Quotations about   economic justice

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Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but with elementary economic justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech to Shop Stewards, Local 815, Teamsters and the Allied Trades Council, New York City (2 May 1967)
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Added on 31-May-19 | Last updated 31-May-19
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Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours its own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich upon the poor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Col. Edward Carrington (16 Jan 1787)
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; who says, “I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms,” and who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar, and painting it with vermilion.

Are you a king because you compete in cedar?

Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.

Is not this to know me? says the Lord.

But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Jeremiah 22:13-17 (NRSV)
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Alt. trans.
  • KJV: "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord. But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it."
  • GNT: "Doomed is the one who builds his house by injustice and enlarges it by dishonesty; who makes his people work for nothing and does not pay their wages. Doomed is the one who says, 'I will build myself a mansion with spacious rooms upstairs.' So he puts windows in his house, panels it with cedar, and paints it red. Does it make you a better king if you build houses of cedar, finer than those of others? Your father enjoyed a full life. He was always just and fair, and he prospered in everything he did. He gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him. That is what it means to know the Lord. But you can only see your selfish interests; you kill the innocent and violently oppress your people. The Lord has spoken."
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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If poor you are, poor you will always be,
For wealth’s now given to none but to the rich.

[Semper eris pauper, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
Dantur opes nulli nunc, nisi divitibus.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, #81
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In Thomas Harbottle, ed., The Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1897). Alt. trans.:
  • If you are poor now, Æmilianus, you will always be poor. / Riches are now given to none but the rich. [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • If thou are poor, Æmilian, / Thou shalt be ever so, / For no man now his presents can / But on the rich bestow. [tr. Fletcher]
  • You want, Æmilianus, so you may; / Riches are given rich men, and none but they. [tr. Wright]
  • Poor once and poor for ever, Nat, I fear; / None but the rich get place and pension here. [tr. N. B. Halhed]
  • You will always be poor, if you are poor, Aemilianus. Wealth is given today t none savethe rich. [tr. Ker (1919)]
Added on 13-Dec-17 | Last updated 13-Dec-17
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Where Plenty smiles — alas! she smiles for few,
And those who taste not, yet behold her store,
Are as the slaves that dig the golden ore,
The wealth around them makes them doubly poor.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) English poet, writer, surgeon, clergyman
The Village, Book 1, line 136 (1783)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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The King in a carriage may ride,
And the Beggar may crawl at his side;
But in the general race,
They are traveling all the same pace.

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) English writer, poet, translator
“Chronomoros,” l. 57ff, Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal (5 Dec 1840)
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Added on 18-Sep-17 | Last updated 18-Sep-17
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Being a mother is a noble status, right? So why does it change when you put “unwed” or “welfare” in front of it?

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
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The urge to distribute wealth equally, and still more the belief that it can be brought about by political action, is the most dangerous of all popular emotions. It is the legitimation of envy, of all the deadly sins the one which a stable society based on consensus should fear the most. The monster state is a source of many evils; but it is, above all, an engine of envy.

Paul Johnson (b. 1928) English journalist, historian, speechwriter, author
The Recovery of Freedom (1980)
Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
The Communist Manifesto (1848) [with Friedrich Engels]
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Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see — an opiate of the people.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power. This same tendency, operating with increasing force, is observable in our civilization to-day, showing itself in every progressive community, and with greater intensity the more progressive the community. Wages and interest tend constantly to fall, rent to rise, the rich to become very much richer, the poor to become more helpless and hopeless, and the middle class to be swept away.

Henry George (1839-1897) American economist
Progress and Poverty, “How Modern Civilization May Decline” (1879)
Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 22-Mar-17
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It is not private ownership, but private ownership divorced from work, which is corrupting to the principle of industry; and the idea of some socialists that private property in land or capital is necessarily mischievous is a piece of scholastic pedantry as absurd as that of those conservatives who would invest all property with some kind of mysterious sanctity.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 5 “The Functional Society” (1920)
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Added on 16-Mar-17 | Last updated 16-Mar-17
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In the Feejee islands, it appears, cannibalism is now familiar. They eat their own wives and children. We only devour widows’ houses, & great merchants outwit & absorb the substance of small ones and every man feeds on his neighbor’s labor if he can. It is a milder form of cannibalism.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (12 Feb 1841)
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Added on 27-Feb-17 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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The rich rob the poor, and the poor rob each other.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) American abolitionist, women's rights activist [b. Isabella Baumfree]
(Attributed)

