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Samuel Gregg On The War On Poverty: ‘Pass More Laws And Throw More Dollars At The Problem’

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In today’s National Review Online, leading economists are asked to comment on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, weighs in:

As we know now, Johnson’s offensive against poverty did not have the impact envisaged by its progenitors. By the early 1970s, the failure was stark. Even today, this failure remains Exhibit A for the ineffectiveness of government intervention when confronting many economic problems. Not that this has led to any major rethinking on the part of most modern leftists when it comes to their conviction that you really cannot have enough state intervention or spend enough taxpayers’ money when you’re addressing an issue like poverty. Their approach remains unchanged: Pass more laws and throw more dollars at the problem.

If there is any good news coming from the War on Poverty’s failure, it’s that we now understand more about what causes poverty — and that sometimes the causes have little to with economics per se. More of us recognize that family breakdown, addictive behavior, and mental illness often contribute to people’s descent into substandard living conditions. I fear, however, that until America exorcizes the demon of false hope — thinking that there’s nothing that can’t be fixed by a few enlightened bureaucrats armed with mountains of cash — we will continue to repeat the progressivist error over and over again. Which is, of course, the definition of insanity.

Read “The War on Poverty at 50” at National Review Online.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


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  • Steve Vinzinski

    President’s Johnson’s War on Poverty did have some big questions.No other President with the exception of Lincoln had more pressure.Let’s face it most of the major civil rights acts were passed.All required tough work.The War in Viet Nam kept exploding and deaths were massive on a daily basis.Johnson would arise at four AM read the list of dead and cry.Riots were coast to coast and more people died than on D-Day or at the World Trade Center.Only Iwo Jima had more deaths on one day.Medicare and Medicaid were rushed thru.The murders of civil rights people.He still had time to meet with the Russian leader and iron out a pretty good agreement at Glassboro,New Jersey.The food stamp idea still is around,Medicare and Medicaid turned out to be great offerings.he followed a very popular President in Kennedy and help his own.He expanded the VA on all fronts and increased student aid.Right or Wrong no one can call good old Lyndon lazy.On top of that he was a great person to converse with.One last point he inherited a bunch of college kids from President Kennedy and did the right thing and did not listen to them.