There are some simple truths in American politics that still apply in today’s increasingly bizarre landscape. The most prominent of these truths seem to be: If you want a problem to get worse, have a Democrat declare war on it. Think about it Lyndon B Johnson’s “war on poverty”. A war that was launched (without explicit congressional approval. . . But I digress) in 1964. So, how’s our war progressing? Are we winning? Is anyone keeping a list of casualties?
Some critics of the war would be likely to say we are losing the war on poverty. I contend that it is more serious than that. After five decades, and over $20 trillion in welfare spending, our poverty rate has seen virtually no improvement. Certainly the programs have not created $20 trillion of wealth among the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. But it has created a tremendous casualty.
Even by liberal’s studies and standards these programs have largely failed to reach their purported goal: Lifting the honest and virtuous from the dredges of the lower class. According to Mark Rank of Washington University in Missouri, over 80 percent of Americans experience “financial hardship” throughout their life. Rank explains that “only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.”
Let me translate that: More people need to be considered impoverished in order to justify continued government spending on anti-poverty programs. This perverse logic is the single reason liberal policies ultimately collapse under their own weight. From welfare, to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), to 99 weeks of unemployment, nothing has proven as successful at getting the impoverished out of poverty and into the ranks of the middle class as free-markets and hard work.
Welfare, while it has existed in such predominant forms, has a tendency to grow and create a culture of dependency. And rather than creating programs that encourage the downtrodden to work their way out of despair, the war on poverty has proven to entrench a permanent underclass in America. Giving from the working, to the needy (however honest and just the intention) has proven to be a costly failure for America. And the few programs that encourage (or require) work have been weakened by the Most Liberal President in the last twenty years, President Barack Obama.
Liberals judge the success of a welfare program by how many people are enrolled. The OBAMAPHONE giveaway is ripe with corruption because bureaucrats and politicians are interested in quantifying their compassion (and encouraging continued dependency on their party). Food stamps enrollment has reached new highs every year of Obama’s tenure, and is heralded in the Department of Agriculture as a foundational success. The department has even started advertising the program in Mexico, as reassurance that no-one (illegal or otherwise) will go hungry in America. As part of his grand plan to recover the US economy, Obama introduced Americans to 99 weeks (almost two years) of temporary unemployment assistance.
These programs have unfunded liabilities, a tremendous burden on our federal budget. . . And worst of all: they have proven to be wholly ineffective. Labor force participation is reaching new lows, dependency on government is at an all-time high, and enclaves of wealth redistribution such as Detroit and Chicago are finding themselves with some of the highest rates of impoverished citizens.
Lyndon B Johnson declared war on poverty almost fifty years ago. And so far little ground has been gained with liberals as our supreme commanders. In fact, the only casualty in this war, so far, has been the independence and self sufficiency of millions of Americans. Welfare programs, and by extension the war on poverty, should not be focused on arming the poor, huddled masses with food stamps and TANF benefit cards. Programs aimed at encouraging self-sufficiency and opportunity are the only programs that have proven to lift those masses from their poverty.
The Statue of Liberty calls on the world’s poor, huddled masses to seek asylum from destitute lands. She was promising liberty, not dependency. Capitalism, as it turns out, is the only successful anti-poverty program in human history. And it is being greatly underutilized in the Democrat’s war.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in August of 2013.