In the 1960s, mass movements led to basic changes in laws governing voting rights and civil rights. Can you imagine a similar movement devoted to economic justice?
Dr. Virgil Wood, an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently spoke in Hitchcock on the need to “reset the Dream.” Wood, a Baptist minister, has been thinking of the biblical idea of “jubilee.” The people of ancient Israel hit the reset button every 50 years. Slaves were freed. Overworked farmland was rested. Oppressive contracts were revoked.
The 50-year mark was a time to rest, reflect and start anew.
And, as Dr. Wood pointed out, it’s time for us to do the same in thinking about King’s dream for America. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone 50 years.
What have we done since then?
In the last year of his life, King became more pointed in his criticism of capitalism. He was not seeking to undermine the whole system. He was seeking to correct its flaws.
He pushed for what he called economic justice — a sense of economic responsibility that refuses to put material things, including profits, before people.
What would economic justice look like? Some people think a better minimum wage would help.
I wonder what would happen if we gave the poorest American families the real capitalist experience. What would happen if we gave each family $10,000, locked in an investment that produced income — like a savings account produces interest. What would it be like for them to have the experience of earning income from capital? What would that be like for a family whose breadwinner works two or three jobs to have income that is not tied to more drudgery? What would it be like for people in that family to be able to borrow money against that capital when the family car broke down? How would that change their lives? How would it change their thinking?
I’m no policy guru, but the math on the back of my napkin says that we could do that for a half million of our poorest families if we cut spending on our pointless, endless wars by less than 10 percent this year. I’m not talking about cutting the $574.5 billion defense budget. I’m not talking about eliminating the supplemental budget, now at $64.5 billion, that keeps funding the war overseas. I’m just talking about cutting that supplemental budget by less than 10 percent for one year.
I think it would be worth it to conduct an experiment to see whether we could come a little closer to a just economic system.
Maybe that’s a silly, unworkable idea.
I’d be willing to listen to others who, no doubt, could come up with a far better plan. But I’m not willing to spend another 50 years of MLK Days wondering why, since a great man died, so little has been done to achieve the dream of making this country better.