When we think of Martin Luther King Jr., we often think of the civil rights leader and icon. His activism was powerful and changed the United States forever. But beneath this layer, another side to MLK was a brilliant economic thinker with a vision of financial equality for all Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader and icon of the civil rights movement whose words still resonate today, especially when it comes to understanding money and its role in society.
In his speeches, he warned against living beyond one’s means to keep up with others and argued that money should be used to achieve true equality and justice.
Dr. King also preached that true happiness could not come from what we own or possess but rather from how we choose to live our lives.
This article will explore Martin Luther King Jr.’s thoughts on money and the importance of taking his advice into account to lead more meaningful lives.
Table of Contents
The Drum Major Instinct, Memphis, Tennessee
In this iconic speech on February 4th, 1968, King discussed money and its role in society, calling out the values of money-driven people and their detrimental impact on the world around them.
Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the “drum major instinct.” He said it is important to try your best, work hard, be humble and help others. This means wanting to be the leader or best person in everything you do. In his speech, he warned of the dangers of poor budgeting and spending for the sake of ego and appearance.
- “You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income.
- Now the economists also say that your house should not cost—if you’re buying a house, it should not cost more than twice your income. That is based on the economy and how you would make ends meet.
- “But now the problem is, it is the drum major instinct. And you know, you see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.”
Dr. King gave the example:
“I know a man who used to live in a $5,000. And other people started building $35,000 houses, so he built a $75,000 house. And then somebody else built a $75,000 house, and he built a $100,000 house. And I don’t know where he’s going to end up if he’s going to live his life trying to keep up with the Joneses.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He continued, “The drum major instinct is real. And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. But it feeds a repressed ego.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in “The Drum Major Instinct” resonate today in our society, especially regarding money and material wealth. He warned of the dangers trying to keep up with others and the necessity of having a budget.
Both of these lessons are as relevant now as it was then.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” was a passionate call to action that delved into the economic issues in the United States. In it, he speaks of money as a means of survival or prosperity and a tool for achieving true equality and justice.
He argued that money should be used to create opportunity rather than concentrating wealth among a privileged few. By understanding money’s role in society, he believed we could build stronger communities with more equitable outcomes for everyone.
- We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other”
- “We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.”
- “We are likely to find that the problem of housing, education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor, transformed into purchasers, will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay.”
Martin Luther King Jr’s believed we must ensure people have jobs. People need to be able to buy things. He said that if we decrease poverty, other problems like housing and education will also improve.
Dr. King also acknowledged that even if the economy is doing well, there will still be people struggling financially.
Martin Luther King Jr’s Money Message
The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr financial brilliance is often eclipsed. But his economic message was powerful in its own right. He preached that true happiness and satisfaction come not from what we own or possess but rather from how we choose to live our lives and treat those around us.
Money can buy temporary pleasure but cannot fill the hunger for meaning in life or bring lasting peace of mind. By taking his advice into account, we can all strive towards leading more meaningful and fulfilling lives while avoiding the pitfalls associated with consumerism-driven culture.
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This article was produced by ChaChingQueen
Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66), and is an expert on Investment Products and Financial Planning. Greg has 22+ years experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy.
Greg has been quoted/interviewed in Yahoo Money, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, Authority Magazine, Realtor.com, Business Insider, and others.
Greg is an avid runner, and the father to identical twin girls and their awesome brother. His love of budgeting and his kids led him to join The Great Resignation in 2021.
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