Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King on Henry George

From the Georgist Progress Report website, here is an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.'s final book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, in which King supports a guaranteed income rather than conventional welfare programs as the most direct means of dealing with poverty; he includes a quote from Henry George's Progress and Poverty:
The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased.
Aside from the question of work motivation, the point is that levels on inequality or equality income levels translate, via purchasing power, to levels of consumption of goods, and therefore dealing with the former directly is more direct and effective than dealing with the latter.
We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.
Compare to Milton Friedman and George Stigler's point in Roofs or Ceilings?:
The fact that, under free market conditions, better quarters go to those who have larger incomes or more wealth is, if anything, simply a reason for taking long-term measures to reduce the inequality of income and wealth. For those, like us, who would like even more equality than there is at present, not alone for housing but for all products, it is surely better to attack directly existing inequalities in income and wealth at their source than to ration each of the hundreds of commodities and services that compose our standard of living. It is the height of folly to permit individuals to receive unequal money incomes and then to take elaborate and costly measures to prevent them from using their incomes.

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