Economists examine MLK’s economic legacy
Martin Luther King’s civil rights legacy is a hallmark of modern American history. His efforts to alleviate poverty were cut down by his assassination in 1968. Leading economists Paul Krugman and Joel Kotkin marked Martin Luther King Day with respective columns in the New York Times and Forbes where they speculated on what King’s economic agenda would have been today.
“If King could see America now, I believe that he would be disappointed,” wrote Krugman. Krugman goes on to say that we have become a country that judges its citizens “by the size of their paychecks,” adding that the value of that paycheck is aligned “with the size of your father’s paycheck.”
“The chances that someone born into a low-income family will end up with high income, or vice versa, are significantly lower here than in Canada or Europe,” Krugman says. He sees high income inequality as the reason behind the mobility gap and asserts that King “would certainly surely have considered soaring inequality as an evil to be opposed.”
Mr. Kotkin, an expert in urban development and demographic, social and economic trends, agrees with Krugman that King “would surely be disheartened at the economic situation among African-Americans and other minorities.” Kotkin says that “the Obama administration could help ameliorate some of the pain minorities are facing in the jobs sector, but its focus on white-collar information jobs, academia, and the green economy has done little to help this already underserved community.”
In 1986, the year that King’s holiday became official, 32.4 million Americans (of all ethnic backgrounds) lived below the poverty threshold. Today, 46.2 million live in poverty, and African-Americans, at 27%, represent the highest percentage.
“I’m sure that would cause him anguish,” said Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “America in the King Years." “But he never spoke of poverty in purely racial terms. King said poverty is no respecter of persons or race.”
The gains of a vast African-American middle class during the last four decades should not distract attention away from what King referred to as “the fierce urgency” of now—the poor condition of a larger underclass.
“I believe we have to continue to keep his legacy in the forefront, or things could go back to the way they were,” said Bonita Carter-Cox, president of the MLK Association of Santa Clara Valley.
Martin Luther King’s economic priorities (http://www.advisorone.com/2012/01/16/martin-luther-kings-economic-priorities?ref=hp). Advisor One, January 16, 2012
Economic equality a part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream (http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_19749843). San Jose Mercury News, January 16, 2012
How fares the dream? (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/16/opinion/krugman-how-fares-the-dream.html?_r=1). New York Times, January 15, 2012
Martin Luther King, economic equality and the 2012 election (http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2012/01/13/martin-luther-king-economic-equality-and-the-2012-election/). Forbes, January 13, 2012