Martin Luther King, Jr and income inequality

As we contemplate and celebrate the life and sacrifice of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to speak to you about an often overlooked part of King's legacy: the battle against income inequality.

Most simply see King's struggle for equality exclusively in terms of social justice. That's why protections have been put in place, though the social contract between the American people and their government, to protect the civil rights, regardless of race, religion, etc. 

However, with respect to economic justice, the American government, instead of working to broaden economic justice among Americans, has instead worked to benefit the economic status of a very small minority of Americans, usually at the expense of the majority.
“If they give it to the poor, they call it a handout; if they give it to the rich, they call it a subsidy." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
This minority -- called in today’s nomenclature The One Percent -- has become the recipient of extraordinary government largess. From huge corporate subsidies, to tax breaks for the very wealthy, to deregulation of even the most fundamental economic protections (such as Glass-Steagall, which established a firewall between investment and commercial banking), to greater and greater permission given to moneyed interests to flood our political system, to the proverbial “revolving door” practice between corporate and government leaders, American social and economic policy has acted like a vacuum cleaner, taking the majority of our nation’s economic resources and sucking them into the hands of a very few.

Why would a huge multi-national corporation -- with no particular allegiance to the American worker given that it is after all a global institution -- feel any remorse about closing an American factory and relocating it in another country? Or fighting an increase in the minimum wage? Or cutting the health benefits of its workers? Or fighting fair labor practices? Or fighting labor itself? And the list goes on.

The question itself suggests that because corporations cannot feel, perhaps they should not be left to rule the world. An economic bottom line, while appropriate within a business context, is sociopathic when applied to social policy. For that which has no conscience has no business determining policies that affect hundreds of millions of lives.

Such determination, theoretically, is the government’s job. But in an age when our government has become for all intents and purposes but a handmaiden to a new corporate order – surrendering to those whom President Franklin Roosevelt called “economic royalists” -- it is left to the people ourselves to reclaim the fundamentals of economic fairness. A government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” does not perpetuate the canard that by catering to its wealthiest donors it is somehow aiding the people it is meant to serve. The only way we will reclaim the U.S. economy for the benefit of the many as opposed to the benefit of the few is if we the people reclaim democracy itself.

The solution is not to redistribute wealth, but to redistribute opportunity.  The solution is not to give people what they do not earn, but to return to people a fair chance of earning it.  The solution is not to promote class warfare against the rich, but rather to soberly recognize that class warfare is what has been waged -- and successfully so --  against the middle and lower classes of our country over the last few decades. This is not merely unjust. It is a situation that has caused, and is causing, huge amounts of unnecessary suffering among the people of the United States, driving many middle class citizens into poverty and returning to our society the harsh reality of hunger, particularly among children, that had been drastically diminished just a few decades ago. It is time to reclaim the U.S. economy for the decency and righteousness at the heart of a true democracy.

Economic justice is one of the core tenants of American democracy, and I urge Congress to stop favoring the wealthy at the expense of the many.

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