never. You know why? Cause it always looked like a setup. One person. All the responsibility. Ready to lead the organization, come up with the genius strategy, work the longest hours, fundraise, supervise, support, challenge, brilliant speaker, writer and charismatic too. It all seemed like too much. I have seen so many folks get burnt to a crisp from the executive director position. It didn’t look good.

And yet I’m stepping up. I’m doing it. Willingly.

One of the major reasons is that I am so excited to work with Elspeth, my co-director. She is brilliant. Really. An incredible organizer. Smart, thoughtful, committed…and she connects the work of RG with social change movements and vision like few folks I know. I am so thankful to be doing this with her.

I also think it is a great chance to do things differently. (I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at this point. I know. Everyone says they are going to do things differently.) I think a lot of the burnout and the long-hours and the superhero expectations on EDs come from wealthy folks, particularly wealthy donors (like myself) and foundations. I think we put a lot of pressure on organizations to look like they have figured it all out, have it all under control, know exactly what to do, and that they are running things smoothly and effectively all the time. Despite our best intentions, I think we wealthy folks can be real perfectionists and control freaks. Yup. Myself included. Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Minutes with Farhad

October 1, 2010 by

Farhad is a man of many talents...

By Dev Aujla

A shuttle picked us up from the train in Chappaqua, NY. The driver was intent on getting us to the retreat center, racing through several small upper NY townships a tad too fast. It was the opening of the Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy Retreat run by Resource Generation, and to the driver it was obviously not to be missed. Along the empty tree-lined streets, we passed only one solitary figure trundling along the edge of the half-paved road. That brief glimpse was my introduction to Farhad. He is a musician, a road biker, a guy from Boston and someone that is transforming his foundation into an organization that not only funds good but invests in it.

Once he caught up, I got to chat with Farhad and have a candid conversation about what he does, how he does it and where he is going.

Dev: So tell me about the Chorus Foundation and what you are up to?

Farhad: The mission of the Chorus Foundation is to help consumers make the right choices to reduce their environmental footprint. We define consumers flexibly as anything from an individual, to a household, to a small business, all the way up to institutions and their procurement policies.

We tend to do project-specific grants. We do some grants that will help people’s operating costs, but usually it’s for a specific thing. And maybe that thing will happen over several years, and we’ll give each year a certain amount. But it’s all based on a specific project with a measurable outcome.

Dev: Tell me about your investments. How have they done?

Farhad: For MRI stuff [Mission Related Investing—read more here], I think we have about 30% of the endowment either invested in or set aside to be on-call for things that we would identify as MRI. Two investments make up that percentage of the endowment. Both of them actually have to do with energy efficiency and buildings. One of them was a PRI [Program-Related Investment] thing, a below-market deal that could have been a grant, but we decided to do it this way. It is trying to innovate the scaling up of an energy efficiency program for a whole city. The other deal is a top notch real estate fund that has a huge emphasis on energy efficiency. They don’t market themselves as green or anything, that’s just what they do as part of their financial bottom line, but they’re also very excited that what they’re doing is good for the planet.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Responsibility of Freedom, the Freedom of Responsibility

September 24, 2010 by

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

There’s a new book about freedom. It’s called Freedom. It’s not a political book. It’s a novel, written by Jonathan Franzen, who last month’s Time magazine cover proclaimed to be the “Great American Novelist.” (Who knew that there were still novels? Let alone novelists? Let alone great ones? But that’s another entry for another forum for another day…) I have not read the book – novel, sorry. Nor do I plan to. My literary ADD requires that my reading diet consist almost exclusively of nonfiction (a societal problem Franzen speaks of in the Time piece). But I did enjoy the cover article very much, finding the portion of its discussion of freedom, Freedom the idea, Freedom the ideal, Freedom the bumper-sticker phrase, to be particularly poignant for the RG community. For who has more freedom than the financially privileged? The freedom to choose what to do and what not to do, how to do it, and when. The freedom to cultivate a life of one’s own choosing.

“It seemed to me,” Franzen tells article author Lev Grossman, “that if we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look what freedom in practice brings.”

From Rage Against The Machine to the Tea Party to Mel Gibson’s William Wallace, the one thing we all want is freedom. Or more freedom. Or as much freedom as possible. But there’s little societal discourse on what one should do when they have that freedom. Read the rest of this entry »

Questioning Money from the Inside Out

September 16, 2010 by

My name is Sarah Apt and I am a 22-year-old owning-class white queer womyn. When I turned 21 I inherited around $600,000 from my parents. It came to me in two different accounts, and had no legal strings attached (and not many emotional ones either). This money comes from both sides of my family. On my dad’s side, the money was made in the late 1800s and early 1900s through a factory outside of Pittsburgh that made parts connected to the steel industry. On my mom’s side, the money comes from generations of wealth in a New England family. I do not know enough about where that money came from, and I am working to learn about it.

