OREM — Were the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. alive today, he likely would be impressed with the nation's progress on the issues of race and even war, says former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young.
But "he would be very disturbed about the lack of progress in dealing with the needs of the poor and the middle class and the fact we've lost jobs and income for people. I think he'd be disturbed how our veterans are treated," said Young, keynote speaker at Utah Valley University's annual Martin Luther King Commemoration on Thursday.
That was not the case following World War II, Young said. Then, the nation looked out for veterans. "We sent them to school. We helped them buy houses. We helped them get jobs because we owed it to them," Young said in a KSL-TV interview following the speech.
Economic policy has also stalled the nation's progress in dealing with poverty, said Young, a former civil rights activist, mayor of Atlanta and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The gap between rich and poor has significantly widened since the 1970s, Young said.
"The top 1 percent controls 24 percent of the wealth of the nation. When the top 1 percent controls only 10 to 15 percent, there's plenty of money for the middle class, the economy does well and there's plenty of money for everybody. (Now) it's the rich getting too rich," Young said.
Young attributes the disparity to the United States abandoning the Bretton Woods' agreement signed in 1944, which fixed a world exchange rate linked to the dollar. The fixed exchange rate collapsed in the 1970s as the United States abandoned the gold standard.
"In 1973, we voted to put an end to that system. We started a kind of a Milton Friedman 'He who has the gold makes the rules.' That's when our problems began to start," with high inflation, deeper debts, Young said.
"I think we've got to stop and go back and agree on a set of rules that is fair to everybody."
Asked about the nation's current divisions and recent mass shooting in Arizona, Young said "the country has always had swings of polarization.
"But it's not the country. It's that these times of rapid and dramatic social change create insecurities. People who are weak, if we don't' have a society that's strong enough to take them in and educate them and guide them, we have people who will do some crazy things."