Skip to comments.The Fifty-Year War On Poverty
Posted on 01/08/2014 7:17:11 AM PST by SeekAndFind
This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnsons proclamation of a war on poverty, and the progress in this theater has not been encouraging. Trillions of dollars have been spent, and the number of Americans living in poverty is higher today than it was in 1964, while the poverty rate has held steady at just under one in five. That contrasts unpleasantly with the trend before President Johnson declared his war: The poverty rate had been dropping since the end of World War II. That progress came to a halt as President Johnsons expensive and expansive vision began to be implemented in earnest, which coincided with the tapering of the postwar boom. By the 1970s, the poverty rate was headed upward. It declined a bit during the Reagan years, crested and receded again in the 1990s, and resumed its melancholy ascent around the turn of the century.
To understand the failure of the war on poverty requires understanding its structure, which itself is bound up in the idiosyncrasies of Lyndon Johnsons politics. President Johnson played many parts in his political career: Southern ballast to John Kennedys buoyant Yankee idealism; an enemy of civil-rights reform and anti-lynching laws who reversed himself in 1964; a sometimes reluctant but in the end unshakeable Cold Warrior. But at heart President Johnson was a New Deal man, and his Great Society, of which the war on poverty was a critical component, was his attempt to resuscitate the spirit and the political success of Franklin Roosevelts program.
It was the New Deal that made Johnsons Texas a fiercely Democratic state, as the older residents of New Deal, Texas, no doubt remember. Johnsons House district was energetically anti-Communist, not especially segregationist, but above all wild about the New Deal. Johnson ran for the House as a New Dealer, and it was his association with FDRs domestic agenda (and, according to biographer Robert Caro, a few thousand fraudulent ballots) that made him a senator and a force.
For all its shortcomings, and they were many, the New Deal was enacted in response to a genuine economic crisisthe Great Depression. The Great Society was launched under very different circumstances: Between the end of World War II and President Johnsons declaration of war on poverty, the real economic output of the United States had doubled. The postwar boom was not destined to last forever, because the war-ravaged nations of Europe and Asia inevitably would reemerge as global economic competitors, but in the early 1960s the United States enjoyed a position of unprecedented economic advantage. The real challenge of the Johnson years, tragically overlooked, was figuring out how to build upon that position and consolidate those gains. Unfortunately, what got consolidated was political power, as Johnson and his progressive allies did what progressives always do: transfer wealth, power, and responsibility from the private sector to the public sector, where they can be put under the political discipline of men such as Johnson and his allies.
The war on poverty has been conducted partly in earnest and partly self-servingly. No doubt programs such as Head Start were launched with a great deal of idealism, but as their ineffectiveness became apparent, it was not idealism that sustained them but political self-interest. Providing at best temporary relief to the poor, the permanent welfare bureaucracies benefit Democrats by creating thousands of well-paid positions for their political allies and subsequent campaign contributions for their candidates. Head Start today is a money-laundering program through which federal expenditures are transmitted to Democratic candidates through the Service Employees International Union, which represents many Head Start teachers. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents, among others, the welfare bureaucrats at the Administration for Children and Families, is a large political donor that gives about 94 percent of its largesse to Democrats. This is not coincidental. The main beneficiaries of the war on poverty have not been and will not be the poor; the beneficiaries are the alleged poverty warriors themselves. The war on poverty is war on the Roman model in which soldiers are paid through plunder.
The result: a large and expensive welfare state that provides relatively little welfare, and a destructive and ruinous war on poverty that has not reduced poverty.
It is not enough for conservatives to understand and advertise the failure of the war on poverty. The issue is real and it is urgent, but it will not be ameliorated through the usual progressive program of consolidation and command.
Poverty in the United States is an economic issue, to be sure, especially as it relates to economic growth, the most important driver of employment and wages. But it is also a cultural issue. Well-off U.S. households are made up overwhelmingly of married couples in which one or both spouses are engaged in full-time employment. Poor households are the opposite. Poor households have on average 0.42 full-time workers in them, and 68 percent of their members are entirely unemployed; only 17 percent of them consist of married couples.
Conservatives, ever mindful of the role of economic incentives, have long argued that our approach to poverty must focus on making work and independence more attractive than welfare and dependency. There are two sides to that equation. We have made work more attractive by, among other things, radically reducing federal income-tax rates on low-income people, to the extent that that particular burden is either zero or negative (accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit) for the working poor.
But there are other heavy burdens, notably the payroll tax. Heaviest of all are the indirect burdens the regulations, taxes, and expenses inflicted on employers that inevitably are passed on, in some measure, to employees, and particularly to those employees without the in-demand skills that put them in a stronger negotiating position. While on paper our taxes and regulations are targeted precisely, the economic fact is that those burdens are borne collectively, with costs shifted throughout the economy. It should surprise no one that they fall with disproportionate weight upon low-wage workers. The Democrats have for generations ignored that fact, and pronounce themselves shocked that our highly redistributive system of taxes and benefits has done so little to alleviate poverty.
