MLK Day

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If Google and social media didn’t clue you in, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day -a day that is often riddled with postings on social media of quotes made famous by the great orator himself. Many of these posts focus more on abstract themes like love, sacrificing for others, standing up for “things that matter,” faith, and change among others. While I find these quotes to be important, relevant, and inspiring, I am also really inspired and empowered by the quotes where he explicitly calls out and stands against the status quo. With that being said, here are a few MLK Jr. quotes that I find very inspiring:

On Poverty:

“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 a question 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…And 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’s two-thirds water?’ These are words that must be said.”

Economic Systems:

“…communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”

Society:

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

I urge you to reflect on these words of King and how he used his life as an agent of change for the greater good.

Hint of What’s to Come: A Look at Poverty and Economic Inequality

Map of the UN’s human development index report. The darker the blue, the more developed the country. Image found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2011_UN_Human_Development_Report_Quartiles.svg

I am currently working on a large project (a prezi, to be exact) on poverty and economic inequality. (Yes, this is what I do for fun.) I will be posting it when I have finished it, but until then, I will give a teaser (or two).

When researching poverty facts I came across this quote that I found to be quite poignant and combines a lot of different ideas that I am learning in my post-grad study of economics, work, human development, etc.

“Human development is about much more than the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means—if a very important one—of enlarging people’s choices.” —Human Development Reports, United Nations Development Program (found here: http://www.globalissues.org/article/4/poverty-around-the-world)

By this definition it can be argued that even some countries traditionally seen as developed are actually under-developed. Take the US for example. Has the country really done what the second sentence of the quote says? With underemployment near 20% and people holding on to their jobs regardless of whether is matches their skill-set, interests, and needs, the answer is no. People in the US are not reaching their full potential in the working world.

Meanwhile, economic disparity is at an all-time high and the richest 1% of the population is still getting richer. This is contrary to means of development, however, and economic inequality that high is actually something that is found in many developing countries. In fact, according to an NPR article, the US’s economic inequality rivals that of the Sub-Saharan African countries of Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. These countries according to the 2011 UN Human Development index rank 150th and 170th respectively on the development scale. This raises an important set of questions: is it possible for a country to move backward on this scale and is that the future for the US? With all the talk of “racing to the bottom” that is creeping up in economic conversations, it is getting harder to answer those questions with a “no.”

International Human Development Indicators – UNDP.