Martin Luther King, Jr. on Capitalism

King was murdered fifty years ago on April 4th, 1968.

We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor—both black and white, both here and abroad.

—from “The Three Evils of Society,” an address delivered at the National Conference on New Politics, August 31, 1967.

Lest someone object that capitalism arose in Europe where there were no (or very few) black slaves, it should be pointed out that the Industrial Revolution was fueled primarily by textile factories, specifically cotton mills—and that the economic revolution produced by the cotton trade was founded on the labor of enslaved Africans working on the cotton plantations of the American South. For more on this history I strongly recommend Empire of Cotton, by Sven Beckert (2014).

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