Nate: Let’s start with the observation that economic inequality causes a host of social ills. The word “causes” is important here: economic inequality is not merely a consequence or correlate of other, deeper forces but in fact plays a causal role in its influence on public health, crime, our natural environment, poverty, and other aspects of our lives. What can we do to reduce economic inequality and promote equity (a distinct but related idea) here in Rockland?

Becca: I’ve got a lot of ideas, but let’s back up a little bit. I think it’s important to investigate the way the term “crime” commonly gets used. It’s frequently used to reference things related to “crimes” of poverty. But what about reimagining “crime” as the crime of banks and corporations owning and destroying the country/world/environment, etc., the crime of 41 percent of children in the U.S. living in low-income families, and a full 21 percent of them coping with poverty in the richest country in the world? Capitalism itself is a crime. Its primary premise is the acquisition of money and resources, with no built-in concern for others or the environment. In capitalism, there will always be inequity, exploitation and power imbalances, no matter how regulated it is. We can talk about ways to reduce economic inequality, but in a capitalist system, these will always just be reforms, not fundamental transformations.

Nate: You and I have pretty different ideas of what “capitalism” can be or do. In my interpretation, well-regulated capitalism with a strong social safety net (which we manifestly do not have in the U.S.) can be a means of channeling resources to socially useful enterprises while making sure everyone has enough resources for a healthy, satisfying life. We’re not going to resolve such deep philosophical differences in this column, but I think we can agree on a lot anyway! How about a local living wage ordinance?

Becca: Yes, we still disagree, fundamentally, about what is possible under capitalism. Living wage: Please pass a minimum wage of at least $15 soon and make it continue increasing to keep up with inflation. This should be accompanied by rent control: a yearly rent-increase cap! We need better oversight of landlords: 90-day eviction notices, no discrimination against those with housing vouchers, etc.

Nate: How about something regarding work scheduling fairness? Anecdotally, it seems that some businesses don’t give their employees regular schedules or much notice of shift times. Other cities have passed laws to address this and, for example, sometimes require employers to offer more hours to part-time staff before hiring new staff. In addition to increasing take-home pay, this could allow more people to better balance work, childcare, education, and other obligations.

Becca: Great idea. In general, we want to get wealthier people to participate in mitigating the gentrification risks that come with their visiting, buying property, moving into, or being part of this community. Since we don’t yet have the ability from the state to enact local taxes, we need to encourage those with means to voluntarily contribute a higher share of their wealth to a fund in solidarity with those who haven’t benefited from generational wealth or well-paying jobs. That money will go into rent and property tax relief funds, pedestrian infrastructure, land banks, the local bus, emergency housing, food, schools, social workers, addiction resources, court fees and more.

Importantly, unlike with most philanthropy, these people of means will not get to be the ultimate deciders of how the funds are used. Wealthy people in the U.S. tend to not only give a smaller percentage of their income to “charity” than poor people, but they also contribute money to things that primarily benefit them and their children and perpetuate the elite, such as art museums and academic institutions. Since many people of means don’t want their money going to federal taxes when so much of it goes to funding war, perhaps they could be enticed to contribute more on the local level, knowing it is helping to sustain their neighbors and the community as a whole.

Nate: Yikes, we’ve only just started and we’re almost at our word count! How about: zero-interest loans for weatherization and home repair (including for rental properties); a fund for across-the-board property tax rebates for people below a certain wealth threshold; better urban design for people without cars!

Becca: Experiment with sliding-scale options for pay-for-parking — an honor system based on ability to pay (which includes access to wealth and opportunities, not just income) benefiting the general social equity fund. Wouldn’t it be great if Rockland became known for innovative ideas about how to spread wealth around?