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.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.