President Obama’s current appeals to fairness — as in the wealthy paying their “fair share” and letting ordinary Americans have a “fair shot” at a middle class life — will likely do more harm than good for those of us who care about economic equality. A Gallup poll conducted in mid-December reports that 58% of Americans polled say that they do not see society divided into “haves” and “have nots” despite Occupy Wall Street’s efforts to highlight growing economic inequality. The references to fairness appear to be the Democrats’ attempt to capitalize on the rhethoric of the 99%, a tactic they should seriously reconsider as it will likely backfire with serious consequences to our nation.

Fairness is inevitably in the eyes of the beholder. In the President’s stump speeches, “fair” seems intentionally ambiguous, a political Rorschach inkblot test to align people behind broad political assumptions than an actual signal of agreement about what would create a level playing field in a today’s economy. The rhetoric of fairness divides people into beneficiaries of unjust policies or victims of them, without delving deeper into what actually unites and benefits everyone.

If the President and the Democrats actually want a more equitable distribution of wealth, then they should pretend they are managing a household or large family, rather than running a business. The responsibility of managing a family household includes more than just making sure that there is money to pay expenses. It also means caring for everyone in it with whatever resources you do have. It requires us to distribute and share our household’s resources in a way that makes it possible for the needs of individual members as well as the needs of the whole household to be met. The balance between the needs of individuals and the whole is necessary, because how we distribute the family’s resources has direct impact on the quality of how we relate to each other. Competition makes for tense family relations. Similarly, in a family it is hard to imagine tolerating a situation where some family members suffer without basic needs being met while others have plenty. When we live under the same roof, it is clear that our own wellbeing is intimately connected to the wellbeing of everyone else in household.

This dynamic of being interconnected and interdependent needs to drive political discourse and policy as well. Economic policies organize relationships between people in society. When we distribute resources — whether food, electricity or Social Security benefits — we create relationships between people.  The ways in which both private wealth and public goods are distributed translate into the neighbors we have, the local businesses available in our neighborhoods and the quality of the schools our kids attend. In the academic world, economics may be about the distribution of scarce resources; but in the real world, economics is a *system of relationships* created by the distribution of resources. And it’s the quality of our relationships that lie beneath discussions about economic inequality. The relevant question is not “what is fair?” but rather “what economic relationships make it possible for us to get along and live together in peace?”

How we get along may seem irrelevant, idealistic or even naive given the ascerbic tone of today’s political discussions, but the quality of our relationships couldn’t be more important. Almost a hundred years ago, we had similar gaps between the wealthy and everyone else. Such inequities gave rise to violent labor protests and reform movements. While the ultimate ends of those social justice movements were laudable, violence in any form is costly and should be prevented.

Another recent Gallup poll cites that the vast majority of Americans believe we should focus on economic growth instead of closing the wealth gap. Unfortunately, that economic growth may be a long time in coming, given Japan’s decades-long recession-turned-depression and the foreboding economic chaos in Europe. Right now and for the long haul, we need economic policies that will help us live together peacefully regardless of whether the economy is booming or busting.

During hard times, families find ways to put aside differences, band together and support each other. When they do, they are able to tap into a resiliency that can withstand and outlast hardship. We rarely consider everyone in the country to be part of a common household, but what would it make possible if we did? What would we do differently if we took that responsibility seriously? Rather than using the rhetoric of “fairness” to pit people against each other, the President and other policy makers would do well to remember that economic policies create more than just wealth — they create relationships. And there are some relationships that will withstand economic hardship better than others.

 

I grew up with the expectation that I should strive to financially support myself and my family all by myself, regardless of what my partner might earn. Why? Death, divorce, disability, disease, you name it. Life is risky. Anything can happen and often does. My work ethic was my personal safety net to insure me against potential financial disaster. I thought as long as I could work, I would be safe.

And then one day, I couldn’t work anymore. Poor health and severe post-partum depression set in after my daughter was born, and I left the workforce to care for myself and my new baby. When I suddenly realized I no longer had the self-sufficiency that working meant to me, my depression deepened. I felt helpless without a means of earning money. I hated depending on anybody, and my stress compounded with financial insecurity.

In truth, I wasn’t financially insecure at all. I was actually deeply supported by my husband, family, friends and collegues. I had a spouse with a job, some savings, maternity leave and COBRA health insurance. Those people and resources helped me get better, and two years later I joined the workforce again.

