Revisiting Martin Luther King’s Idea of Universal Basic Income

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During the last decade of his life, Martin Luther King’s civil rights activism took on a universal spin. He started advocating for equal civil rights for the poverty-struck community, not just the African American diaspora.

Universal basic income was a part of this economic dream. Let’s discuss this ideal that was so callously interrupted by the assassination of Martin Luther King.

What is Universal Basic Income?

Universal basic income would’ve guaranteed that every American got a mandatory middle-class income to make ends meet. Also known as guaranteed income, this would have ensured every citizen a set share of living expenses yearly instead of the minimum wage, which is neither realistic nor sufficient for a college student to pay off their loans.

modernized version of this welfare recipient program proposed by Charles Murray, a conservative scholar, would see every legal adult get a set sum of $10,000 annually.

King’s Universal Basic Income

King’s idea of a universal basic income went beyond anything proposed today. If anything, we should be taking notes from the ideas perpetuated during the ’60s because they were just that ahead of their times.

King’s vision has gone into great detail about the universal basic income in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? A book that would go on to be his last. While acknowledging the government’s overtures to address poverty through education and housing, King also said they weren’t nearly enough to eradicate poverty.

In his opinion, the government needed a direct approach to ending poverty. In other words, this meant addressing more of the “what” and less of the “why”; the latter wasn’t doing anything to improve their lives.

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Create a Universal Basic Income to Create Jobs

It should be noted that King wasn’t trying to make a case for an income whether or not you were employed. When he said the US wasn’t doing nearly enough for the poor despite growing economically rich every day, he meant that the government—the system—was disregarding the poor because it saw them as inferior.

If a decent income is what it takes for the system to see these people as equals and provide them with equal job opportunities, a decent, guaranteed income is what they should get. He wanted everyone to work and the government to guarantee a middle-class income by creating job opportunities for conventional and unconventional skill sets.

The Final Setback

Universal basic income was an important aspect of King’s Poor People’s Campaign. It had already experienced a setback because of King’s ongoing criticism of the US involvement in the aftermath of vietnam war.

Its final setback came in the form of the MLK assassination. Visit Kennedys and King to learn more about the events surrounding his assassination, particularly the threat he presented as an important pillar of the Civil Rights Movement.

Reach out for inquiries and updates.

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