Martin Luther King Jr: Economic Justice

“What is the job of government? Just to benefit the rich?”

Martin Luther KingThe book, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice, (W.W. Norton, 2018) came out April 3—the day before the 50-year anniversary of King’s assassination. The author, historian Michael Honey, makes the case in an interview conducted for MLK Day 2019 that ECONOMIC JUSTICE WAS ALWAYS PART OF MLK JR.’S MESSAGE.

I find it strange that some commenters seem to eschew the idea that MLK was an economic warrior. They tend to believe such an idea is the result of revisionist thinking.

As Honey notes, King “said in Memphis: ‘It’s a crime in a rich nation for people to receive starvation wages.’ That remains a basic issue right now across the country, where it seems like the economy is doing really well but there are millions of people—about 40 million people—in poverty.

“Economically, things for poor people and working-class people are probably worse in some ways now than in his time. The unionized, industrial jobs that created the black middle class in places like Memphis are mostly gone…

“King said the best anti-poverty program is a union. Where you can fight for your own agenda—somebody doesn’t have to hand it to you. But you have to be organized to do that. King always supported unions. He gave his life in that cause, in a sense.

“Many workers in this country recognize King as a labor hero. ‘We can get more together than we can apart,’ King said in Memphis. He always said we have a common destiny, and he put it in an economic framework. And we do need that.”

Eliminate Poverty

Also, from Food for the Hungry, 9 Powerful Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes on Eradicating Poverty. The earliest one cited was from 1961. “As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars.” That was in his American Dream speech.

If you want to truly celebrate Martin Luther King Day, support The Poor People’s Campaign, “a national call for moral revival. As Honey said, the PPC “said everybody should have health care, everybody should have a median level of income—not poverty income, a median level of income, such that you can live a normal life. And education, and housing, and jobs at union wages. King thought the role of government is to bring about social justice.

“To those who say it’s not the government’s job, King would ask, Well, what is the job of government? Just to benefit the rich?”

Labor Day: raise the federal minimum wage in the USA

“The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society.”

minimum_wage_pie_chart_05
Since it’s Labor Day, I shan’t work too hard. I want to recommend that you read:

A Livable Minimum Wage Could Decrease Unemployment by Decreasing Demand for Second Jobs:

Higher wages would more equitably distribute the jobs that are already available…. Forty hours a week (if you can get it) simply isn’t enough to pay the bills

Raising the Minimum Wage Can Reduce Unemployment

Lower-income and middle-class Americans have seen their income and wealth decrease over the last decade. So as you might imagine, many are pinching their pennies and spending less on goods and services. The end result is that businesses don’t have enough money or confidence to hire more workers.

The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income, from the CBO

[While] some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated…As a group, the workers whose income rose because of a minimum-wage increase would consequently pay more in taxes and receive less in benefits.

But if you look at none of these, I urge you to read The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats by NICK HANAUER. It’s because it’s one thing for the 99% to complain about the inequity that exists, that despite a declining unemployment rate, consumer purchasing power is stagnant. It’s something else to read the views of a guy who made a ton of money through Amazon and other businesses:

Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?
I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.
And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Many of us think we’re special because “this is America.” We think we’re immune to the same forces that started the Arab Spring—or the French and Russian revolutions, for that matter. I know you fellow .01%ers tend to dismiss this kind of argument… And yes, I know there are many of you who are convinced that because you saw a poor kid with an iPhone that one time, inequality is a fiction.

Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world.

He touts Henry Ford, and Washington state’s higher minimum wage while noting the disaster of excessive CEO compensation and “trickle-down” economics.
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One could also tax the rich, but that may be more difficult politically. It’s not class warfare when one side owns most of the ammo.

Church and state: Francis I

If a Catholic priest were to echo Francis’ complaint about the rich-poor divide, that might be safe territory.

I found this graphic really interesting. The Socialist US Senator is embracing the Pope’s condemnation of “doctrinaire capitalism, ‘deified markets,” trickle-down economics, and the finance industry. He decried the growing gap between the rich and the poor, tax evasion by the wealthy, and characterized ruthless free-market economics as a killer that was inherently sinful.” I assume this will mean that the Pope will be painted as a socialist.

Francis, moreover, launched a broadside against former President Ronald Reagan’s signature economic theory, which continues to serve as conservative Republican dogma.

Of course, he’s in the Vatican, so he’s insulated from the US political issue. But I’m always re-examining what “separation of church and state” means. (And so is Dustbury.) I will make the case that being a good Christian – in my definition, obviously – could be, may be perceived as a political statement. If a Catholic priest were to echo Francis’ complaint about the rich-poor divide, perhaps by calling for raising the minimum wage, that might be safe territory. But if he were to name names, such as calling out the late 40th US President, that might well be crossing the line to partisan political talk that could theoretically get one’s tax-exempt status yanked.

Certainly promoting, or denouncing a political party or candidate can be a treacherous path, whereas, say, praying for the President and Congress and the federal courts to do good and just actions is OK. Calling for the closing of the wage-productivity gap is OK, but calling out the politicians who created the system, not so much.

It was weird watching Peggy Noonan on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday. She was SO pleased by the new pope, who was bringing back some of the disaffected Catholics, even though he was directly dissing her former employer and mentor, Ronald Reagan, who she clearly adores (present tense). It’s enough to give other denominations a case of pope envy.

Francis still stubbornly traditional positions on women’s ordination and other issues notwithstanding, I’m liking this Pope; the fact that his position is considered radical by some tells how far from Christ’s teaching some of the church has become.
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Bill O’Reilly speaks on behalf of Jesus about the scourge of Food Stamps

No, the US is NOT closing the Vatican embassy.