Here’s what I learned from that experience: When I thought what I needed was more cash, what I really sought was freedom from financial anxiety. I didn’t want to worry about if we were going to have enough to pay the rent just because I couldn’t pull my weight at the moment, but I also thought that caring for myself was a luxury I could not afford. What turned the dial down on my financial fear and worry was recognizing that I was part of a community that was not going to let me fall through the cracks. It turns out that my  self-sufficiency — my confidence in my own resourcefulness to be able to care for myself and family  – had a limit, and that limit was me. My bootstraps could only pull me up so far. To transcend the limits of my self, I needed to see that I was connected to and supported by others — even financially.

It turns out that even people who do have ample bank accounts feel financially insecure. A study from early 2011 by Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy found that even the super rich “still do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess.” The average net worth of the people in this study was $78 million. If $78 million didn’t make someone feel financially secure, then what would?

Our instinct in times of financial hardship is to narrow our focus to the survival of ourselves or our family. Unfortunately, it also ends up narrowing our focus of solutions to what we can do all by ourselves: cut expenses or increase income. Ironically, what creates the financial security and financial wellbeing that we actually seek lies outside the small, narrow focus in the larger networks of communities. With more resources to access, there is also more flexibility in how to respond.

But right now, our communities and governments are going through the same downward spiral of scarcity, cost-cutting and income-raising dilemmas we have at home. This is the time  to make investments in our capacity to support each other. Instead of debating what to cut and who to tax, we can ask ourselves:

  • How would we feel if we knew that the community supporting us was as big as a town, city, nation or a continent?
  • What would we do differently if we knew that our basic financial needs would be met through our community networks and supports when we hit rough spots such as unemployment, caring for sick family members, our own ill health?
  • What government policies can create the conditions in which we will feel supported by the financial strength of an entire community until we can regain our self-sufficiency?
  • What can we do now to dial down our collective financial fears? Who needs to be involved and how?

I’m not suggesting that we don’t need to cut expenses or raise taxes, but those are actions that need to be taken in the context of a vision we are trying to achieve. We are a country of unquestionable, tremendous wealth, and that wealth was supposed to be a proxy for financial security. But none of us feel financially secure, even if we have the wealth. If having the wealth doesn’t do it, then what would actually free us from financial fear?

Here are two things we can do with public policies to create conditions that lessen financial fear and increase our overall financial security:

  • Narrow the bandwidth for wealth– The wider the gap in wealth, the more room there is for comparison and stronger feelings of financial inadequacy. It’s like trying to keep up with the Joneses but always failing because there will forever be someone with (lots) more money than you. The more narrow the room for comparison, the less inadequate we feel. Plus, when we narrow the bandwidth, the fall from fiscal grace is shorter and the climb back up not so steep. Policies that narrow income and wealth gaps (such as progressive taxation) can do this.
  • Fulfill universal needs without contingencies for income — Our need to be able to care for each other is universal, not limited to those at the poverty line. If the need is universal, then so should be the program. Designing policies that help anyone who needs it, not just those who fall below certain income thresholds, creates a public good for everyone even though it will only be used by those who need it when they need it. One existing example is the Family and Medical Leave Act which requires employers of a certain size to offer unpaid leave to workers caring for new or ailing family members. Workers are eligible regardless of their income, and while anyone can envision a situation where they might need to use it, only some will need to at any given time. Strengthening this program allows us to focus on supporting the people who support others in need, so that there isn’t a competition between income and care. It supports a community’s ability to care for itself.

Maybe our government solutions to provide income supports (such as unemployment or welfare) have been incomplete in part because of our focus on getting individuals back on their feet. Investments in the community’s capacity to care for each other could top off those efforts, because it’s the supportive relationships that will give us the financial security we truly seek.

 

*******************

Note: This is the last in a series on financial wellbeing. You can read the other posts in the series here, here and here.

We’ve built an entire industry around giving and called it the philanthropic sector — and by this I’m referring to the institutional foundations like Ford, Carnegie, and Gates that represent the largess made possible by corporate profits, and then the nonprofit organizations that receive those funds and who work to mitigate the ill effects of poverty. Structured into the philanthropic sector is the inequitable distribution of wealth and power to create the necessary supply of capital (excess money available to make donations) and the demand for it (social problems created by that inequality). In other words, economic inequity and injustice are built into philanthropy itself. For the institution of philanthropy to survive, economic inequality must exist. Think about it: if we didn’t have an economic underclass in one corner and extreme wealth in the other, would we even need philanthropy?

