How Dr. King Shaped My Work in Economics
By Joseph E. Stiglitz – August 27, 2013
The New York Times: The Opinion Pages
I had the good fortune to be in the crowd in Washington when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his thrilling “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963. I was 20 years old, and had just finished college. It was just a couple of weeks before I began my graduate studies in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The night before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I had stayed at the home of a college classmate whose father, Arthur J. Goldberg, was an associate justice of the Supreme Court and was committed to bringing about economic justice. Who would have imagined, 50 years later, that this very body, which had once seemed determined to usher in a more fair and inclusive America, would become the instrument for preserving inequalities: allowing nearly unlimited corporate spending to influence political campaigns, pretending that the legacy of voting discrimination no longer exists, and restricting the rights of workers and other plaintiffs to sue employers and companies for misconduct?
Listening to Dr. King speak evoked many emotions for me. Young and sheltered though I was, I was part of a generation that saw the inequities that had been inherited from the past, and was committed to correcting these wrongs. Born during World War II, I came of age as quiet but unmistakable changes were washing over American society.
As president of the student council at Amherst College, I had led a group of classmates down South to help push for racial integration. We couldn’t understand the violence of those who wanted to preserve the old system of segregation. When we visited an all-black college, we felt intensely the disparity in educational opportunities that had been given to the students there, especially when compared with those that we had received in our privileged, cloistered college. It was an unlevel playing field, and it was fundamentally unfair. It was a travesty of the idea of the American dream that we had grown up with and believed in.
Click here to read the full article.