The War on Poverty that began in the last months of John F. Kennedy's presidency and escalated under President Lyndon B. Johnson's vision of the Great Society has left us with more severe poverty-related problems than anything this nation had seen in our pre-welfarist days. According to political scientist Charles Murray, author of Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, and co-author of The Bell Curve, it all began with the publication of Michael Harrington's The Other America in 1962. That book made a bold, though not well-substantiated claim that in the course of its evolution capitalism has a natural tendency to multiply poverty. Soon thereafter many social scientists and left-leaning public intellectuals accepted the view that our system of private enterprise has a structural defect, that economic growth is impotent to lift the boats of tens of millions of aged and disabled people, of low-skilled men and single moms.
What happened next was the greatest social tragedy in this part of the world since the introduction of slavery in Virginia, an unintended consequence of ignoring human nature and the laws of economics while trying to build a society greater than the one we inherited from the American Revolution. Murray reveals how the new view of poverty as a natural product of a specific economic structure has led to the "homogenization of the poor" and the subsidization of socially disruptive passions. Everyone else preserved to a large degree their traditional, extraordinarily competitive, American spirit and desire to excel in life by seeking new and better ways to apply their talents and resources. At the same time the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor was eliminated as politically incorrect.
In an attempt to eradicate poverty, the government set out to remove the stigma of welfare. Through the Office of Economic Opportunity and taxpayer-subsidized "community action" grants, the poor were evangelized to accept government largesse as a right. Industry was no longer seen as a virtue, nor indolence as a vice-they were all treated as a "homogeneous group of victims." The refusal of our policymakers to consider the long-term consequences of institutionalized welfare slowly but surely turned the poor into victims of our good intentions.
"If you want peace, work for justice," said Pope Paul VI. Are you still looking for a worthy New Year's resolution? Here's one: "If you want justice, work to abolish entitlements." We have the resources; we have the goodwill. If President Obama's words "We believe in taking care of each other" are more than empty political rhetoric, the poor man needs a bureaucratic middleman as much as he needs another hole in his head.