Face to Face with Inequality

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Resistance: A Pre-Inauguration Gathering

On January 15, Fair Money founder Marijke Rijsberman opened up her home in Redwood City for a pre-inauguration gathering. The event aimed to bring together Bay area residents concerned about the direction the country appears to be taking, and interested in working alongside their neighbors to make the region a more fair, inclusive, and equal place for those who live here.

Advertised widely using sites such as Nextdoor.com and Meetup.com, the event attracted many new faces to Fair Money, along with lots of old friends. After a period of mingling and munching on a delicious spread of food prepared by Fair Money members, the floor was opened for a round of introductions. Attendees were asked to share their names, how they had heard of Fair Money, and the concerns that had inspired them to attend the event.

After a series of common concerns were identified—such as rising rental and home costs, the experience of racism and xenophobia, and inequality in educational access—attendees split into small discussion groups to brainstorm potential individual- and group-level responses that could be taken to address these deeply entrenched social problems. Having a mixture of researchers, people working with non-profits, artists, and concerned citizens in the room contributed a diversity of knowledge and perspectives on issues, leading to rich conversations.  For example, in my group—which was focused on the housing affordability crisis—, I learned a lot about the various ways different community groups were already engaged in working with city councils in the region to address housing issues, as well as the different challenges each city context presents for developing workable solutions to the affordability problem. On the other hand, as a sociologist who has studied the impact of economic booms on inequality in other cities in the U.S., I was able to share how the Bay Area experience was similar and different to other regions undergoing similar population and job increases.


The afternoon’s event ended with a share out in which members of each group presented what they had discussed and suggested potential next steps forward and collaborations for working toward solving the issue they had selected. The event closed with an open question: What next? While the pathway ahead for solving the sometimes seemingly intractable barriers to a more fair, inclusive, and equal Bay Area region is long, windy, and uphill, it was inspiring to meet so many people, from so many backgrounds and walks of life, interested in forging ahead together. There are a lot of people that want to make the Bay Area great—not again—but for once, and for all.


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Calling for Humanism

Peter Buffett has a spot-on op-ed in the New York Times today, in which he calls out the complicity of philanthropy in a culture of exploitation and inequality, by which the right hand gives a little philanthropy as a sop to problems the profit-mongering left hand has created.

Especially relevant to the mission of FAIR Money is his indictment of philanthropic financial services to the poor:

“Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?”

Buffett says he is not calling for an end to capitalism, he is calling for humanism.

FAIR Money has started talking about what it takes to empower people (of all levels of income) to participate financially on their own terms. In Buffet’s words: what does it take to stop feeding the beast? I hope we can arrive at an answer using a thoughtful, inclusive, participatory process.

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The Moral Hazards of Too Much Money

If you think the pursuit of happiness is essentially a private affair, then recent research findings regarding the impact of inequality will make a hash of your most cherished beliefs. A Greater Good article summarizing the research on inequality points out that people are happiest and most compassionate in countries with the least inequality. And it’s not the poor who are short on compassion, but the wealthy. People who are significantly wealthier than others, it turns out, are not only less generous but also more apt to drive over hapless pedestrians who find themselves in a crosswalk when the wealthy come barreling down the street. People who are given an obvious advantage in games of monopoly still think they are brilliant and deserving when they win. Food for thought. 

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Boudreaux’s Cafe

Today’s field trip to Boudreaux’s Cafe in San Francisco yielded a fascinating perspective on idealism in action.

A small part of the collection at Boudreaux's

A small part of the collection at Boudreaux’s

Bob and Tunisia both trade in collectibles and have opened a space in Bayview with a good portion of their stock on display and for sale. It’s a treasure trove made up of part thrift store, part antiques store, part performance space (for music and spoken word), and part tutoring center. With free coffee. Oh, and they’ve done a voter registration drive. Eventually they hope to turn into a full-fledged coffee shop, with a kitchen, but they have only been in operation for 11 weeks and have made themselves a fixture in the neighborhood and a drop-in center for anyone who wants a hug. It’s a great model for delivering neighborhood services, firing on so many cylinders at once.