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Martin Luther King Jr. on the record for a Guaranteed Income

Matt Orfalea
Jan 10, 2017 · 4 min read

The idea of Universal Basic Income as a solution to job automation technology became mainstream in 2016. But the concept of a guaranteed income for all, regardless of employment, is nothing new. Martin Luther King Jr. was a big proponent of it way back in the 60's.

MLK dedicated the end of his last book to the idea and talked about it in a number of recordings. Here are excerpts from 5 separate sources where MLK discussed a GUARANTEED INCOME.

Martin Luther King Jr.: “…It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own bootstraps… They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society. And there is a great deal that the society can and must do if the Negro is to gain the economic security that he needs.

Now one of the answers it seems to me, is a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for all families of our country. [crowd applause] It seems to me that the Civil Rights movement must now begin to organize for the guaranteed annual income. Begin to organize people all over our country, and mobilize forces so that we can bring to the attention of our nation this need, and this is something which I believe will go a long long way toward dealing with the Negro’s economic problem and the economic problem which many other poor people confront in our nation.


Quote starts at 0:32

Martin Luther King Jr.: Now we are in a new phase. And that is a phase where we are seeking genuine equality. Where we are dealing with hard economic and social issues. And it means that the job is much more difficult.

It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to . It’s much easier to integrate a bus than it is to get a program that will force the government to put billions of dollars into ending slums.

It’s a wonderful thing to work and be concerned about integrating public schools — which I will continue to work for with vigor and with zeal. But I’ve also got to be concerned about the survival of a world in which to be integrated. And these issues to me are tied together in that sense.”

3. “Where Do We Go from Here” speech @ Southern Christian Leadership Conference (August 16, 1967)

Martin Luther King Jr.: We must develop progress — or rather a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. Now, early in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation, as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual’s ability and talents. And, in the thinking of that day, the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will.

4. “Impasse in Race Relations — CBC Massey Lecture (November 1967)

Quote starts @ 20:44

Martin Luther King Jr.: We are demanding an emergency program to provide employment for everyone in need of a job, or if a work program is impractical, a guaranteed annual income at levels that sustain life in decent circumstances. It is now incontestable that the wealth and resources of the United States make the elimination of poverty absolutely practical.”

- Book

It is in the last chapter of his last book, where MLK made his extensive case for a guaranteed income. I have typed the whole chapter so But he best sums it all together in this one quote,

Martin Luther King Jr.: I’m now 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.

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