Martin Luther King Jr. had an economic dream — and it changed the Federal Reserve forever

When we first started Fed Up: The National Campaign for a Strong Economy, a lot of reporters, officials, and economists told us that we were the first grassroots movement to target monetary policy. They were wrong.

Black civil rights leaders have always been at the forefront of expanding economic justice for all people — and they knew that meant changing the Federal Reserve. Coretta Scott King pushed for a radical vision of Full Employment, a job guarantee for everyone who wanted one, divestment from the military, and an economy where we took care of one another. Central to her visionary demand was a reform of the Federal Reserve, which she achieved through the passage of the Full Employment Act, which legally required the Fed — for the first time — to pursue maximum employment when it makes it’s decisions.

Yesterday, in his most important economic policy act as president so far, Trump nominated Randall Quarles to a 14 year term at the Fed. Quarles is a self-described Wall Street lawyer, someone who lobbied for relaxed rules on private equity, and then used those rules to get billions in government bailouts, and he is someone ideologically against regulating the banks that he will be responsible for policing as the Vice Chair of Supervision. As Ady Barkan said, “Putting Quarles in charge of bank regulation is like putting Putin in charge of cyber-security.” And to top it off, Quarles doesn’t believe in the Full Employment mandate, believing that 9% unemployment was the time to choke off the economic recovery. He’s dangerous on a decades-long scale to the economic civil rights legacy of Coretta Scott King.

The nomination of Quarles is not just another nomination: it will affect our jobs, our wages, and whether we struggle through another crash — for a decade after Trump is gone. At the time of the signing of the Humphrey Hawkins. And Quarles’s confirmation will be a huge blow to the racial justice legacy of Coretta Scott King, who said this of the full employment act, which Quarles has already

“This is indeed a great historical occasion, perhaps as significant as the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Perhaps in the future, history will record that it may be even more significant, Mr. President, because I think it deals with an issue on a basic human right that’s the most basic of all human rights, the right to a job. And that is a central priority now of our economic policy with the signing of this act into law today.”

Thank you to Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) for the economic analysis and David Stein for highlighting this too often forgotten history.

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