Equally encouraging still is the way Sen. John Unger, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College Peter Checkovich and other leaders stepped up not on a “bonus” Monday off but during a regular weekend and organized efforts to get bottled water, microwaveable meals and other aid to residents in need in Kanawha and eight other counties.
But there’s also this to consider: If King hadn’t been slain outside Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel nearly a half-century ago, he might have succeeded in his effort to eliminate poverty, and West Virginia today would be a much different place.
In King’s book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” he advocated a straightforward way to ensure a better life for all Americans: “I am now convinced,” he wrote, “that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”
I was born in 1967, the year King’s book came out and was far into middle age before I ever heard of this movement. It’s certainly not in vogue in today’s political climate, where many politicians make the poor out to be the biggest problem our country has.
King’s thought was for our government to guarantee a financial floor – a comfortable median income – and thus give every American the psychological benefit of economic security. This would end the welfare state, eliminate class warfare. To qualify for the guaranteed income, citizens would either work in a traditional job or spend the workweek completing community service.
Economists such as John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman (and literally 1,000 others) endorsed the idea when it went before Congress in 1968. So did Daniel P. Moynihan, then Lyndon Johnson’s Labor Secretary. (He’d grown up in poverty in New York City and went on to serve for decades as a U.S. Senator from New York.)
Had King’s idea prevailed, it’s likely West Virginia today would be home to fewer citizens with “Friend of Coal” bumper stickers. With grinding poverty at bay, citizens wouldn’t feel the need to express blind, blanket gratitude just to have any job, any level of income. The ultra-rich “job creators” wouldn’t hold quite the same sway.
West Virginians might also have energy left over to begin asking hard questions of lawmakers and to insist the government work first and foremost for the people. In that West Virginia, the government might have demanded more of Freedom Industries, and 300,000 West Virginians might not be longing for the day when they don’t need trucked-in bottled water to quench their thirst, get clean and make dinner.