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Friday, December 26, 2014

Where We Are Going

Where We Are Going

From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1967 Book "Where Do We Go
From Here: Chaos or Community?"

By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Friday, December 26, 2014

In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out:

There are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the
United States.

Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive
from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects
white and Negro alike.

Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty
is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting
job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and
suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted
personality development.

The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes
be attacked one by one.

Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved
educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities,
and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were

In combination these measures were intended to remove
the causes of poverty.

While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have
a fatal disadvantage.

The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis
or at a similar rate of development.

Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative

They have been piecemeal and pygmy.

Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled
in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions.

Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was
discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and
superficial studies.

At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program
been conceived.

As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have
failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the
programs of the past all have another common failing -- they are

Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the
most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a
now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted
with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and

At that time economic status was considered the measure
of the individual's abilities and talents.

In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly
goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.

We have come a long way in our understanding of human
motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system.

Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our
economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into
idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment
against their will.

The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today
by being branded as inferior and incompetent.

We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy
develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.

We have come to the point where we must make the non-producer
a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer

We have so energetically mastered production that we
now must give attention to distribution.

Though there have been increases in purchasing power,
they have lagged behind increases in production.

Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the
aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore
have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income.

They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold.

We must create full employment or we must create incomes.

People must be made consumers by one method or the other.

Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned
that the potential of the individual is not wasted.

New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be
devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he
wrote, in Progress and Poverty:

"The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind,
the work which extends knowledge and increases power and
enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a
living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the
lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who
perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to
eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is
abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased."

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education,
instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be
affected if poverty is first abolished.

The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their
own to alter housing decay.

Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on
discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use
in their struggle.

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes
inevitably will result from widespread economic security.

The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions
concerning his life and in his own hands, when he has the assurance
that his income is stable and certain, and when he know that he has
the means to seek self-improvement.

Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish
when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars
is eliminated.

Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the
guaranteed income operates as a consistently progressive measure.

First, it must be pegged to the median income of society,
not the lowest levels of income.

To guarantee an income at the floor would simply perpetuate
welfare standards and freeze into the society poverty conditions.

Second, the guaranteed income must be dynamic; it must
automatically increase as the total social income grows.

Were it permitted to remain static under growth conditions,
the recipients would suffer a relative decline.

If periodic reviews disclose that the whole national income has
risen, then the guaranteed income would have to be adjusted
upward by the same percentage.

Without these safeguards a creeping retrogression would occur,
nullifying the gains of security and stability.

This proposal is not a "civil rights" program, in the sense that
term is currently used.

The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds
of them who are white.

I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this
change, because their combined strength will be necessary to
overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.

Our nation's adjustment to a new mode of thinking will be
facilitated if we realize that for nearly forty years two groups
in our society have already been enjoying a guaranteed income.

Indeed, it is a symptom of our confused social values that
these two groups turn out to be the richest and the poorest.

The wealthy who own securities have always had an assured income; and their polar opposite, the relief client, has been guaranteed an income, however miniscule, through welfare benefits.

John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that $20 billion a year would
effect a guaranteed income, which he describes as "not much more
than we will spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and
democracy and religious liberty as these are defined by 'experts' in

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

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.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)
was an American Pastor, Activist, Humanitarian, and Leader in
the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known
for his role in the advancement of Civil Rights using nonviolent
civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.

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