Why Martin Luther King would support Pres. Obama’s Tax on Super-Rich

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

In one of his last speeches, at Grosse Point, MI., the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., laid out his next campaign, the one he died pursuing. It was not about civil rights for minorities but economic rights for “the other America” (the title of a book by Michael Harrington that influence Pres. Johnson to launch the war on poverty).

King said at Grosse Point:

“…I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, “The Other America.” And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country ha s this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one. There are two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America children grow up in the sunli ght of opportunity.

But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that tr ansforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this other America, thousands and thousands of people, men in particular walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. In this other America, millions of people are forced to live in vermin-filled, distressing housing conditions where they do not have the privilege of having wa ll-to-wall carpeting, but all too often, they end up with wall-to-wall rats and roaches. Almost forty percent of the Negro families of America live in sub-standard housing conditions.

In this other America, thousands of young people are deprived of an opportuni ty to get an adequate education. Every year thousands finish high sc hool reading at a seventh, eighth and sometimes ninth grade level. Not because they’re dumb, not because they don’t have th e native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out. Probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic probl em. There are so many other people in the other America who can never make ends meet because their incomes are far too low if they have incomes, and their jobs ar e so devoid of quality. And so in th is other America, unemployment is a reality and under-employment is a reality.

King saw African-American unemployment as key to their being stuck in the Other America:

“The unemployment rate on the basis of statistics from the labor department is about 8.8 per cent in the black community. But these statistics only take under consideration indi viduals who were once in the labor market, or individuals who go to employment o ffices to seek employment. But they do not take under consideration the thousands of people who have given up, who have lost motivation, the thousands of people who have had so many doors closed in their faces that they feel def eated and they no longer go out and look for jobs, the thousands who’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. These people are considered the discouraged and when you add the disc ouraged to the individuals who can’t be calculated through statistics in the unemployment category, the unemploym ent rate in the negro community probably goes to 16 or 17 percent. And among black youth, it is in some communities as high as 40 and 45 percent.

If anything the African-American real unemployment statistics are higher today than they were then. Here is a graph:


Martin Luther King died while in Memphis campaigning for better wages for sanitation workers.

Obama’s proposals to raise capital gains taxes (from unearned income via investing) back to 28%, The top 1% have monopolized most of the new wealth created in recent years, whereas the wages of most salary earners have been flat for the past decade and a half. There is a relationship between the way the wealthy have received the benefits of the recovery and the way that workers have not.

King was cut down before he could make his plea. It is for progressives to continue the dream.

9 Responses

  1. Obama’s proposals are theater — and he knows that.

    Obama had a congressional majority in both houses of Congress when he took office. He did not do anything to improve the financial condition of the middle class when he had the ability to do so. Instead we got Obamacare (corporate welfare to prop up a dying industry selling defective products).

    Obama is a handmaiden for the bankster class. They bankrolled his 2008 campaign and he delivered by not prosecuting anyone.

    • So true & so damn depressing. This growing (world-wide) wealth “gap” (abyss) is beyond obscene. This Vast Casino of radicalized bankster capitalism will implode someday…soon.

    • Thank you for stating the obvious. I can only hope that MLK would be thoroughly disgusted with Pres. Obama and the rest of the scoundrels of both parties.

  2. This wasn’t proposed when there was a Democratic majority in the Senate. Obama shows himself in his full-pander mode. Proposing something now that it is impossible while not proposing it when it was merely improbable. Obama-Disappointing since Day One. Ohhh, ohhh, Guantanamohhhh.

  3. Beyond the US on the global stage: “Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016” – link to oxfam.org

    Meanwhile, at daily rituals senators and representatives in Congress piously recite “… one nation, …., indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” after which they proceed to divide with an attitude that relegates “others” to the status of untermenschen.

  4. Since the Constitution was written, economic power has displaced direct force as the dominant means of coercion, and economic concentrations have used that to control elections and mass media, preventing even debate of the issue, and so the Constitution was never amended to limit funding of elections and mass media to small personal contributions. An oligarchy has destroyed democracy by economic force.

    If the Dems and Obama had any intention of progress for the people, they would eliminate oligarchy with one stroke, prosecuting those who use money to control the mass media and elections, investigating and imprisoning politicians and judges, state and federal. For economic force is now the equivalent of military force, and those who use it to control government make war upon these United States, the definition of Treason in our Constitution. They are the ones who must be imprisoned in Guantanamo without hope of reprieve, for they have made war upon us and have destroyed our democracy.

  5. It is well to encourage what benevolence Obama may have, and to praise King as an inspiration, and one hopes that he will do something as a lame duck president. But so far he has proven only the intent to deceive his supporters, serving as a puppet of oligarchy, playing aristocrat on the hill with the lowest of schemers.

    There are useful King-Obama parallels and contrasts. King spoke for nonviolent blacks, an essential voice and symbol of their majority, although it was the street violence that shook the white establishment enough to take some action. But Obama has far more power and visibility than all black leaders had then, even had the power to take essential action in his first two years, and did nothing compared with FDR’s first “100 days,” nor anything he has promised.

  6. I like the idea of increasing the cap gains rate for people with high incomes (I almost typed “high earners”, but really, few of these folks “work” – they mainly watch the dividends roll in).

    It’s also about time for a securities transaction tax. It doesn’t need to be high – let’s assume for argument 0.1% per transaction. You sell $100,000 of stock, you pay the feds $100. This only begins to bite if you sell/buy/resell/rebuy etc the same securities many times per second.

    Simple economic methods like this – hey! use the power of The Market (In Whose Name we Prey) – will not only raise money for the Treasury from the high rollers; it will help curb the bane of lightning-fast trading which has made a mockery of the stock exchange.

    And seriously – if we have no problem with brokerage firms, fund managers, and the like each taking their cut on every transaction, why not the federal government, who makes it all possible? Why not?

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