Variations: "Truly, here the rich rob the poor and the poor rob each other," "Our rich rob the poor, and the poor rob each other."
Added on 24-Feb-17 | Last updated 24-Feb-17
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It is not merely that the ownership of any substantial share in the national wealth is concentrated to-day in the hands of a few hundred thousand families, and that at the end of an age which began with an affirmation of the rights of property, proprietary rights are, in fact, far from being widely distributed. Nor is it merely that what makes property insecure to-day is not the arbitrary taxation of unconstitutional monarchies or the privileges of an idle noblesse, but the insatiable expansion and aggregation of property itself, which menaces with absorption all property less than the greatest, the small master, the little shopkeeper, the country bank, and has turned the mass of mankind into a proletariat working under the agents and for the profit of those who own.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 5 “Property and Creative Work” (1920)
Added on 23-Feb-17 | Last updated 23-Feb-17
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When the rich rob the poor it’s called business. When the poor fight back it’s called violence.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

Frequently, but incorrectly attributed to Twain, no earlier than 2015. It appears to have been an anonymous phrase coined in the Occupy Movement in 2011. See here for more information.
Added on 16-Jan-17 | Last updated 16-Jan-17
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In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“I Have a Dream,” speech, Washington, DC (28 Aug 1963)
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We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super-rich are the same, like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode, and the candy will rain down on the rest of us, like there’s some sort of piñata of benevolence. But here’s the thing about a piñata: it doesn’t open on its own. You have to beat it with a stick.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Real Time with Bill Maher (12 Mar 2011)
Added on 25-May-16 | Last updated 25-May-16
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The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true desserts. He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damnfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy. If these villains could be put down, he holds, he would at once become rich, powerful and eminent. Nine politicians out of every ten, of whatever party, live and have their being by promising to perform
this putting down. In brief, they are knaves who maintain themselves by preying on the idiotic vanities and pathetic hopes of half-wits.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Baltimore Evening Sun (15 Jun 1936)
Added on 8-Mar-16 | Last updated 8-Mar-16
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I hold it to be our duty to see that the wage worker, the small producer, the ordinary consumer, shall get their fair share of the benefit of business prosperity. But it either is or ought to be evident to everyone that business has to prosper before anybody can get any benefit from it.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Speech, Ohio Constitutional Convention (1 Feb 1912)
Added on 9-Nov-15 | Last updated 9-Nov-15
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Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 53 (24 Nov 2013)
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While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 56 (24 Nov 2013)
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Added on 30-Jul-14 | Last updated 30-Jul-14
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An American Government cannot permit Americans to starve.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) US President (1933-1945)
Speech, San Diego Exposition (2 Oct 1935)
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Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics — a non-ideological ethics — would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 57 (24 Nov 2013)
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Quoting St. John Chrysostom, De Lazaro Concio, II, 6
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Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
(Attribute)
    (Source)

Criticizing in 2009 the Argentinian government of Néstor Kirchner. Quoted in Mark Rice-Oxley, "Pope Francis: the humble pontiff with practical approach to poverty," The Guardian (13 Mar 2013).
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To blame the poor for subsisting on welfare has no justice unless we are also willing to judge every rich member of society by how productive he or she is. Taken individual by individual, it is likely that there’s more idleness and abuse of government favors among the economically privileged than among the ranks of the disadvantaged.

Norman Mailer (1923-2007) American novelist, journalist, playwright, activist
(Attributed)
Added on 21-Apr-14 | Last updated 21-Apr-14
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Sir, there is one Mrs. Macaulay in this town, a great republican. One day when I was at her house, I put on a very grave countenance, and said to her, “Madam, I am now become a convert to your way of thinking. I am convinced that all mankind are upon an equal footing; and to give you an unquestionable proof, Madam, that I am in earnest, here is a very sensible, civil, well-behaved fellow-citizen, your footman; I desire that he may be allowed to sit down and dine with us.” I thus, Sir, shewed her the absurdity of the levelling doctrine. She has never liked me since. Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (12 Jul 1763)

In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
Added on 28-Feb-14 | Last updated 28-Feb-14
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If the reactionary man, who thinks of nothing but the rights of property, could have his way, he would bring about a revolution; and one of my chief fears in connection with progress comes because I do not want to see our people, for lack of proper leadership, compelled to follow men whose intentions are excellent, but whose eyes are a little too wild to make it really safe to trust them.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
“The New Nationalism,” speech, Osawatomie, Kansas (31 Aug 1910)
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Added on 12-Feb-13 | Last updated 17-Sep-15
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Isaiah 10:1-3 (NIV)

Alt. trans:
  • GNB: "You are doomed! You make unjust laws that oppress my people. That is how you keep the poor from having their rights and from getting justice. That is how you take the property that belongs to widows and orphans. What will you do when God punishes you? What will you do when he brings disaster on you from a distant country? Where will you run to find help? Where will you hide your wealth?"
  • KJV: "Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?"
Added on 25-Apr-11 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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There is something wrong in a government where they who do the most have the least. There is something wrong when honesty wears a rag, and rascality a robe; when the loving, the tender, eat a crust, while the infamous sit at banquets.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“A Lay Sermon” (1886)
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Added on 21-Aug-09 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
The Red Lily, ch. 7 (1884)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-May-16
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