July Rambling: privilege, and 12-tone music

Roger Green was told that he cannot greet pupils from Sandy Lane Primary School in Bracknell, Berkshire, with the gesture because a driver said it slowed down traffic.

Watch the important documentary, Two American Families, online at Bill Moyers’ website. In the same vein, To Rescue Local Economies, Cities Seize Underwater Mortgages Through Eminent Domain.

From Meryl, the graphic novel expert: The Armageddon Letters and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, Zahra – from Paradise to President. Published in 2011, its story takes place in Iran, June 2009.

Brief Thoughts on Shelby County v. Holder by Mark S. Mishler. (But the actual title is TOO long!)

Daniel Nester writes about privilege. I found it interesting, in part, because it reminded me of certain white sociology students, in undergraduate school and subsequently, who insisted on informing me about the sources of my oppression. They also insisted I spell “black people” as “Black people.” Meh. Dan also gives cheeky advice for aspiring writers.

Thom’s apology to the GLBT people he knows, and the ones he doesn’t.

6 Things That Will Happen Now That The Sanctity Of Marriage Is Destroyed, presented by George Takei.

Eddie and Keith do a road trip.

Dustbury found this video, which is about Arnold Schoenberg and 12-tone music but is as much about the stifling US copyright law, the creative mind, the boundaries of art, and how we communicate with each other. He “learned more from this half-hour of unconventional pedagogy than from a whole semester of theory.”

It was the first line in Jaquandor’s novel, it was a reflection of first lines of novels generally.

Mark Evanier writes: “My father was a very honest man. Absolutely, utterly honest. Once, he found a wallet in the street with a few hundred dollars in it. He took it home, looked up the number of the person it belonged to and arranged to return it to them…with every buck still in it. He did things like that all the time. All the time.”

Melanie deals with the death of a close family member. “With it comes a closure of sorts. Unfortunately, this is one of those deaths that bring feelings of sadness, but also of relief- a lengthy ordeal over at last.”

Daniel Nester’s dad died, and those “pesky abandonment issues” pop up. He is processing his Notes on Grief, parts I and II and III and IV and V.

Related: 936 opportunities, which made me melancholy thinking about MY dad.

Chris quits smoking! YAY!, despite duress. And she has a new blog! BTW, she also made and sent me yummy cookies!

‘Friendly atheist’ speaks to thousands at megachurch.

How do we pray for a friend in need or a stranger who might be sick or lonely in the hospital or at home?

NOT a Get Out Of Hell Free card.

Arthur answers my questions about music and identity and the roots of his political self and political philosophy & friends and boycotts and some other stuff. He also responded to my slow audience post.

Simplified blogging.

The Mom From ‘The Cat in the Hat’ Finally Speaks.

The secret of the Floating Cork.

I’m egotistical enough to be pleased that Chuck Miller put me in his Best of our Times Union Community Blogs for July 25 and July 18 I also appreciate that he’s trying to promote the TU bloggers the way he wishes the TU would. As noted before, I never know what to write for that audience, until I do, such as when I wrote: The Census site with Congressional district data is cool. Really.

I noted that my friend Lynne tried to walk from Albany to Binghamton, but I didn’t mention that walking on the side of the road is NOT like sidewalk walking.

GOOGLE ALERTS (not me)

Daily Mail: Lollipop man banned from high-fiving children because it ‘confuses drivers. “Roger Green was told that he cannot greet pupils from Sandy Lane Primary School in Bracknell, Berkshire, with the gesture because a driver said it slowed down traffic. Hundreds of parents have reacted angrily to the ban by Bracknell Forest Council.”
Followup: “High-five” lollipop man given the green light to give “thumbs up” instead.

The Guardian: Notes from Overground by Tiresias (the pen name of Roger Green) was published in 1984. It became a minor cult, and though it never sold very well, it still gets into the occasional blog today. We admirers occasionally meet and share favourite moments.

WWMD: What Would Martin Do?

If Martin Luther King were still alive, he would be concerned about the inequity of income that has developed regardless of race, especially over the past thirty years.


“A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back – but they are gone. It is up to us. It is up to you.” – Marian Wright Edelman
I saw this quote on Facebook a couple days after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. The quote made me think about what would MLK, Jr. be doing and saying about current events. I have read and/or listened to many of Martin’s writings and speeches, so I could (I hope) reasonably extrapolate his views.

Of course, it’s difficult to ascertain what his impact on society and the culture would be had he survived. Maybe progress in some areas would have happened sooner; maybe he would have been rendered largely irrelevant. That’s the thing about those who die, especially those who die relatively young; they are frozen in time.

Maybe, instead of him dying in 1968, I should imagine that he was traveling to another planet and finally made it back, this century.

The overriding issue for Martin Luther King was always justice. He would fret over the continuing divide of wealth between white Americans and those who are black and Hispanic. At the end of his life, MLK was increasingly aware of class distinctions. He would be equally concerned about the inequity of income that has developed regardless of race, especially over the past thirty years; he would be challenging the 1% for sure. He would be a proponent of equal pay for women.

Obviously, heinous acts of brutality are distressing to him. But he would also address the culture of violence that leads to such unthinkable acts. He would surely talk about the awful tumult that takes place every day in the United States that DOESN’T make the headlines.

He would oppose the death penalty. Not only did he not believe in “an eye for an eye,” but he would despair of the imbalance of people of color incarcerated and on death row across the country, disproportionate to the number of crimes committed.

MLK came to oppose the Vietnam war by 1967. Surely, he would have opposed the Iraq war as unjustified, even before it actually started in 2003. The current wars, particularly the use of drones, would break his heart.

Martin would undoubtedly be pleased, and possibly surprised, that an African-American had been elected President, but would suggest that we have not yet reached “the promised land.”