What do Martin Luther King, Adam Smith and Ben Ansell have in common? 

In January I spent time thinking about where best to focus my writing and advocacy in 2024. As inspiration, I read pieces by Martin Luther King, Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations), and Ben Ansell (Why Politics Fails). I didn’t expect the readings to have common themes but they did. Each said, in different ways, that the white middle class values power, advantage or the whip-hand (literally, in the context of Wealth of Nations) over justice, equity or economic stability.

It’s true we are no longer fighting for freedom from bondage or the right to vote, but we recognise that the fight for racial equality is ongoing. Ansell argues that today the middle class uses wealth in equally pervasive ways to maintain their advantage; e.g. by gaining access to the best schools and in the process excluding others.

Some of my articles last year point to the power of the middle class to subvert racial equity sometimes through actions but often – and more powerfully – through inaction that maintains advantage. These articles reflect my fear, not of the far right but of the ‘near middle’; the white middle class who as King put it:

“prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension 

to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

My New Year’s reading clarified for me that we can only achieve equity with equal access to finance; and that inequality itself poses an existential threat, because it stops us from working together when we need to deal with our biggest challenges, like climate change. There can be no solidarity in solving these threats without equitable access to wealth.

Through my advocacy work this year I intend to encourage the ‘positive peace’ that King speaks of. This involves posing difficult questions to the middle class that will require answers, not peaceful avoidance or silence. In particular these questions need to be asked of the leaders of funding bodies who, through their funding choices, can catalyse the more equitable distribution of finance.

These funders cannot seek to control the outcomes of their funding but they can provide access to it. Equitable access to wealth creation is an outcome in itself and the single best way to produce Smith’s robust economy, King’s open democracy and Ansell’s idea of politics that  produce more equitable outcomes in education, health, employment, housing and criminal justice.

As King suggests, tensions are an inevitable part of the process to a social peace. I will sharpen my pencil and write with love but not fear.

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