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Can American Welfare Cost $1 Trillion A Year?

Last month, we growled about the cost of the left’s compassion, and cited a column by Dr. Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, which featured a new book by Edgar K. Browning. Now comes Browning himself to raise a number of questions that “paint a bleak picture of the accomplishments of the American welfare state,” according to this column posted at the Independent Institute. Browning writes:

“Incredible as it may seem, Americans transfer more than a trillion dollars each year to low-income families through a bewildering variety of programs, all in the name of fighting poverty and inequality.  That’s about seven times the cost of the Iraq war.”

Browning reminds us, "When Lyndon Johnson inaugurated the War on Poverty in 1964, he assured the public that “. . . this investment [of tax dollars] will return its cost many fold to our entire economy.” Browning then identifies several questions that taxpayers, as well as policy makers, should be asking about the cost of the so-called war on poverty. For example:

  • “Is the low-income population more independent and self-supporting than before the War on Poverty?”
  • “Has the trillion-dollar expenditure eliminated poverty in America?  Reduced it dramatically?
  • “Has the trillion-dollar expenditure reduced inequality?  Are the egalitarians grateful to the American people for their sacrifices in this area, or are they continually carping about increasing inequality?”
  • “Are more disadvantaged children being raised in stable two-parent families today than before the War on Poverty?”

Browning concludes by saying:

“While a nuanced interpretation of the evidence may identify a few positive returns on our “investment,” we have a right to expect a lot more for a trillion dollars a year.  Perhaps it is time to stop worrying about an exit strategy for the War in Iraq and formulate one for the War on Poverty.”


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