Thursday, January 23, 2014
The "War on Poverty" is nearly half a century old, and Thomas Sowell catches its
supporters (HT: Steve D.) moving the goal-posts in order to bless off a
resounding failure as a success:
The same theme was repeated endlessly by President Johnson. The purpose of the "war on poverty," he said, was to make "taxpayers out of taxeaters." Its slogan was "Give a hand up, not a handout." When Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law, he declared: "The days of the dole in our country are numbered."Sowell is right to call this bluff, but I don't think he goes far enough. For example, he notes the following:
Now, 50 years and trillions of dollars later, it is painfully clear that there is more dependency than ever. [bold added]
Ironically, dependency on government to raise people above the poverty line had been going down for years before the "war on poverty" began. The hard facts showed that the number of people who lived below the official poverty line had been declining since 1960, and was only half of what it had been in 1950.And this is after he states, "The real question is: What did the 'war on poverty' set out to do -- and how well did it do it, if at all?" This is a trickier question than it looks, especially when we consider the fact that there are doubtless numerous examples of individuals who have turned their lives around after receiving government assistance. (Indeed, it may be the wrong question.) Such examples allow leftsts to remain, as Sowell rightly calls them, "fact free" and, worse, unaccountable.
The so-called War on Poverty was enacted in the face of two other basic alternatives regarding the government's role in the economy: changing nothing or making the economy more free than it was at the time. Put another way -- since all that money had to come from somewhere -- JFK and LBJ could have pushed for the government to take about the same or less from the productive, and meddle with the personal decisions of millions of people about the same or less. They chose to do more of both, and the failure to achieve the stated objective, while important, tells only part of the story.
Sowell hints at the other half when he makes it apparent (as in the last excerpt) that staying the course woud have been preferable. But this leaves only to the imagination what might have been had our nation taken the path of greater economic freedom fifty years ago, and it leaves unaddressed how much worse off we all are after fifty years of economic plunder from the most productive. It also fails to call the unaddressed end of wealth redistribution what it is: theft, the inexcusable violation of the property rights of American citizens by their own government.
I am grateful to Thomas Sowell for his reporting, but I think he is too generous in his assessments of this fifty-year-old fraud and its evasive supporters.