As the nation prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, Barron’s editorial page editor Thomas Donlan examines continuing struggles against poverty.

When the great legislative enactments of the civil-rights era were complete, King preached in the National Cathedral in Washington—just a few weeks before he was murdered. He said in part that there was nothing wrong with being a wealthy person or with being a wealthy nation, but a great deal wrong with failing to use wealth to help the poor. He was against poverty, not against wealth, and he said: “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty.”

He was probably wrong about that.

At least, the techniques that have been tried since 1968—trillions of dollars of federal, state, and local relief, and antipoverty programs funded by progressive taxation and borrowing—have not succeeded in getting rid of poverty. The bottom 20% of Americans still earn about 4% of national income.

Current American political leaders have given up on the poor, except in rhetoric about preserving those social programs. Instead, they spend a lot of programmatic hot air on the needs of the middle class, since that’s where the votes are. And they spend too much time denouncing the rising incomes and rising share of income of the top 10%, the top 1%, and the top 0.01%, even though the people who earn high incomes with hard work and high productivity are the most important people in the economy.

Those Americans who convert their high incomes into wealth and investment capital possess the techniques and the resources to create economic growth, which is the greatest national resource. It’s growth that creates jobs and economic justice for all.