I read this morning that according to an OXFAM report today, the wealthiest one percent of the world now owns more than the remaining 99% and that 62 individuals own more than the poorest half of the world's population. That number was 388 only five years ago. Unless you think that's a good thing, you might want to reconsider the blind worship of laissz faire Capitalism which seems intertwined with the kind of Patriotism we dare not question.
Of course it can be argued that if the poorest half is somehow sufficiently well-off to free us of concern, there really is no problem in this best of all Pareto efficient Capitalist worlds, but money is power and great wealth is great power. In our kind of Republic, economic power must take political power away from the less wealthy and depart ever more from Democratic principle. There certainly are those who recognize that great wealth and power confer -- indeed demand great responsibility, but fewer are those who want that responsibility to be legally required, so that great power is so often used primarily to protect itself and the way of life it feels entitled to. Can there be anyone who does not recognize the connection between wealth and political, moral and military power? Certainly Jesus did, and as a Christian, so did Doctor King.
“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…” *
Indeed we do. Do we understand the need of power to terrify and brutalize minorities as racism or do we recognize the need to keep them out of participation and away from political power? Keeping poor whites afraid of poor blacks diverts attention from the rich whites who want to get richer. I'm just asking. Is racism just the legacy of slavery or does it serve some purpose in a greater scheme?
Sure Black Lives Matter, but recognizing that or shouting it in the street does not deal with the causes or offer hope for improvement. In a way, racism makes economic sense if preservation of wealth and power is the goal, and we don't fight it without recognizing that.
Capitalism alone will not create or maintain a society in which political power is not dominated by the rich, nor will more than an enlightened few philanthropic individuals be motivated to want a society where they can allow more than a minimum of political power and control to the 99%. Racism, I think King would agree is not a temporary thing or reserved for one race only, it's an economic requirement needed to limit political/economic power . When it's successful in doing so, it proliferates. Perhaps that's where King and I vary from the scripted conversation. If the need and ability to maintain the weakness of the public is thwarted, so is racism and of course, even if most of the wealth is at the very top, those many rungs down on the ladder want equally as much to preserve their standing and keep the lower ranks down.
“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.”**
How we do that is the question. King was no friend of Communism, but in today's America fear of Marxism is always with us and almost always irrational. We fear reform of any kind and we fear having to pay for it even if it benefits us and repays our cost with a profit. To that one percent, it's tempting, if not inevitable to think of the lower orders as the enemy. I can offer no magic solution and certainly those who have done so have led us into one disaster or another. I see no solution in the most vocal and demanding zealots today. I'm staying away from that "conversation" as being narrow and naive and divisive. I'm only trying to call attention to what I think King believed: that racism, tribalism, greed and lust for power are as intertwined and inextricable from each other as Mass and energy and all these things must be considered as part of the equation if we want a better, kinder gentler world.
*–Speech to Southern Christian Leadership Conference Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967.
**- Report to SCLC Staff, May 1967.