Towards the end of his life Dr. King also began advocating for a universal basic income (UBI) or guaranteed basic income (GAI) that could be applied to ensure that most people would be able to make it to the middle class. He recognized that income inequality and racial disparity were invariably linked, and also knew that the working poor and working families, including those that were white, could be brought along into this coalition.
From the Atlantic, more details
In part, King’s thinking seemed to stem from a sense that no amount of economic growth could provide jobs for all or eliminate poverty. As he put it:
” We have 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 operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.
The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.”
In other words, King believed that the government was obligated to provide both work and income for those inevitably left behind by capitalism’s economic engine. Looking back from today’s vantage point, one can even imagine that King might have supported attaching a work requirement to such a program, so long as everyone could be guaranteed a job.
The closest we came was Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan, which ended up dying in the Senate (sound familiar) due to filibustering from opponents from the left who felt it wasn’t generous enough and opponents from the right who were opposed to it on principle. Like Nixon’s single payer proposal, it remains an interesting ‘what if’ of progressive social policy from an unlikely source. One wonders how Dr. King would have responded if he had lived, and if the program or a similar one, would’ve had more success.