It's intuitive to think that way. I used to think that, too. When President Johnson declared a "war on poverty," he said "compassionate government" was the road to prosperity for poor people. That made sense to me. At Princeton, I was taught that government's central planners had the solution to poverty.
But then I watched them work. Government spent trillions of dollars on poverty programs, and the poverty level stayed stuck at about 12 percent of the population. It's stayed there for about 40 years.
Now I understand that that government poverty programs encourage people to stay dependent. There's money in it. They policymakers would have known this 25 years ago had they read "The State Against Blacks." The author, an economist, said poverty programs destroy the natural mechanisms that have always enabled poor people to lift themselves out of poverty.
That author is Walter Williams of George Mason University. Williams, who is black, says "there's a huge segment of the black population for whom upward mobility is elusive, and it's because of the welfare state -- because of government."
Williams elaborates in a new book, "Race and Economics." A chief culprit, he insists, is the minimum wage.
"Let's not look at the intentions behind minimum wage," he said. "We have to ask, what are the effects? Put yourself in the place of an employer who must pay $7.25 no matter whom you hire. Will that employer hire a person who can only add $3 or $4 of value per hour?"
He will not. And so fewer young people get hired and "get their feet on the bottom rung of the economic ladder." This hurts all young people, but black teens most, he says, because "many of them get a fraudulent education in the public school system. So a law that discriminates against low-skill people has a doubly negative effect on black teenagers. The unemployment rate among black teens today is unprecedented in U.S. history. In the '40s, black teenage unemployment was less than white teenage unemployment."
And yet a Pew survey says 83 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage.
"People have the misguided notion that the minimum wage is an antipoverty tool."