Economic justice

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Vision for Economic Justice: NPR

Mary Louise Kelly of NPR speaks with Michael Tubbs, Stockton, Calif., Former mayor and founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, about Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact on the fight for a universal basic income.


Basic universal income is basically money that goes straight into people’s pockets without any strings attached. It was the cornerstone of Andrew Yang’s presidential candidacy. He is campaigning on this idea again in the race for mayor of New York. And a handful of cities across the country have instituted similar programs. But guaranteed cash payments – this is not a new idea. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the early proponents of the Universal Basic Income.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: It seems to me that the civil rights movement now has to start organizing for the guaranteed annual income, has started to organize people all over our country and to mobilize forces so that we can bring to the our nation’s attention to that need and that something that I believe will go a long, long way towards dealing with the black economic problem and the economic problem with many other poor people our nation is facing.

KELLY: Well, while on vacation in honor of Dr. King, we wanted to shoulder that part of his legacy. And so I am joined now by Michael Tubbs. He instituted a universal basic income program in Stockton, California, when he was mayor of that city. He now runs a foundation promoting the idea.

Michael Tubbs, hi.

MICHAEL TUBBS: Hi. Thank you for.

KELLY: It’s so striking – that quote we just heard – because I think a lot of people, of course, are very aware of Dr. King’s vision for racial justice – perhaps less aware than he also had a global vision of economic justice.

TUBBS: Yeah, absolutely. I think anyone who studies Dr. King realizes that he has seen that racial justice and economic justice are intertwined. And that is why he has spoken so often about the triple evils of our society, which are unhindered capitalism, excessive militarism and racism. And the job he was doing was really to eradicate our society from these three things so that we would live in a community that uplifts the basic human dignity of all people.

KELLY: I mentioned that you implemented one of the first guaranteed income programs in the country two years ago. Why? What inspired you?

TUBBS: I was inspired by studying Dr King and realizing that for all the speeches and days of service, no one had told me about a guaranteed income, this radical idea of ​​- and Stockton of teaming up to the economic security project. And what we’ve seen is that it hasn’t taken away people’s work ethic. It didn’t change us in a different country, but it actually gave people a floor to persist during times like these.

KELLY: If it’s such a great idea – and obviously I can hear you believe it – why has it been so slow to fall into place? We’ve heard from Dr. King about it. That was in 1967. Your program was one of the first, and it started in 2019, two years ago.

TUBBS: Well I think any change is scary. And I think far too many people in our country adhere to this notion of meritocracy. I think part of it was – Dr King also spoke about racism – that every time in our country, when we try to do something that helps everyone, including black people and people of color, when we let’s talk about how the most productive times in our country and how the middle class was built, it was built by giving things to people, giving land to people, giving education to people . And I think guaranteed income is in the same vein.

KELLY: Last question, namely, do you think the time may have finally come, that the time may finally be right for this idea to take hold? I think the late ’60s, when Dr King was defending this, was, of course, a time of upheaval, division and conversation about race in this country. And here we are, that way, at a very similar time.

TUBBS: It must be now. We’re literally at zero with some kind of racial calculation that we have, but also with the economic impacts of COVID-19. When I think if we can get a guaranteed income, a floor income, right now we also have to have a conversation about the moral awakening that our country needs because, again, as Dr said King, poverty robs us of the wealth of a society where everyone has the opportunity to realize their full potential.

KELLY: It’s Michael Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, Calif., And founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

Thanks for speaking with us.

TUBBS: Thank you very much for having me. Have a nice day from Dr King.

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