Many philanthropists and those in the sector care deeply about finding solutions to poverty and other inequities. I’m not really criticizing people — I’m looking at the systems in which people find themselves and creates a kind of architecture through which much of their impact is constrained. If we were interested in building an economy grounded in sufficiency rather than maintaining an economy that creates scarcity to keep itself going, philanthropy would need to be different. Can we create a system that truly harnesses our inherent generosity without needing to create poverty and scarcity as a motivation? What would need to be different about the philanthropic sector?

What does philanthropy look like in a world where everybody already has enough?

 

What makes life worth living?

This is the question answered by Tom Rath and Jim Harter in “Wellbeing: Five Essential Elements” and answered in a way only Gallup pollsters can. The answer is culled from massive amounts of data gathered by Gallup over fifty years and across 150 countries to describe what 98% of the world’s population would say is the best future possible for themselves. Rath and Harter call this best possible future “wellbeing” and say that it is:

 

the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities.

The researchers refer to those elements as career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing and community wellbeing. They were careful to pick aspects that “we can do something about,” and throughout the book they make suggestions for what individuals can do to improve their wellbeing in each of those areas.

The book’s advice is limited largely because their definition of “what we can do something about” is restricted to what individual people acting by themselves can affect. For example, their three recommendations for boosting financial wellbeing are to: 1) buy experiences such as outings with friends and loved ones; 2) spend on others such as giving to charity; and 3) set up automated payments and savings. I do these things already but I don’t see them having a huge impact on my quality of life and virtually none on my community. I’m skeptical that these acts will create the wellbeing 98% of the population seeks.

The truth is that there is far more we can do to create wellbeing than the book suggests if we choose to pursue it together as a society. Take a look at the research findings about financial wellbeing that led them to their advice, because they are really quite profound:

  1. Universally what matters to people are quality of the relationships and life experiences we have;
  2. We derive more satisfaction giving money away than spending it on ourselves; and,
  3. The freedom from worry of finances creates three times as much financial wellbeing than a higher income.

Notice that these things have less to do with money than we think. The quality of our relationships is more impacted by our time and attention; charitable giving (or even gift giving) can occur with very small sums of money or just volunteer time; and the last finding puts the role of high income way down the pecking order of what really creates financial wellbeing.

If we want to create a world with lives worth living, we could harness the power of economic policy and focus it on creating a society that promotes the financial wellbeing of its citizens rather than the accumulation of wealth. To do that, we might use those three research findings as goals and create the right economic conditions that allow people to have great relationships and life experiences, that allow people to give generously and freely, and that enable people to avoid and recover from financial disaster (the most common these days is just getting sick).

To know what the economic policies need to aim for, we can ask ourselves: “What is needed in order for us to have great relationships and life experiences?” “What are the things or thoughts or feelings that enable us to give freely?” and “What would financial security look like concretely in our lives and communities?”

What would your answers to those questions be? Mine are coming over the next few weeks.

 

United for a Fair Economy has done a wonderful video piece on inequality by expressing it in terms of sound. Watch and jump the break for my commentary.

For me this video really challenges the notion that there is not enough for everyone when we try to share wealth — a falsehood that many use to justify inequality’s existence by saying that sharing wealth leaves everyone worse off since there isn’t enough to go around in the first place. I’m less struck by the difference in wealth between bottom 50% of the U.S. population and the wealthiest 1% than I am by how much wealth there is when it is all shared. Even I thought it would be less.

Inequality is not a fact of life. It’s not gravity. It’s a choice. It is a difficult one to escape through individual effort since it is a collective choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. And it is anything but inevitable.

 

The signs of being in the wrong job are pretty obvious when you pay attention to them. I thought I had picked the perfect job for myself right out of graduate school by working as a researcher for a labor-community partnership. Had I been more discerning, I might have seen the poor fit in advance.

The first sign appeared when someone from the labor half of the partnership took me to lunch to get to know me better. The 50′s-style local diner he selected was union-approved — the waitresses were members of HERE and had been working there for 25+ years. I can’t remember details about what the place looked like, but I distinctly remember what I saw.

When he asked me why I wanted to work in this job, my answer played like a movie in front of me. I saw people working hard in their jobs but joyfully because they felt purposeful in their work. I also saw them not working in jobs — they were doing homework with their children, cooking for their aging parents and playing sports. I saw that what I wanted for all these people were also the very things I wanted for myself — a work life with meaning and purpose and a family life with time to care. It wasn’t an extravagant life that I envisioned for everyone, but it was full and rich. And, I knew that one of the things happening behind the scenes in this movie was a freedom from anxiety about money. That was just a given.

