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As income gap widens in United States, a recurring message during King holiday is ‘inclusive economics’

By Maria Saporta

The widening gap between rich and poor presents the biggest threat to the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ultimate dream of a nation and world of equal opportunity.

And so it was no coincidence that during this past week’s Operation HOPE Global Forum in Atlanta and during the annual King holiday festivities that one theme kept surfacing – one of “inclusive economics.”

Former President Bill Clinton articulated both the challenges and opportunities that exists when a large share of the wealth is held by just a few people.

John Hope Bryant Bill Clinton

John Hope Bryant presents award to former President Bill Clinton (Photos by Maria Saporta)

“There is growing inequality in America and all over the world,” Clinton said on Saturday at the Operation HOPE summit meeting at the Omni Hotel. “When there’s a widening gap in opportunity, the whole system shuts down.”

Clinton explained that in a consumption-based economy, people must have enough money to be able to buy things in order to keep fueling the .

“Inclusive economics” trumps “trickle-down economics,” Clinton said. “We are supposed to empower people.”

John Hope Bryant Bill Clinton

John Hope Bryant introducing Bill Clinton at summit

A more inclusive economy works because it expands the circle of participation, said Clinton, using the example of Muhammad Yunus, considered the father of micro-credit. Clinton said he kept urging the Nobel Peace Prize committee to give a medal to Yunus, an economist can measure his success by the lives he has saved.

Being a more inclusive economy. It can work. Expanding the circle of participation. Muhammad Yunus, an economist who meassure success by the lives saved.

Clinton then shared a warming: “The more exclusive economics will be inclusive whether you like it or not. It just will be inclusive failure.”

Julian Castro Bill Clinton

HUD Secretary Julian Castro listens to ideas from John Hope Bryant

At the Salute to Greatness dinner on Jan. 17 – the top fund-raiser for the King Center, Clinton continued the inclusive theme — this time he talked about both inclusive economics as well as inclusive politics.

On the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Clinton said it is important to honor how inclusive politics help create an inclusive society and they help lead to inclusive economics where “our beloved community and humanity dwarfs our differences.”

It was Julian Castro, the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who said the challenge in 2015 is to make sure there is a “path to prosperity” for all Americans.

Bill Clinton Salute to Greatness

Bill Clinton at Salute to Greatness dinner

He repeated a saying that former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson used to say about the three “B”s: the ballot, the book and the buck. Jackson understood that minorities needed to be full participants in the economy in order to reach their full potential.

“Breaking the cycle of poverty is tough,” Castro acknowledged. “Wages have barely increased. Many feel like they are running in place.”

Too often, people’s economic destiny is determined by the zip code where they were born and raised.

John Hope Bryant, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Operation HOPE, has a grand plan to attack poverty in those very zip codes. Operation HOPE aims to help people improve their credit scores from 500 to 700 as a way of getting them out from under the control of loan sharks and high interest lenders.

With the tagline: “Expanding Free Enterprise for All,” Operation HOPE has started its “Business In A Box” for Middle School and High School students. Four entrepreneurs, who already had won $500 in start-up capital to grow their companies, were invited to make a pitch at the Summit for a $1,000 prize in more funding.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton on the large screen at Salute to Greatness

Nicholas of Benjamin E. Mays High School and Isaiah f the New schools at Carver spoke of their successful “Clean Cut Lawn and Gardening” business.

Rayshaun, who attends B.E.S.T. Academy Middle School, has started Frost Productions had an entertainment company willing to offer music mixes and DJ services to a variety of clients and events.

Micrya of Benjamin E. Mays High School has her own jewelry business – Mick’s Jewelry, which she brought to the Summit so she could make some sales.

Muhammad of B.E.S.T. Academy Middle School, has established the “Mobile Mini Mart” – which offers drinks, snacks and school supplies for sale at his school’s campus If he won the first prize, he said he planned to expand his operation.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton at Salute to Greatness dinner at Hyatt Regency

The judges, which included AOL founder Steve Cases, ended up giving the second- place, third-place and fourth-place winners a grant of $1,000. The overall winner — Muhammad — was given $2,000.

As we try to try to King’s teachings relevant to today’s world, the theme of “inclusive economics” probably would resonate with the civil rights leader along with his themes of nonviolence.

Bryant likes to say that we have gone from civil rights to silver rights.

“Civil rights was about taking our protests to the streets,” Bryant said, adding that there are still division of class and poverty. “Civil rights was about taking our protests to the streets. Silver rights is about taking our protests to the suites.”


Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. poulie January 20, 2015 11:20 am

    Is anyone besides me tired and fed up hearing about income inequality?  Of course to solve the situation our friends on the left do as they always do and that is to come up with a slogan or a #.  This time it is ‘Inclusive Economics’.  The problem is that the income gap continues to grow because or policies that reward people for not working, elect to get zero education, being lazy and expecting other people to pay for their needs.  All of the policies that have been implemented the past 6-8 years and longer only empower people to NOT work and advance.  We never look at the fact that most people who work for minimum wage are the same people who decided, on their own, to drop out of school, disrupt school, etc.
    America of all nations allows for equal opportunity (even more for others) to be educated, get a job, job training, job searching, job retraining, on and on and on.  Instead we are told that it is the fault of corporate America and small businesses who are racists or greedy or whatever is bad.  We have pumped trillions of dollars into helping people and are no further then we were 50+ years ago.  I would argue we are further away from where we should be now then ever.  We would be better off just giving this money to these people!
    Until people have to fend for themselves, make their own money to pay for their own housing, food, cell phone, etc. then there will always be a “gap” which is fine.  A country that, on a daily basis, criticizes and demeans successful people is doomed.  How have we become a nation that vilifies rich successful people and champion uneducated (on their own), unemployed freeloaders?  Not good for the future.  Furthermore, these same people get to vote for more of the same!!
    Have you ever noticed that an unemployed person receiving unemployment benefits miraculously finds a job the day the benefits run out.  What do we do now?  Extend the benefits!! 
    Please for once publish something uplifting.Report

  2. TA12 January 20, 2015 12:04 pm

    What are the numbers and where do they come from to make the declaration that the gap of income inequality is widening?  not being argumentative; just want to know the facts.  Perhaps an annual “totals” page could be generated showing the changes of income to various groups over the last 20 years.  That would be helpful in the discussion…….Report

    1. John Hutcheson January 26, 2015 10:56 am

      One decent summary appeared in the NY Times today — The Shirking American Middle Class — by Alicia Parlapiano, Robert Gebeloff and Shan Carter. Note that these stats are based on fixed definitions of middle class and are therefore difficult to compare across national economies. A better measure used to compare across economies in the Gini Index. Google Gini Index and you will find numerous recent articles.Report

  3. John Hutcheson January 20, 2015 1:21 pm

    Wow, flashbacks to the 1960s, please read:
    Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Harvard Univeristy Press, 2014.
    Joseph E. Stiglitz. The Price of Inequality. NY: Norton, 2013.Report

  4. poulie January 20, 2015 2:30 pm

    T. Piketty is an anti-capitalist French economist who probably hates America.  Look people everything these leftist do is meant to bring down America.  Global Warming – proven hoax and still America bought into the hoax and does all we can to abide by the “world view”.  They still want America to do more.  Immigration – While their borders are closed they insist that we have open borders; Look at their economies?  Zero growth.  Hell we have growth despite having a Socialist in the White House!
    This is all about getting even with America.  They have to bring America down in order to compete.  They cannot or will not bring themselves up.  Just like the educational system here.  Dumb down the kids rather than teach them up.
    I don’t know about you all but I am very tired of people particularly Americans and American leaders craping on America and capitalism.  There is no system better and it is real easy for people to succeed.  Get educated, work hard, save your money, vote for candidates who are for less taxes, less government, more power to the private sector, etc., don’t listen to the media and drink a lot!Report

  5. John R Naugle January 20, 2015 2:41 pm

    Greetings from Atlanta: City of Peace. Inspiring article Maria. Happy MLK Week! It was nice to see you at the Carter Center last month during celebrations in the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize. Addressing the widening gap between rich and poor is important, just as the need to teach that lasting fulfillment can never arrive through material possession, gain or consumption. Most succinctly, Buddha explained where contentment and fulfillment is found. He said: “Peace begins within.” Gandhi had few material possessions, but he broke the binds of oppressive colonists to establish India: The World’s Biggest Democracy. He later became identified as “Man of the Millennium” (Years 1000-2000). The peace work of Gandhi and Dr. King (his most globally-productive protégé) have generated much health and forward movement for our global family. Their great sacrifices, accomplishments and legacies have shaped the foundation of this new era of transformation and collaboration more than any others. And here we are, along with many hundreds of millions of other peace builders worldwide. We are all blessed heirs of the Beloved Community and the new 1000-year Peace Millennium ahead. As “grasshoppers” of Gandhi & King, our duty and honor is to celebrate and carry forward their Truth and Dream. One slogan our organization has is: “Let’s Be the Change and Be the Dream to celebrate Gandhi & King.” As an early-stage organization, we are searching out ways to scale-up in the courageous ways our Gandhi & King Inspirations did with their own service initiatives. We welcome your input and everyone’s advice, collaboration and referrals so we may seize the historic windows-of-opportunity that we see before us. In our estimation, the true destiny of Dr. King’s birthplace is to be formalized and transformed into a global capital of peace so that can position itself to inspire our global family. We especially welcome supporters for Coretta’s Global Peace Garden. She is our Honorary Matriarch of the Peace Millennium, and the 9th memorial anniversary of her passing is January 30th (she died the same day of the month as Gandhi; Jan 30, 1948)… www.ATLANTAcityofpeace.orgReport

  6. John Hutcheson January 20, 2015 3:09 pm

    Have you read either of these books — I have, and suggest them to those who care about factually well-supported and well-reasoned arguments, not that I agree with everything in them. Unfortunately, after over 50 years of studying economic/social policy I have little patience for ideologues who ignore facts. But keep talking to yourself, maybe you’ll catch your tail.Report


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