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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/23/11

Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 6

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Beyond merely complaining about what is wrong with our world, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. insists that we must begin now to imagine and actively create a new one. A short excerpt from chapter 5 of his last book appears at the end of this article to outline his overall vision for abolishing poverty by providing either jobs or incomes or both. This excerpt  has been widely published and analyzed by individual blogs and reputable news sources throughout the Internet over time. But it is worthy of repeating here for a number of reasons.

In the 40 years since Dr. King's death, we've heard endless discussions about how to create jobs and/or incomes. But talk is cheap, and most of these discussions are rooted in the mythical assumption that wealthy individuals are needed to provide either jobs or incomes in a so-called 'developed' or 'industrial' society. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain has debunked this myth for more than 50 years. As it turns out, workers can create their own damn jobs. Absentee shareholders need not apply. Greg MacLeod's book, "From Mondragon To America: Experiments in Community Development" puts real-world 'legs' on Dr. King's vision of full-employment.

Furthermore, the state of Alaska has demonstrated for more than 30 years that a guaranteed income is, not only possible, but in many ways essential for a healthy economy. Since the natural resources of Alaska belong to all Alaskans, it is the legislature's responsibility to develop these resources for the "maximum benefit of its people." Richard C. Cook's "We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform" puts real-world 'legs' on Dr. King's vision of a guaranteed basic income for every U.S. citizen, regardless of employment status.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians in the United States seem obsessed about cutting government spending these days, specifically targeting so-called 'entitlement' programs. Why do these Republican defenders of American democracy consistently attack unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in their alleged attempts to 'fix' the American economy?

Let's look at the puzzle from another perspective.

If these programs are either compromised or destroyed, how many millions of Americans will be forced into the labor market to compete for low-wage jobs, merely to survive and to pay their medical bills? More importantly, what happens when any 'market' is flooded with competition? Prices begin to drop significantly. The 'price' of human labor is called 'wages', and higher wages tend to result in lower profits. Such is the antagonistic relationship that forms the very foundation of our entire economy. So, at least in part, the ultimate goal of destroying 'entitlement' programs is to drive wages down in the United States, because lower wages tend to result in higher profits.

Conventional wisdom insists that, as American wages become more and more comparable to the wages in China, for example, American 'investors' might become more willing to create new jobs in the U.S. instead of exporting them overseas. This also leaves American workers without a social 'safety net'. Still Republicans insist this is the only way for the American workforce to be competitive in the labor market of a global economy. Whether they honestly believe their own rhetoric or not, Republicans want us to believe they are doing us a favor by cutting our throats.

In a 'global economy', they might be correct. But who says we must live in a 'global economy'? Who says there is any connection between so-called 'entitlement programs' funded by U.S. workers and tax increases for the wealthy? Who says American workers need to compete with Chinese workers for jobs? Who says wealthy 'investors' are needed to create new jobs? Who says 'jobs' are necessary for mere survival in a supposedly 'developed' society?

These are the kinds of questions Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was asking when he wrote his last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" From within the pages of that book, this article series continues to explore Dr. King's answers to a question that was asked a couple of years ago at the 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Celebration in San Francisco, shortly after Barack Obama was elected President: "What would Dr. King say to Barack Obama?" [1]

For example, Dr. King said that, in a market economy, people must be made consumers by one method or another. Whether through job creation or through a guaranteed income, the problem of poverty must be abolished. He argued that the U.S. Government must shoulder this load to some degree. But he also maintained that we, the people, must form 'cohesive cooperative alliances' to effect 'deep structural change' in order to become a more 'person-centered', rather than 'profit-centered' society.

