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War on Poverty: Abandoned and Forgotten

Except for a “must read” essay by Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, at National Review Online, there was no reporting by the mainstream media yesterday marking the 46th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” announcing “a new government mobilization that he claimed would yield “total victory” against poverty in the United States.”

To explain just how large the War on Party was, Rector writes:

“Since the beginning of the War on Poverty, government has spent $16.7 trillion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars) on means-tested welfare. In comparison, all the military wars in U.S. history have cost a total of $6.4 trillion (also in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars).”

And what has our nation gained from this massive expenditure? Rector says:

“. . . When Lyndon Johnson launched his war, he declared that it would strike “at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.” He added, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

“In other words, President Johnson was not proposing a massive system of welfare benefits, doled out to an ever larger population of beneficiaries over time. In fact, Johnson declared that the War on Poverty would enable the nation to make “important reductions” in future welfare spending. Johnson’s goal was an increase in self-sufficiency: to create a new generation of individuals capable of supporting themselves.

“On one hand, it is true that, since the beginning of the War on Poverty, the material living conditions of the poor have improved; even the federal government cannot spend $16.7 trillion without having any impact whatsoever. But, in terms of reducing the “causes” rather than the “consequences” of poverty, the War on Poverty has failed utterly. In fact, a significant portion of the population is now less capable of prosperous self-sufficiency than it was before.”

Looking towards the future, Mr. Rector points out:

“The original goal of the War on Poverty — to reduce both poverty and dependence on government — has been abandoned and forgotten. While occasional lip service is sometimes still paid to reducing government dependence, ironically, this concept almost always appears as a justification for new government spending.

“The current goal in welfare is simply to “spread the wealth” for its own sake. The War on Poverty has become a system of permanent income redistribution, which will only increase over time.

“According to President Obama’s budget projections, federal and state welfare spending will total $10.3 trillion over the next ten years. This spending will cost more than $100,000 for each taxpaying household in the U.S. Most of it will be funded by borrowing from future generations and foreign nations.

“This spending is unsustainable. Our nation can no longer afford the War on Poverty spending colossus."

It may be abandoned and forgotten, but the federal worthies continue plundering America’s taxpayers. An essay worthy of inclusion in your "keeper folder."

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