Political Editors / November 28, 2018

That Failure Known as the ‘War on Poverty’

LBJ’s signature accomplishment has only produced more government dependency.

As that old adage states, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That wisdom was sorely needed back in 1966 when Lyndon Baines Johnson declared his War on Poverty. Unfortunately, a majority of lawmakers ignored it and as a result even more Americans are suffering in needless poverty today. But LBJ and the Democrats got what they wanted — an ever-growing class of voters dependent upon the government to provide them with everything from food to housing to health care.

The publicly stated goal of LBJ’s War on Poverty, making America’s poor more self-sufficient so as to bring them into the mainstream economy, has been an abject failure. More Americans than ever find themselves dependent on some form of government welfare. In fact, prior to the passage of War on Poverty, the percentage of Americans living in poverty had been steadily declining over a 20 year period, from 32.1% down to 14.7%.

Meanwhile, government spending on welfare, a.k.a. wealth redistribution, has gone from an average of $3,070 per person in 1965 to $34,093 per person in 2016. As John Early and Phil Gramm note in The Wall Street Journal, “Transfers now constitute 84.2% of the disposable income of the poorest quintile of American households and 57.8% of the disposable income of lower-middle-income households. These payments also make up 27.5% of America’s total disposable income.” Thus more Americans than ever find themselves as de facto wards of the state.

LBJ’s War on Poverty in reality was a war on America’s poor, robbing them of their most valuable commodity: a work ethic. As Early and Gramm further argue, “Government programs replaced deprivation with idleness, stifling human flourishing.” And the segment of American society that has been most directly impacted by the loss of a work ethic are men. Edward Glaeser writes in the City Journal, “In 1967, 95 percent of ‘prime-age’ men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. During the Great Recession, though, the share of jobless prime-age males rose above 20 percent. Even today, long after the recession officially ended, more than 15 percent of such men aren’t working. … The rise of joblessness — especially among men — is the great American domestic crisis of the twenty-first century. It is a crisis of spirit more than of resources.”

Now that the Democrat Party has been almost entirely taken over by hard-left socialists, their only answers to societal problems are to double down on even more of LBJ’s failed “Great Society.” Meanwhile, the souls of many Americans become increasingly bereft of that spirit of freedom and individual responsibility that makes our nation the envy of the world.

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