I returned to our conversation to see a furrowed brow on his face. “Don’t you care about wages?” he asked. Oh yeah. I’m supposed to care about wages.

But I don’t.

*************

I actually do care about wages, but improving wages is a means to an ends. To the degree that improving the wages and benefits of low-income workers helps them be able to live with less anxiety and enables them to care for their families (which in this economy it does), then that strategy is important to me. But there are lots of ways to help make sure that people are generally free of anxiety about finances in addition to improving wages.

Creating policies that promote widespread freedom from fear of financial devastation — policies that assume that collectively we have enough and enough to share — has always been a key part of my vision, and working for a great organization that improved low-income workers’ wages was consistent with that vision and values. But for a host of reasons, that job was not the right means for my ends, and I left it.

I’m not trying to say that similarly we should abandon efforts to improve wages especially among the lowest earners. But I am wondering if wealth accumulation — whether by the poor or the rich — is the right target for an economy that is based in sufficiency. If we wanted people to have the feeling that there is enough and we have enough, for what would our policies aim?

I’ve been playing with the notions of financial security and financial wellbeing. What do “financial security” and “financial well-being” mean to you? What would that look and feel like in your life and in your community?

I’ve been telling you that understanding taxes is really quite simple. Except when it’s not. One of the biggest misunderstandings about tax policy is how progressive taxes work. Progressive income taxation is commonly thought of as the more you make, the more you pay — as in Sam pays 10% of earnings in taxes because he makes $20,000, but Sally pays 20% in taxes because she makes $50,000. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Taxes are like a tiered cake.

Our federal income tax system uses graduated marginal rates. This is how to think about it: Imagine each dollar that you earn is stacked one on top of the other. Next, picture a large wedding cake next to the stack of dollar bills. Each tier of the cake (called the tax bracket) has a corresponding tax rate that increases as you go up each tier. So in the example pictured, the bottom tier is 0%, the next tier 10%, the next 15%, and so on. (Note that this picture is based on information from 2008. The 2010 tax brackets are listed at the bottom of this post.)

When you calculate your taxes, the first part of your stack of bills (dollars $1-$7,200) gets taxed at 0%. The next part (dollars $7,201 to $14,200) gets taxed at 10%. The next part (dollars $14,201 to $33,450) gets taxed at 15% and so on. You only incur the higher tax rate if your stack of bills reaches that layer. After the taxes on the various layers are tallied, the percentage of your income that actually goes to tax is called your effective rate. Notice how “fair” is defined in this system — everyone gets the first $7,200 of their income exempt from taxes. The same dollars are subject to the same tax.

Is it progressive?

There are at least three general ways to make an income tax progressive (by progressive I mean that it reduces inequality, see definition in this blog post). One is to increase the rates. That’s what most people think of when we say “we are raising taxes.” Another is to change the tax brackets. For example, we could increase the dollars subject to 0% tax from $7,200 to $10,000 (as well as make various changes in the other tax brackets).

Notice the top layer of cake. This is commonly referred to as the top rate. In 2008, if someone made $300,000, the $4,450 she made in that tax bracket is subject to the 35% rate ($300,000 minus $295,550 — remember it only applies to the dollars in that bracket) — the same tax rate as someone who makes $2 million. In other words, our federal income tax is graduated at the lower end of the scale, but doesn’t differentiate at all between high earners and the mega-earnings of CEOs. It starts progressive, but then goes flat.

The third way is to increase the number of brackets. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 enacted by Ronald Reagan’s administration collapsed our income tax brackets from fifteen to four, with the top rate being 28% (in the 1950′s the top rate was 91%). Let me state that again — it went from fifteen brackets to four! Obviously, this legislation had the effect of making our tax system more regressive than it had been previously. There are lots of ways to play with these three options in combinations to come up with a very finely tuned definition of “fair” with regard to taxes.

How much is enough?

Much of debate about taxes focuses on the tax rates, less on the brackets, and nearly nothing on the top rate — largely because of our economy’s assumption of scarcity (and because it requires some explaining). If we assume that more is better and that we can never really have enough, then we are focused on tax rates to help us answer the question, “How much of what I earn do I get to keep?”

