Monday, April 4, 2011

The Economics of Dr. King

From Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1968), by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

...There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it... Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must read: why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?... There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will.

...All men are interdependent. Every nation is an heir of a vast treasure of ideas and labor to which both the living and the dead of all nations have contributed. Whether we realize it or not, each of us lives eternally "in the red." We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women.

...Economic expansion cannot alone do the job of improving the employment situation of the Negroes. It provides the base for improvement but other things must be constructed upon it, especially if the tragic situation of youth is to be solved. In a booming economy Negro youth are afflicted with unemployment as though in an economic crisis. They are the explosive outsiders of the American expansion.

The insistence on educational credentials and certificates for skilled and semi-skilled jobs is keeping Negroes out of both the private business sector and government employment. Negro exclusion is not the purpose of the insistence upon credentials, but it is its inevitable consequence today. The orientation of personnel offices should be "Jobs First, Training Later." Unfortunately, the job policy of the federal programs has largely been the reverse, with the result that people are being trained for nonexistent jobs.

"Training" becomes a way of avoiding the issue of employment, for it does not ask the employer to change his policies and job structures. Instead of training for uncertain jobs, the policy of the government should be to subsidize American business to employ individuals whose education is limited. This policy may be considered a bribe by some, but it is a step consonant with reality. We require a vast expansion of present programs of on-the-job training in which training costs are absorbed by the government; at another level, employers could be granted reduced taxes if they employed difficult to place workers.

...The Freedom Budget of A.P. Randolph is important because it provides a basis for common action with labor and other groups in utilizing the economic growth of this nation to benefit the poor as well as the rich. It raises the possibility of rebuilding America so that private affluence is not accompanied by public squalor of slums and distress.

UPDATE: I apologize for closing comments. I just wanted to share a little of Martin Luther King's thoughts on economics. Some of it I disagree with, some of it I agree with, all of it I think was coming from the right frame of mind. The comment section turned into an argument over whether Progressives are to blame for segregation and Jim Crow legislation. It's not the sort of thing that seems appropriate on this anniversary. I wish we could have comments - but, well, we can't. Sorry.