Over the last few years, as anti-capitalism has become a part of my politics, I have started to think about what to do with this money and how to approach it. My first reaction to learning how much money I would be inheriting was to feel really ashamed and not talk about it with anyone. Then a friend told me that she was in a similar situation, and we started talking about inheriting money, giving away money, and how to do that. She has been really important to me in this whole process, as someone to process, think, and strategize with. I hope to be organizing with her someday! Last summer, I also got into reading the blog Enough. It was so exciting to see a whole world of possibilities, ways people interacted with money, and different ways of living anti-capitalist politics. My partner at the time and I talked a lot about class and money that summer. More than anything, this was the emotional work of trying to understand my family’s history and growing in my own politics and relationship to myself, my family, and money. It’s hard now to separate what happened when, but through the summer and fall I came to a clearer understanding of what I believed. I knew that I did not believe in capitalism, and more and more it became clear that that meant I didn’t want to keep the money.

Read the rest of this entry »

Organizing Your Privilege

September 3, 2010 by

Check out this new article from RG board member Dev Aujla! Reposted from Wednesday’s Huffington Post.

Close to three years ago, I stumbled into the organizing world for what was originally supposed to be a getaway in West Virginia for a conference called ‘Leveraging Privilege for Social Change’. I was expecting a week away from email, time commitments and speakers. What I left with was a whole new outlook on what privilege meant and an understanding of the importance of peer-organizing.

I realized that ‘leveraging privilege for social change’ is much more broadly applicable and reaches beyond the typical domains of wealth and class that often come to mind. We all have communities of which we are a part and we all have privileges that only we have permission to speak about. Our privilege may lie in our relationships, our time, our energy or it may be our skills, abilities or resources, regardless we often need a little help to put them to use. We need a peer network to support us, to help us realize that not only do we have something to give, but that it is possible to make a difference.

I recently met with Kyle Thiermann who embodies just this. Kyle is a professional surfer from Santa Cruz and he decided to mobilize his community — disengaged surfers. After a trip to Chile, Kyle learned that a proposed coal power plant, funded by the Bank of America, was going to ruin the surf breaks and local culture. He began to mobilize his community, to shoot videos and to advocate in telling people to move their money from the Bank of America to local banks. With his enthusiasm, the campaign grew; this was Kyle’s community, this was his privilege. As a direct result of his organizing, he has been able to document that over $110 million dollars of lending power that has been moved from the bank. This is the power of organizing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Billionaires Stepping Up

August 27, 2010 by

Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Diane Bondareff

Lately some big names beyond just our Resource Generation community have been pushing the idea of giving. Warren Buffett with Bill and Melinda Gates have been, “driving to get the super-rich, starting with the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, to pledge at least 50% of their net worth to charity during their lifetimes or at death.”

You have to have respect for the donor-organizing skills demonstrated by Buffett and the Gates family with the giving pledge (http://givingpledge.org/) they organized.  However, a lot of the advice they’re offering isn’t too different from what we talk about at RG. Be thoughtful, but also don’t be afraid to dig in and figure it out. Be bold, give now, take action.

(In fact, those skills and similarities are no coincidence. Bill and Melinda Gates were inspired by our partners at Bolder Giving. Look out for an upcoming blog post telling the story.)

Read the rest of this entry »

I Learned So Much

August 17, 2010 by

I remember thinking that I had been hired to teach them something.

I was a sophomore in college and I had been hired to be a Summer Resident Assistant for a youth program that wanted to save 100 “at-risk” young people of color in Dallas, Texas. I had been hired to transform the lives of these young folks and I had one summer to do it!  I thought it was possible. I was nineteen years old. I had a lot to learn.

Imagine this: Day 1, 100 thirteen and fourteen year olds are arriving. I decided that I needed to be tougher, a little rougher in my walk, talk, and attitude. So I chose right then and there to bring out my inner rap star and picked up the fakest slang imaginable. It was an absolute disaster. In the first 10 minutes one of the young guys heard me talk and asked, “Rodney, why are you talking like that? You can be who you are man. We’re going to like you no matter what.”

Jinkies!

Read the rest of this entry »