Rethinking the War on Poverty

Some time back there was poll that described two options without using party labels. By a 2:1 margin people preferred the option that happened to be the Republican position. But then the pollsters asked the very same questions but identified which were the Democrat positions and which were the Republican positions. The result was a slight preference for the Democrat position.

To put it simply, voters prefer Republican positions, but don’t like the Republican label.

I am going to try a similar experiment here. Below are extracts from an interesting article about the War on Poverty. Decide whether you like the ideas without knowing who wrote it.

Just over 50 years ago, LBJ announced a War on Poverty.

The world has changed profoundly in the half-century since Johnson declared a war on poverty. In that time, as Peter Ferrara points out, the welfare bureaucracy has spent more than $16 trillion on means-tested entitlements. For each American living in poverty, we now spend $17,000 annually on these programs. And after 50 years of this strategy, there are still nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty today, and President Obama calls “inequality” is “the defining issue of our time.” The war, he says, is “far from over.”

He’s right: 50 years in, we’re still far from winning the war on poverty. But what does he–what does the left–propose to turn the tide? A small hike in the minimum wage, (when only about one third of one percent of Americans lives under the poverty line earning minimum wage). They want some higher taxes on the rich, a few new bureaucracies at most. In other words, the same ideas we’ve been trying for the last 50 years–programs whose most notable achievement is trapping millions of Americans in dependency.

The best response to these proposals may be a half century old itself: Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech, which he, too, delivered in 1964. “Do they honestly expect us to believe,” he asked, “that if we add 1 billion dollars to the 45 billion we’re spending, one more program to the 30-odd we have—and remember, this new program doesn’t replace any, it just duplicates existing programs—do they believe that poverty is suddenly going to disappear by magic?”It didn’t. And none of the same old, timid ideas we’re hearing from the left to mark this anniversary will do that either, of course.

We owe it to the least well-off Americans to develop a completely new approach to the war on poverty. Instead of recycling bureaucratic proposals from the era of black and white television, it’s time to rethink fundamentally how it is possible to help the poor in this very different world.

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