Monday, February 27, 2017

Martin Luther King: Right On Racial Justice, Wrong On ‘Economic Justice’

In support of the adoption of a $15 minimum wage in New Jersey, the NAACP invoked Martin Luther King. Richard T. Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, had this to say in a May 2016 New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column ( N.J. NAACP president: For economic justice raise the minimum wage):

Some ask if the minimum wage battle is the new civil rights movement.

The topic has received new attention this month, as leaders of the legislature renewed their push to raise New Jersey's minimum wage to a more equitable $15 per hour.

It's natural for people to feel the need to draw comparisons between hotly contested topics. But in this case, I think the question only draws unnecessary distinctions.

Racial and economic justice are, and forever will be, intertwined. History can be a useful guide when it comes to drawing the connections.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a national hero for helping end racial segregation in the United States. Yet he spent the last years of his life working as much for economic justice as for racial justice.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

Martin Luther King was either right in his fight for political justice—which he backed up by drawing upon the principles in the Declaration of Independence—or he was right about government-imposed economic “justice,” which violated the Declaration’s principles of political equality before the law. But he couldn’t be right about both, because they are mutually exclusive.

King was right only about political justice; all men are created equal possessing inalienable individual rights—rights being understood as guarantees to freedom of action to pursue personal advancement, not automatic claims on economic rewards that others must be forced to provide against their will.

“Economic justice” as meant by the likes of the NAACP is not justice at all. There is no justice in forcing employers to pay more than they are willing. There is no justice in denying any individual the right to work for any wage he is willing to accept. There is no justice in forcing employers to pay or legally granting to employees wage raises not earned. There is no justice in overriding the rights of employers and job seekers to voluntarily negotiate mutually beneficial, mutually agreed-upon compensation agreements. There is no justice in outlawing jobs; any jobs.

Minimum wage and similar laws and regulations are unjust and immoral, because based on legalized armed aggression by government against private individuals for the unearned benefit of other individuals. There is no justice in cronyism. There is no justice in aggressive force: Justice belongs to voluntary agreement only. Such laws are anti-justice, anti-individual rights, anti-Declaration of Independence, and anti-“I Have a Dream.”

In actuality, there is a very necessary “distinction” between racial and Smith’s version of “economic justice.”

There is no conflict between economic and political justice, properly understood. In fact, they are corollaries. Consistent adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence leads inexorably to freedom of contract regarding compensation, where each side negotiates from the standpoint of each own’s pursuit of her personal pursuit of happiness, each dealing with the other by voluntary mutual agreement rather than force. Force is the enemy of voluntarism and thus freedom and individual rights. When aggressive, initiatory force enters the economic equation—in any form, including the legal kind—economic justice, and justice of any kind, necessarily retreats.

“Racial and economic justice are, and forever will be, intertwined,” Smith says. No, they’re not—not in the way he means. When King fought to rid the country of legally enforced racial segregation, under which black Americans were cut off from broader society, he was enforcing racial justice based on the equality of rights laid down in the Declaration. Minimum wage laws, on the other hand, are a form of legally enforced economic segregation, where lower skilled/inexperienced workers are cut off from the broader economy because jobs they qualify for have been outlawed. There is a clear distinction between racial and Smith’s concept of “economic justice.” In reality, economic and racial segregation are corollaries. Likewise, political and economic freedom are corollaries. It’s either/or.

Related Reading:

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal—Ayn Rand

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