NESRI Media Center

MLK Reminds Us We Need a New Social Contract

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Publication Date: 
January 16, 2017

In the weeks before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he was organizing the Poor People's Campaign, a second march on Washington to win economic rights for poor people of all races. Nearly 50 years later, poverty and inequality remain fixtures of the American economy, but this doesn't have to be. Public policy produces poverty and racism, and it can just as easily eradicate it. Together, we must write and create a new social contract that stops the cycles of racial and economic inequality.

Dr. King wrote, "I am convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective - the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income." A guaranteed income - also called a universal basic income - would give everyone in the U.S. a monthly check from the government, no strings attached.

A universal basic income is one of several bold policy ideas that is gaining currency as an idea for eliminating poverty, reducing inequality, compensating reproductive and caring labor, and guaranteeing economic wellbeing as a fundamental right. A public jobs guarantee, baby bonds, a shorter work week are also powerful possibilities.

Yet while a guaranteed income is attracting attention from human rights defenders, it is also attracting the attention of libertarians, who see it as a way to replace the rest of the social insurance system entirely, abolishing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare and thus wreaking unthinkable harm on people's lives.

We are proud to be part of a growing conversation on bold solutions to human crises, and are committed to making sure any potential solutions live up to human rights principles by protecting all rights of all people and by doing so equitably. For those in New York, please join us on February 9th for a panel discussion exploring these and other bold ideas to rewire our inequitable economy. Inspired by the legacy of Dr. King and all defenders of human rights, let us learn from the past and build a better future together.

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