The flip side of making work more attractive is making dependency less attractive. The Clinton-Gingrich welfare-reform effort was one of the few unalloyed public-policy successes of recent years, and the Left has set about dismantling it, with work requirements weakened and enforcement undermined. The recent debate over the extension of unemployment benefits captures the competing worldview in miniature: Democrats are scandalized that Republicans resist the expansion of welfare benefits, and Republicans are, or at least should be, scandalized that so many Americans need them. What looks like compassion in the short term is in the long term a refusal to deal with the problem: in some cases an inability to find sustaining work, in others a refusal to do so.
Poverty is a difficult issue with few obvious remedies. And even such obvious remedies as we have are politically difficult. The most attractive of the low-hanging fruit before us is reform of our dysfunctional public-education system, particularly as it affects students in our dangerous and ineffective inner-city schools. But when it comes to education reform, Barack Obama stands in the schoolhouse door as pitilessly as George Wallace. Republicans, for their part, have shown a remarkable inability to view issues such as immigration reform, and especially an amnesty for illegals, through the eyes of low-income workers rather than those of the Chamber of Commerce. Whatever the cure for poverty is, it is not the importation of poor people.
The Left has made a mess of the issue, and while we should not let them forget that it is their mess, conservatives will, by necessity, be the ones who clean it up. Economic thinkers such as Thomas Sowell have been making the case for a conservative approach to poverty for years, and recently conservative leaders such as Ralph Reed have been making a praiseworthy effort to ensure that the problems of the poor are front and center in the minds of a sometimes too well-fed GOP. The campaign against poverty is not a war, and it is not the moral equivalent of war, but it is worth fighting.
It’s cost the economy $16 TRILLION to buy welfare class votes for the Democrats in those 50 years. No doubt, Obama, Hillary and their fellow travelers think it was worth it.
LBJ’s sins are still taking their toll on the nation.
Liberals are never called to account for the failures of their policies. The whole war on poverty was a failure. Yet liberals never are blamed for implementing policies which failed.
And we never seem to be able to evaluate the results, because it would be racist or cruel somehow to roll back programs which have failed.
As hard as it is to believe, B. Hussein is not (yet) our worst president ever. He may take that top honor soon, but so far LBJ holds the record for our worst president.
The War on Poverty (just like the War on Drugs) was designed to be a failure from the start. We have long ago lost the War on Poverty (Drugs).
Poverty (Drugs) Won.
It was never about poverty in the first place, It was, is, and always be, a War On The Family, to replace Daddy with Big Government, and create as many “Dependent Voters” beholden to their New Daddy Democrats as possible.
Like declaring war on Gravity...
I believe FDR was by far, the worst President, and laid the grand foundation that far exacerbated and prolonged the Depression; which was only ended by the war.
The War on Poverty resulted in more poverty.
The War on Drugs resulted in more people using drugs.
I wonder what would happen if the FedGov declared war on common sense?
I believe it was Jack Kemp who was fond of saying “If you subsidize something, you get more of it.”
Means-tested poverty programs, do not abolish, or even significantly alleviate poverty, they subsidize poverty, resulting in more of it.
Impeachment File for B. Hussein Obama, aka Barry Soetoro, a documented legal citizen of the Sovereign Nation of Indonesia.
The left always natters on about “exit strategies” for real wars, but somehow there has never been any consideration of an exit strategy for the war on poverty or the war on drugs.
And I wonder what would happen if we taxed poor people.
Its well known that if you want LESS of something then tax MORE of it.
Why don’t they try this with poor people. Instead of subsidizing them with other people’s money - they should tax the bejeebers out of them.
I believe FDR was by far, the worst President, and laid the grand foundation that far exacerbated and prolonged the Depression; which was only ended by the war.As hard as it is to believe, B. Hussein is not (yet) our worst president ever
There are people who will accord that honor to Woodrow Wilson - and Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have their advocates as well.But as to the Depression being ended by WWII, that IMHO is true - but with the caveat that the economic effects of WWII reached the American economy long before Pearl Harbor. WWII started in Europe in September 1939, and the FDR Administration was fully committed to war materiel production upon the Fall of France in May 1940.
- Freedom's Forge:
- How American Business Produced Victory in World War II
is a fascinating discussion of FDRs efforts to support Britain and simultaneously develop the capability to dramatically ramp up production when (not if) America entered the war. America was in a relatively low preparedness state when Japan attacked - but only because our armament inventory and production had been going to Britain. As Navy Secretary, FDR had seen the failure of US industry to influence the course of WWI because it took so long to get industry turned to that end - and he was determined not to repeat that fiasco in WWII. Thus, in the words of FDR, Doctor New Deal was replaced by "Doctor Win-the-War. And that started long before Pearl Harbor.
Okay, so the number of Americans is higher than it was fifty years ago, and if "poverty" is defined as income below the 20th percentile, then by definition one fifth of the nation will be "in poverty" - it's a tautology. I thought National Review was smarter than this.
It was a failure at achieving the stated goals.
What if the stated goals weren’t the actual goals?
They have a significant segment of society now dependent on government and voting democrat to keep their goodies. I’d say that was a significant accomplishment.
When the Federal Government started all this it was really a War on Prosperity. The Government is winning.
Unfortunately while Dems have increased, the GOP has meanwhile been sending jobs offshore.
We need a party which is for American jobs.
Just saying. Bring back American jobs.
I am not saying the GOP is the problem, but they are acting the exact opposite, of what a solution would be.