But what happens if we shift our focus to this question: how much is enough for a person to earn? What does a person need to thrive — and among those things, how much does he or she need to earn to do that? These are the questions that start from sufficiency, discovering and exploring the place of enough and enough for whom. Answering these questions helps us think about what constitutes a life worth living, what is basic and essential, and what is reserved for the “deserving” if we believe in such a thing. The answers to “enough for whom” start to reveal how we think about other people — our judgments, assumptions and prejudices about them. We can start to observe how we think of others and whom we consider deserving of what.

So, how many brackets do you think our tax system should have? What would your top rate be and where would it start? Where do you think we can say as a society to an individual, “You have enough, and now it’s time to share the wealth.”

 

**************

Note: The picture uses 2008 tax brackets and was easier to use than trying to draw my own cake. Here are the tax brackets for 2010:

Single Filing Status 2010 [Tax Rate Schedule X, Internal Revenue Code section 1(c)]

  • 10% on income between $0 and $8,375
  • 15% on the income between $8,375 and $34,000
  • 25% on the income between $34,000 and $82,400
  • 28% on the income between $82,400 and $171,850
  • 33% on the income between $171,850 and $373,650
  • 35% on the income over $373,650

Married Filing Jointly 2010 [Tax Rate Schedule Y-1, Internal Revenue Code section 1(a)]

  • 10% on the income between $0 and $16,750
  • 15% on the income between $16,750 and $68,000
  • 25% on the income between $68,000 and $137,300
  • 28% on the income between $137,300 and $209,250
  • 33% on the income between $209,250 and $373,650
  • 35% on the income over $373,650

 

When I do workshops on tax policy, I am always struck by how hungry people are for information that could help them understand some very basic concepts about taxes. More and more, people are realizing that we are much more effective advocating for how to spend money if we also can articulate plans for how to raise that money. But taxes tend to be unnecessarily complex, so the next couple of posts will focus on breaking down the basics.

Tax and budget policies make up fiscal policy – how we raise and spend money. It is democratically controlled through our federal, state, and local governments, meaning we can have a say in how it is structured. (This is different from monetary policy which has to do with money supply and interest rates.  Monetary policy largely dictated by members of the Federal Reserve board who are not elected by the public.)

Tax policy is a powerful tool because it can do one or more of the following things:

1) redistribute wealth up or down (move us closer together or farther apart)

2) raise or decrease money that can be invested back into the our communities through government

3) encourage or discourage certain private economic behaviors through incentives

That list may seem obvious, but it’s actually a pretty important list to remember when evaluating a tax proposal. With any tax proposal you can ask yourself which of those effects the tax will have. Will it move us closer together or farther apart? Will it raise or decrease revenues available for us to decide how to use through our government? What behavior will it encourage or discourage (and will it be effective in doing so)? I find that these questions can help us see through the spin and determine if we agree with the outcomes these taxes actually are designed to create.

As powerful as tax policy is, it has its limits. It can encourage or discourage certain behaviors, but it doesn’t necessarily dictate them or make them happen. For example, it is popular to provide tax incentives (also known as subsidies) to businesses to invest in certain markets or locate in certain areas as a way to attract jobs or encourage community economic development. Such tax breaks can certainly be attractive to businesses, but do they really work? Many times, the more important factors for that decision are things like proximity to the target market, availability of skilled workers, and good infrastructure such as roads, plumbing, and lighting. (Check out the great work of Good Jobs First and their Corporate Subsidy Watch and Subsidy Tracker for more on that specific topic.) Tax breaks sweeten the deal, but they don’t necessarily make or break them.

Some economists dedicate their entire career trying to prove whether or not a particular tax is an effective incentive or not. Why? Because when it comes to creating incentives for certain behaviors, using tax policy is a weak choice because it is indirect. For example, vouchers have become a popular choice for providing services through the tax code rather than having government provide the service. But a voucher for senior transportation services doesn’t necessarily get you senior transportation services. You just have a voucher program that hopefully is large enough to create a market to attract businesses that will provide senior transportation services. Basically, if you want to achieve a certain goal, then raise the money and go for it head on. If you want to create jobs, then use the money we raise to hire people. And if the proponent of the tax policy insists on achieving the goal indirectly, then I’d look carefully for what they are trying to achieve with regard to the first two objectives on the list — the distribution of wealth and revenues for public investment through government. Because when it comes to taxes, if it looks complicated, the real aims are probably pretty simple.

