Being the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birth, we are all reminded to re-read some of his most famous writings.  His book Strength to Love is comprised of some of his most profound sermons, appropriately commenting on the times in which they lived, but also wisely prophetic and universal in its applicability.  Given his ability to appeal to all generations and most circumstances, it was not difficult to find a sermon from Strength to Love that we could apply to present day’s economic and political situation.  However, “On Being a Good Neighbor” seems especially pertinent today.

The sermon begins with the parable of “the Good Samaritan,” which describes a man robbed, beaten, and left on the side of the road.  He was passed over by several individuals until the “good Samaritan” not only helped the man to his feet, but carried him to town and paid for his treatment.  The parable was Jesus’ way of explaining the meaning of the Old Testament commandment “love . . . thy neighbor as thyself.”  But who is your ‘neighbor’ and how does that apply to today’s economy?

Dr. King describes your neighbor as:

“. . . anyone toward whom you are neighborly.  He is anyone who lies in need at life’s roadside.  He is neither Jew nor Gentile; he is neither Russian nor American; he is neither Negro nor White.  His is a ‘certain man’—any needy man—on one of the numerous Jericho roads of life.”[i]

Today we can add that your neighbor is:

. . . neither rich nor poor; he is neither an illegal immigrant nor a migrant worker; he is neither homeless nor wealthy; he is neither Muslim nor Christian; he is neither Republican nor Democrat; he is neither a janitor nor a CEO . . . etc.

In essence, Dr. King foretells that we will all be in a situation where we need help and will occasionally, if not frequently, come across a neighbor in need.

If we were to take the advice of Dr. King and act altruistically, helping our neighbor, would we be in our current economic state of turmoil?  Would so many of our people be dependent on state assistance?   Would Americans be more willing to leave their comfort zone to take a risk on creating their own opportunities?

If we were more altruistic, to the point of even risking our own comfort, we would have more to give, but there would also be less need.  To examine this posit, let’s take a look at some facts.  In recent times, American adults have generally given to charity an average of $1,250 per person, which is about 3.8% of income.[ii] If our total charity was raised to 10% of average income, it would equal around $3,200 per adult or about $768 Billion.  Recent Census figures show that our government spent about $800 Billion on welfare programs.[iii] Taking government inefficiency into consideration, private, charitable giving could easily surpass the impact that government welfare has.

Further eliminate or reduce the taxes necessary to pay for welfare programs as an incentive for private giving and we would be virtually transferring our funds from government hands to private ones, increasing our efficiency and overall effect, while reducing the need for bureaucratic control and inefficiency, and also ensuring that Americans have a greater sense of ownership in how they help their neighbor.

Since the largest portion of our government’s expenditures is spent on social welfare programs (which include entitlements), eliminating their necessity would greatly reduce our federal budget, the national debt, and arguably nearly all of our economic problems.

The resulting domino effect could be tremendous.  People would once again have the sense of community that comes from helping and receiving help from neighbors, not a faceless government entity, reducing the inclination to sit idle while accepting a handout.  With increased motivation, charitable giving, and volunteerism, businesses would be created, jobs produced, incomes improved, economies restored, and the cycle would naturally continue as munificence would eventually eliminate dependence and the need for entitlements.

Some would say that the notion of an entire nation being transformed is extremely idealistic.  Of course, many said that Dr. King’s “dream” was more than idealistic, generally impossible.  Today, however, racism is virtually eliminated and racial discrimination outlawed.

So perhaps we do have room for a new dream, one in which we live in an America where its people takes care of each other, where we all heed the words of the great Dr. King and love our neighbors as ourselves.

At our organization, our mission is based on the idea of helping our neighbor.  Everyone has the capacity for entrepreneurial success, but they just need a little assistance, education, and sometimes a charitable boost in order to see and obtain the opportunities.  Our “dream” is to boost entrepreneurship, small business activity, job creation, and economic freedom in order to achieve this mission, so that we can all rely a little less on the government and a little more on Dr. King’s real dream, a society based on love.

by Justin Velez-Hagan, National Executive Director

[i] King Jr., Martin L. “On Being a Good Neighbor.” Strength to Love. Cleveland: Collins + World, 1977. 21-22.      Print.