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Acton Commentary: The Tyranny of the Obvious

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Those who promoted the War on Poverty and other grand plans to end poverty, writes Hunter Baker, “had no inkling that these good-hearted strategies would lead to enduring cycles of poverty and family disintegration that threatened to consume entire generations. Wishing for good outcomes resulted in disaster.”

Read this commentary at the Acton website.

Brittany Hunter


  • What is also troubling about this government expansion is that it is happening in such a quiet way. By that I mean, so many Americans not only seem untroubled by it, they welcome it.

    I guess the same could be said for the era of the Great Depression but my experience with those who lived through it — parents and other relatives — was that they emerged from that time as independent as ever. The impression they left was that the government help then was temporary and they returned to (if they ever really left it) the idea of personal responsibility, working hard for themselves and their families (always willing to help those in genuine need) when the Depression ended. They were no longer interested in, and skeptical of, most or all of any future government “help.” The results of this ethic can be seen in the tremendous growth of the American economy.

    And, as much as I hate to say it, I believe decades of teaching from many in the Church contributed to this acceptance, even demand, for government intervention we see today. Unfortunately, much of this is as much the politics of envy as the desire to help the poor. The results of this remain to be seen.

  • I agree with Mark. Mr. Baker fails to address the root causes of these problems, and perhaps that was not within the scope of his article. It is only when we have rejected the Social Kingship of Christ that we seek a savior in the form of government. These wants fuel the growth of government, which in turn must be fed by ever-higher revenues. We should not rejoice that lower taxes raise revenues; we should point out that lower taxes actually permit less government. However, when you’ve accepted the status quo, such thinking is impossible.

    Today we celebrate Pentecost; let us hope that at some time in the near future the Church is as receptive to the Holy Spirit as it once was.

  • Roger McKinney

    We should be careful about attributing the growth in the US economy to Reagan’s tax cuts in his first term. In his second term, Reagan enacted the largest tax increase in history at the time. Bush senior topped Reagan’s tax increase and then Clinton beat out both with the largest tax increase in the nation’s history. So if Reagan’s tax cuts helped the economy, then the following tax increases should have destroyed it but didn’t. It’s not good theory to say that tax cuts spur the economy but tax increases don’t hurt.

    Free markets have a vitality all their own. As the history of the 19th century demonstrates, the American economy always recovered from depressions fairly quickly without any help from the state at all. If the state helped at all during the 1980’s it was by getting out of the way of the market through Carter’s and Reagan’s deregulation efforts and better monetary policy under Volcker and Greenspan. But those efforts were tiny compared to the power of the free market to heal itself.

  • D Ladig

    This article by Dr. Hunter Baker is specious. One idea in it, that tax cuts lead to economic growth is a myth that Arthur Laffer created, and which he and Jack Kemp sold- was snatched up by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 campaign- a brilliant politician to be sure. The hypothesis is based upon a few variables, too few to be valid- but it was, and is, a powerful political tool.

    The best that any economic “scientist” has been able to prove is that one dollar in tax cuts brings forth about 50 cents in long term returns.

    In Reagan’s case, he just ran up the public debt bill. While Bush 41 was lacking in political savvy, he had it nailed when he labeled it “Voodoo Economics”.

    There is not a single- not one- Economics department at any fist or second level university in the U.S. that subscribes to the Laffer curve and so-called “supply side economics” as legitimate theory.

    Anyone, who speaks of the idea should be ready to prove it. Dr. Hunter Baker can not