 

If you shy away from talking about tax policy because you think it is complicated, I’m happy to tell you it is really quite simple. While calculating one’s taxes is not simple enough to put on a postcard, understanding tax policy is. Here’s what it would say:

Taxes structure relationships.

If you arrange people on a spectrum according to their wealth or income from low to high, tax policy is one of the key tools we can use through our government to move people closer together or farther apart — and not just in terms of money. It can be used to create equality or inequality which impacts where we live, who we have as neighbors and who we get to know in our local community — literally our relationships with other people. It sets the stage for us to have competitive relationships with each other or cooperative ones. It can promote or discourage civil discourse by creating favorable conditions for common ground or stark difference and animosity.

It’s really that simple. From this perspective, taxes have just three types of effects:

1) they can move us further apart (regressive)

2) they can leave us in the same place (flat)

3) they can move us closer together (progressive)

These effects are not inherently good or bad, despite the fact that different political ideologies will assign them as such. Rather, they each need to be used judiciously and applied thoughtfully to a particular situation.

More importantly, since tax policy is really a means to an ends, we need to know the ends or what we are aiming for. Are we aimed at creating a society where there is a wide gap between the haves and the have nots or a much narrower range of disparity? Are we aimed at creating a vibrant, broad middle class? From there we can choose the kind of taxes would create the favorable conditions we need to have in our economy at this moment in time.

Where we aim makes a big difference in making sure we choose the right kinds of taxes and in the right combinations, because we will achieve that at which we are aimed — whether we consciously choose to aim or not.

During this month and April the blog posts will be all about tax policy — the much maligned, but powerful tool we collectively have to shape our democracy. My hope is that this series gives you a different perspective than what you find in current tax debates and offers some of the positive potential that tax policy can offer.

[The other posts in this series can be found here, here and here.]

This past week I had the pleasure to read the story of Stone Soup to my daughter’s fourth grade class as a prelude to the holiday community service project they will be doing over the next month. Stone Soup is a folk tale found in many cultures about a hungry traveler who goes door to door asking for food but is told repeatedly by the local villagers that they have no food to share. He goes into the town square and begins to make a soup from a stone. As the villagers come out to inquire, he tells them he is making a magical soup. “But it would taste better if I had a carrot,” he says, and one villager brings a carrot. “Better still if I had an onion,” and another villager brings an onion. On and on it goes until everyone has contributed a little bit to the pot, and they have made a soup that feeds the entire village.

Growing up, I thought this story was a lesson about sharing. Today I read the story differently. The villagers are clearly well off, but they truly think they cannot spare food. Looking at the tattered clothes of the traveler, they wonder if the traveler is possibly a dangerous criminal or a lazy beggar. Rationalizing him to be less than deserving, they decline his request for food. But later as the soup is being made out in the open, people gather and give a little bit of food to be part of something bigger — creating the “magical” soup. In fact, the entire village comes out and makes a party of it, bringing chairs, tables, place settings, decorations, and entertainment. In short, they create community – an experience bigger than feeding people or even sharing. They didn’t win the lottery or get a grant and suddenly have the money they needed to feed everyone. They had everything they needed all along.

The story is about transforming our individual experiences of scarcity into collective sufficiency. When we think something is scarce, our habit is to exclude others in order to make sure we have enough for ourselves. But this response is exactly the opposite of what we should do. Instead, we should reach out, include more people and be public about it. The more we expand who is included, the more resources we will find we always had but had forgotten to bring together. We simply need to act from an assumption that there really is enough out there and be willing to invite everyone in.

Next week my daughter’s class will lead a two-week long, school-wide book drive to collect the gently-used books the students have at home and have outgrown. They will sort and personally deliver them to another school that needs these books for their libraries. When they deliver the books, they will meet children who are very much like themselves except that they don’t have books. The children of that school will share something of which they are proud — maybe a song or a tour — and then they will sit and read together.

My daughter’s class gets to be some of the lucky 20,000 student volunteers who annually raise and donate 200,000 plus books for Los Angeles schools through a remarkable organization called BookEnds. To me, BookEnds is more than just a great charity; it’s a mini-economy that models what is possible when we operate from that place of sufficiency and aim to create shared wealth.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that my daughter and I get to be part of something so magical. I hope that this experience will stay with her and her classmates well into adulthood. Thank you to the board, staff, volunteers and supporters of BookEnds for creating experiences of sufficiency for so many children. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!