Paul Thomas has written a post to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in which Paul explains that it is a great mistake to think that we can end poverty by making “war” on it. War always leaves victims and collateral damage.

He writes:

A big picture message offered in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is that the war on drugs, a key part of the larger era of mass incarceration, has devastated the lives and futures of African American males in ways that are nearly incomprehensible. That collateral damage, as well, has been disproportional—accentuated by the fact that AA and whites use illegal drugs in the same percentages but AA shoulder the burden of punishment.

The era of mass incarceration and the war on drugs are evidence of the nightmare of codifying behavior as illegal as a context for punishment. Is it possible that the legalizing of marijuana in Colorado represents a move away from the “war” approach to recreational drugs—a recognition, again, almost a century after the failure of prohibition?

Laws and wars, then, define the lines between combatants and the conditions of criminality; those lines and conditions, easily shifted, determine who matters, and who does not.

As the public discourse rises about the 50th anniversary on the war on poverty, we are being asked if the war on poverty worked and if we need a new war on poverty. These are the wrong questions, especially the latter.

He adds:

The war on poverty fails as long as it remains a war, and not a moral imperative among a community of people.

Ending poverty must no longer be trivialized, then, as political expediency—the consequences of creating through state and federal policy a war on poverty. That approach can become only a running tally of manufactured winners and losers.

While any are in poverty, everyone is a loser.

Fittingly, on this day, he quotes the eloquent Dr. King, who wrote:

At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income….

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and 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. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.