Martin Luther King, Jr. on Economic Inequality

It is worth remembering on this holiday that in 1968, just before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading the Poor People’s Campaign – a non-racial movement aimed at addressing economic inequality. Here is MLK in 1967:

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about Where do we go from here, that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, Who owns the oil? You begin to ask the question, Who owns the iron ore?You begin to ask the question, Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water? These are questions that must be asked.

It also seems worth remembering, then, that economic inequality continues to worsen in our time. According to a new study by Oxfam, if economic inequality continues to increase at its present rate, the richest 1% of the global elite will control more than half of the world’s wealth by 2016.

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