Fifty years ago this morning shots rang out in the Memphis sky (OK, I stole that phrase) leaving Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dead. He, like me and all but Jesus Christ (for believers anyway) was an imperfect man. That in no way diminishes the lessons he left us if we are only wise enough to learn them. Two of them coupled with an observation form the basis of today’s article. Let’s explore.

The biggest thing I learned from King is the value of non-violent demonstration. King taught that demonstration brings attention to a problem. Demonstration is not a solution but when non-violent it is the first step toward solution.

I’d like to look back at what is commonly referred to in America as the Civil Rights Era for a bit. During the height of the movement I was a high school student in suburban Buffalo, New York. While politically aware, my main concerns were playing basketball (not very skillfully) and graduating early so as to minimize an academic experience I found less than worthy of my time. I was anxious to get to college and hopefully learn much more.

Racism was (and apparently is still) alive and well in North. It was much more covert than in the South, but it existed. The 2016 election verified that not all that much has changed. For some time now one of the three main pillars of the Republican Party has been racism. Not all Republicans are racists but I find it more than a coincidence that the most racist and arguably least qualified candidate of the original 17 ended up improbably winning the nomination and then through the quirk known as the Electoral College managed to get enough people to the polls in Great Lakes states to win the election.

While the value of non-violent protest was the lesson of King that is most impactful today the one that is personally most valuable is his advice to judge people by their character as opposed to their skin color (King’s words were much more eloquent). I grew up in a de facto segregated community. Everyone was white. I never went to school with a non-white until college.

Today many of my friends are non-white as are several of my relatives. That is wonderful! Discrimination in any form is a losing proposition for both the discriminated against and the discriminators. To put it in terms that you might expect an economist to use: Any time you limit the population (think: assets) you may select from the outcome has to be less than optimal.

Trump and company are the result of much that has long been bad in America. They also need to be removed from power. The first step in that process is to non-violently bring attention to their misdeeds, (since they are so numerous, at least as many as possible.) I’m not the type of person who will take to the streets carrying a sign although I’m glad we have those people and their actions are effective in bringing attention. Those who occupy the offices of elected officials are tremendously effective, however again that is outside my comfort zone. My preferred method of bringing attention to a problem is via my writing and an occasional public appearance.

The most important thing for all to do is to become politically active! This can take several forms. The most important is voting. Simple as it may sound most American elections are decided not by those who actually vote but those who stay home thereby adding weight to the votes of those who actually show up. 2010 is probably the most recent prime example of this phenomenon. The sad part is that America is still paying the price for the results of that election and will until at least through 2020.

For those with a bit more energy volunteering has a huge impact. Every candidate needs “ground troops”. Making phone calls or knocking on doors is labor intensive but extremely effective in persuading registered voters predisposed to supporting your candidate (and thereby values) to actually get off the couch and to the polls.

For those among us with the financial capacity donations help fuel the campaigns.

There is no need to destroy property, kill or injure people; in fact it is counterproductive. A successful democracy is a participatory democracy; if you want the current problem in the White House removed it is up to you to participate in the removal.

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One thought on “Lessons”

  1. Jealousy has always been at the heart of racism, bigotry, sectarianism. I would argue that “competition racism has always been the dominant form of racism. Even “exploitation racism is in reality about jealousy and “competition racism. This is why the minds of minorities and ethnics are colonized. To damage their self confidence and give them inferiority complexes. The fear is that if they ever get self confident . . . they will become too successful in life. The term “exploitation means something very different in economics. The exploiter is almost always hurt by exploiting. So why ever exploit? Because a lot of people are willing to harm themselves if they believe they can in the process also harm others. Why would someone do that? Jealousy. I am glad that at long last some in the non economics liberal arts are starting to realize what economists have known all along. The large majority of racism is and always has been competition racism (about jealousy) and not exploitation racism.

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