and Social Responsibility
By George Salzman
When my mother died in 1995 I received, after taxes, about $300 thousand,
in stocks. By that time I was bitterly opposed to the endless wars engaged
in by the U.S. and its surrogates, and I tried to insure that as little
of “my” money went to the government as I could manage. However,
I believed that I had not earned the inheritance, and therefore planned
to give one-third to each of our two daughters (my wife had died in 1981),
in yearly non-taxable gifts.
* That was part of a little essay I wrote, “Renewing the Call
to RESIST” to commemorate RESIST’s 30th anniversary. It is
available at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Anarch/Cal2Res.htm.
used my share - about $100 thousand - along with my income, to a) contribute
to mainly 501-C-3 tax-exempt socially constructive groups and b) to gradually
invest in restoring and maintaining the duplex house in Cambridge, MA,
which I used as a business, a rental property 5/6 occupied by my housemates
and 1/6 by myself. An old frame house built before 1840, it needed a
lot of work. With costs exceeding rents, that reduced my “adjusted
the course of some years, with tax-exempt contributions and rental losses,
I was able, in the short term, to divert substantial money from the IRS.
for the longer term, I began to think about what would happen to “my
estate” when I died. In January 1997 I wrote,
a small percentage of the world’s people have the luxury of living
far enough from the brink that every bit of money need not go for day-to-day
survival. For those of us so privileged, the tension generated by the
question, ‘What to do with the money?’ comes from our insecurity
about our future. Our fears are constantly fed by our knowledge of what
happens to the very poor without food or homes, to those with major health
afflictions lacking medical care, to the infirm aged warehoused unto
death. We are urged to protect our individual selves by saving, by insurance,
by investing. Banking conglomerates, giant insurance companies, mammoth
brokerage empires and the legal sharks who advise them how to swindle
legally–the big-money business–they all feast on our insecurities.
truth, there is no escaping our fears within the existing institutional
framework. Without real community there is no real social security. One
of capitalism’s outstanding achievements in its relentless drive
to maximize profits has been its success in destroying real communities.
Even extended families are disappearing as young people are forced to
leave in search of jobs.
seems to me impossible to contribute significant money support to grassroots
efforts as long as the fear of insecurity has us in its grip. For me,
it is more important to try to make the world better for my children
and grandchildren–and for all children–than to try to secure,
as much as one can with money, my own long term life and comfort. So
I have decided not to try to save, not to try to prepare for prolonged
medical care, and to come to terms with my own mortality. This has enabled
me to contribute large (for me) amounts of money each year, last year
to 132 different groups, most of them tax-exempt.”*
I saw the U.S. government, large corporations and giant capitalism as
inextricable parts of the destructive system of capitalism, I wanted
to insure not only that the IRS not get money from me, but that all “my” estate
be kept out of the market and out of the hands of real estate brokers,
lawyers, probate courts, accountants, speculators, and all the money
sharks of the corrupt corporate culture. This went beyond “just” war
the two and a half years from early 1997 until the Fall of 1999 I looked
into how to have “my” estate safeguarded for socially constructive
ends when I died. I talked with many friends, neighbors and prospective
trustees, the benefactors-to-be, about what to do with the property.
That’s how I came to set up the small trust in Cambridge, [discussed
in the essay, “The Local Grassroots Infrastructure Trust: a part
of the global grass-roots infrastructure,” which is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Trust/index.htm.]
those who own or come to inherit a house, it’s possible to set
up a trust in which, although on your death control of the property goes
at once to the trustees, as long as you are alive and legally competent
you retain what is called “a life estate.” If you are willing
to share the house with others you thus have the possibility of some
income from the property, if you need it.
our society people who are extremely wealthy, like the Fortune 500, are
not coy about their “great generosity”. So we hear about
the billions Gates and Soros give away. But among people with far lesser
incomes it is often regarded as in poor taste to discuss how you dispose
of, or even to reveal, your income. And your accumulated wealth, if any,
is usually “nobody else’s business.”
think this kind of “secrecy” or “privacy” does
not serve any legitimate purpose and we ought to work to change the culture.
In my opinion the greatest source of injustice in the world comes basically
from the extreme differences in economic resources. I think we must try
to eliminate those differences, and so we need to know what they are.