Martin Luther King said: ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
In the meet and greet following a presentation Professor Art Carden had emceed at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, a student responded to Carden’s conventional: ”Let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” with a variant on King’s quote: ”What could you do for me?”
I was captured by this question, and Carden’s article, because it reminds us that Capitalism begins with giving, with discovering what we can do for another in order to take care of our own concerns through a voluntary exchange. It speaks to the virtue of work, and is a great question to have in mind throughout the day.
America is coming apart. For most of our nation’s history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world—for whites, anyway. “The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. “On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day.”
Americans love to see themselves this way. But there’s a problem: It’s not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s.
But where’s my five-point plan? We’re supposed to trust that large numbers of parents will spontaneously, voluntarily make the right choice for the country by making the right choice for themselves and their children?
Yes, we are, but I don’t think that’s naive. I see too many signs that the trends I’ve described are already worrying a lot of people. If enough Americans look unblinkingly at the nature of the problem, they’ll fix it. One family at a time. For their own sakes. That’s the American way.