Monday, January 20, 2014

On Martin Luther King Day 2014

An aspect worth learning about is Martin Luther King's economic arguments.  Here's one article which discusses them:

Today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is most often remembered as a crusader for racial equality, not economic justice. But those struggles were inextricably intertwined for the civil rights leader, whose 85th birthday is being honored this weekend. Even during his upbringing, as he wrote in 1958 [PDF], he knew “that the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.”

He also referred to global economic inequalities in at least this speech.  When I follow various discussions about racism, white privilege and so on,  I often crave more attention on the economic infrastructures and how to fix them. 

Changing the way US schools are funded is not a glittery and exciting topic, but it would go a long way towards making sure that all children, whatever their race, ethnicity and family income, would get to start the marathons of life at the same starting line.  I want to see school funding detached from local property taxes, because those create an instant feedback loop from poor areas to poor schools (and from wealthy areas to wealthy schools).  Indeed, I'd like to see positive discrimination for poor schools:  More teacher pay, more computers, more after-school activities, to compensate for the problems poor families face.  And programs like Head Start should be supported, not attacked.  If a particular program doesn't work, fix it, don't demolish it.

Changing the way the labor markets function, putting more effort into guaranteeing living wages, annual vacations, parental leaves, affordable daycare and so on, would do a lot to reduce the daily struggles of the poor, and because a larger percentage of blacks are poor, this would serve to reduce the racial differences, too*. 

Accepting that anti-discrimination programs are needed, rather than fighting them, would make the systems of getting jobs and keeping them fairer.  Unionization matters.  That unions are dying in the US means that the relative power of the employers is increasing.   The conservative argument that workers or job applicants can just negotiate their individual deals with the firms doesn't even work for the more educated and powerful workers, and it certainly doesn't work for a janitor or a supermarket cashier.  We need organized activity on the worker side of the labor markets.  We actually need that on the global level, given that large firms are now globalized.

Why does this matter for racial and ethnic differences and racism?  Because it partially addresses the very infrastructure which also contributes to different outcomes by race.  As long as the different income classes show different percentages of people from various races/ethnic groups, the economic problems remain intertwined with the racial problems.  Addressing the economic problems directly is a very important part of the wider dream Martin Luther King had.
*This is because to some extent the wealthier individuals and families can negotiate some of these benefits.  Low-income workers cannot.