More than 50 years of Mondragon experience is convincing testimony that our reliance upon a handful of wealthy individuals for either jobs or incomes is a systemic dysfunction of American society. Dr. King could not have possibly known about the Mondragon cooperatives prior to his death in 1968. According to William Foote Whyte, the first English speaking discoverer of the Mondragon system was Robert Oakeshott in 1973: "At the time, during the Franco era, leaders of the cooperatives were deliberately maintaining a low profile, and even few Spaniards outside the Basque country had any idea of what was going on in Mondragon." [2]

Even so, Dr. King's ideas about consolidating work with education and his focus on person-centered values along with his suggested synthesis between capitalism and communism were strikingly similar to those of Mondragon founder, Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta. In fact, a general study of Mondragon might provide a fleeting glimpse of an 'America' that could have been, if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had not been assassinated by his own government. [3]

In chapter 5 of his book, Dr. King outlines the need and possible implementation for a Basic Income Guarantee for every American citizen regardless of employment status. But in the appendix of the same book, Dr. King also provides a rough sketch of his vision for "Educational Parks", "Jobs First, Training Later", an 'Economic Bill of Rights" and integrated housing. [22]

In stark contrast, Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" clearly states his overall mission to "save capitalism from itself". [4] True to his word, Obama's continuing agendas have typically 'bailed out' a wealthy minority to the profound dispossession of everyone else, both domestically and abroad. But this should come as no surprise. After all, capitalism is an inherently lop-sided, top-heavy, bare-knuckles system that kicks the living piss out of most of us for the extreme benefit of an exclusively entitled few. There's nothing new about that. To soften the blows and to make the battle a little more humane, Americans have arrived at a number of public safety measures like Social Security, unemployment benefits, Medicare and Medicaid. But as we've seen recently, these are precisely the measures that come under attack whenever the U.S. government decides to 'take off the gloves' and "save capitalism from itself".
Nobody is being 'sold out', as many so-called 'progressives' have complained. We are all getting exactly what we voted for -- the CEO of a multinational corporation called the U.S. Government whose primary objective is to "save capitalism from itself". Like the CEO of any other corporation, the President's primary function is to 'maximize shareholder value'. If so-called 'liberals' or 'progressives' don't like the results, then we need a new system, not a new President.

For example, Senator Bernie Sanders argues that balancing any budget should involve consideration of both spending and income. He derides Obama's budget proposal because it assaults American workers and leaves huge corporations like Exxon-Mobile paying not a nickel in taxes. [5] But while his argument is perfectly valid, Mr. Sanders fails to address the most dysfunctional mandate of American economics, which is to 'maximize shareholder value'. This mandate might seem reasonable if the ultimate function of 'shareholder value' was to 'maximize the benefit of the people', as the constitutions of both Mondragon and the state of Alaska suggest. But under capitalism, American workers are not typically 'shareholders' and 'value' does not typically denote new jobs or a guaranteed income for every citizen.

Instead, one in six Americans is now living in poverty, or 47.8 million people. [6] This number is significantly greater than the total population of Canada (34 million). It's also an impressive number of potential American soldiers for Obama's next military conquest. Has poverty become the new military draft in the United States? It has been speculated that most people don't join the military unless they are forced to do so economically, and many do so to pay for college. This might also explain why the cost of higher education -- a standard measure of 'middle class' upward mobility in the United States -- has increased faster than the rate of inflation over the past 40 years. [7] [8] The GINI coefficient, which measures the disparity between rich and poor, is currently the highest in U.S. history, higher than it was in 1929, and is now comparable to conditions in China. [9]
In his own defense, Barack Obama has argued, "this country was founded on compromise. I couldn't go through the front door of this country's founding." [10] He's not far off the mark in this regard. After all, this nation was founded on the premise that all 'men' -- white male property owners -- are created equal, and to hell with everybody else. 'Compromise', indeed. As such, our so-called representative democracy' tends to facilitate one vote per dollar, not one vote per person. More accurately termed 'shareholder democracy' or 'plutocracy', the U.S. political system tends to provide white male owners of capital with an extraordinarily disproportionate voice in elections and in policy decisions.
From this perspective, a so-called 'middle-class' is needed only to maintain productive activity from which these so-called 'men' can siphon their incomes. So much for Mr. Obama's false pretense of 'saving the American middle-class', which was actually exported to China a long time ago. Time Magazine notes that "back in February 2009, when President Obama unveiled the nearly $800 billion stimulus package, he said, 'My economic recovery plan... will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years.' Two years later, new jobs are few and far between". [11]

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David Kendall lives in WA and is concerned about the future of our world.
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