Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ideas: Dr. King's Forgotten "Dream" of Economic Justice

I wrote an Opinion piece for the Omaha World Herald reflecting on Dr. King's vision of economic justice.

The essay ran on Monday, January 25, 2010, under the title,
"MLK: Justice Requires Economic Transformation."

On Tuesday, an older man called me at my office in Lincoln to let me know that he thought the ideas in the article were "communistic."

Judge for yourself. Here are a few excerpts...

King believed poverty was primarily the result of systemic economic failure and “ongoing economic exploitation,” not individual personal failing. The poor were “damned” to segregated, ghettoized neighborhoods, chronic unemployment and low-paying, meaningless jobs. “Pervasive and persistent want” demoralized the poor, undermined human dignity and led to family disintegration, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and crime.

* * * *

King linked urban poverty with suburban plenty. “The poor and discriminated huddle in the big cities,” he said, “while affluent America displays its new gadgets in the crisp homes of suburbia.” King called suburbs “white nooses around the black necks of the cities.” “Housing deteriorates in central cities,” he groused, while “suburbs expand with little regard for what happens to the rest of America.”

* * * *

Disillusioned with piecemeal reforms, King believed structural change in the economy was essential to end poverty. “True compassion,” he said, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

* * * *

King advocated “democratic socialism,” a mixed economy where citizens, through democratic processes, insert human values into the economy to temper the harsh edges of unbridled free markets.

He fought for an “economic bill of rights,” a $30 billion package guaranteeing full employment, a livable income and increased construction of low-income housing. King called for “massive public works programs (to build) decent housing, schools, hospitals, mass transit, parks and recreation centers.” These public investments would “enrich society” and spur private investment.

* * * *

In an era of ballooning military budgets, billion-dollar Wall Street bailouts, home foreclosures, double-digit unemployment and continuing urban crisis, perhaps we might listen anew to King’s prophetic vision of economic justice.

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To read the entire essay, click here.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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