I spent most of yesterday thinking about this clip, posted on my feed by a Facebook friend. Forgive the bit of snakeoilsmanship at the end of the interview, it wasn’t my doing:
An eloquent rendering of MLK’s thoughts on poverty and The Great Reckoning in America. As I see it, the issue of poverty has much more to do with value than anything else. At the crux of it, we don’t value a Wal-Mart employee in so much that we would even pay her enough to feed her children, but we value bankers and executives to the point where we happily pay them enough not only to feed and care for their own families, but to feed their progeny well into future generations. (Which is why it’s also no surprise to me that Mitt Romney has no idea how he feels about any issue in particular since he’s never had to grapple with the world in any way that would enliven his core with moral erectness. This is also why I’m in favor of a hefty inheritance tax. Sloth and meek acquiescence cannot and should not be tolerated in a progressive society.)
But within the human landscape of skill and talent, there’s not enough of a gap between skilled and unskilled that a manager should be exalted to live in sprawling opulence while a Wal-Mart greeter is commanded to trudge through a meager existence. A mere survival. Here’s the truth: There is nothing a hedge fund manager could ever accomplish that would place his worth to society, the defining characteristic of which is his salary, at $1.67 billion dollars. Nothing. And there’s nothing a Wal-Mart worker could ever fail to do that would set her salary so low that she can barely feed her family.
Until we’re able to have this Great Reckoning, I sense we’re stuck here. The Civil War was the beginning of a Great Reckoning on racial disparity, but we’ve stubbornly refused to contend with how our largely arbitrary valuations of human capital rob people of their liberty. We’re stuck.