Posts tagged with: Lyndon B. Johnson

The Great Society only made things worse, says Acton’s co-founder and executive director, Kris Mauren. He gave the final lecture during Northwood’s University’s series, “The Great Society at 50.” Mauren’s talk, titled “Alternatives to the Great Society,” argued that the programs of the Great Society have likely exacerbated issues of poverty and created a “culture of dependency.” A recent article from Midland Daily News summarizes this lecture:

“I am not suggesting we do nothing, but what we are doing isn’t working,” Mauren said. “We need a new paradigm.”

Before Johnson declared war on poverty, society had already created citizen associations.

“Society organized itself to meet needs,” Mauren said. “Fraternal societies helped to care for members.”

These societies helped people with medical care, among other things, and assisted those in short-term need.

At times when large-scale crises occur “that is the exact time for charity… it is appropriate for the government to step in,” Mauren said.


Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

As noted here on the Acton PowerBlog earlier this week, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty. Economist Nicholas Eberstadt, in an interview with the American Enterprise Institute, discusses what he calls the “brave new welfare state” we now have due to over-grown public assistance and unintended consequences of government programs.

Asked if we need to spend more money on anti-poverty initiatives, Eberstadt answers:

Let me suggest this is not the right way of framing the question. Quite the contrary: if we presume that government entitlement transfers are the answer to the poverty problem, we are pretty much doomed to failure before we even start.

For a healthy national community of prosperous and independent citizens, we need a nation with strong families, solid education, a serious work ethic, and a good jobs market. Anti-poverty programs can only substitute for these fundamentals—and unfortunately such programs are necessarily rather limited and imperfect substitutes. Of course there is a role for public resources in addressing public need—but such government resources can be targeted more efficiently and intelligently than we are doing today.


President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964

President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, has published a monograph entitled, The Great Society: The Triumph and The Tragedy at Fifty. Eberstadt calls Johnson’s vision for the war on poverty “the most ambitious call to date” in American political history. At the time of Johnson’s speech unveiling this “Great Society,” the United States had only one nation-wide social program, Social Security. Johnson wanted more:

The Great Society proposed to reach even further: to bring about wholesale renewal of our cities, beautification of our natural surroundings, vitalization of our educational system. All this, and much more—and the solutions to the many questions encountered in this great endeavor, we were told, would assuredly be found, since this undertaking would “assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.


Philosopher and theologian, Michael Novak recently delivered a speech at the Catholic University of America on the vocation of business and Forbes published the transcript. Novak argues that “capitalism is lifting the world out of poverty.” As many Asian and African economies shift from socialist to capitalist, they are seeing enormous economic growth, and small businesses are the force behind these economic gains:

Even in developed nations, most jobs are found in small business. In Italy, over 80 percent of the working population works in small businesses. In the U.S., the proportion is just about 50 percent, but some 65 percent of new employment is in small businesses.

During the great economic expansion of 1981-1989, the U.S. added to its economy the equivalent of the whole economic activity of West Germany at that time. Sixteen million new jobs were created in the U.S., the vast number of them in small businesses. Startups peaked as new businesses came into being at a rate of 13 percent (as a portion of all businesses) – an all-time high. Much the same happened under Clinton in 1993-2001, but even better – 23 million new jobs were created.

In the creation of small businesses, four factors are necessary. First, ease and low cost of incorporation; second, access to inexpensive credit; third, institutions of instruction and technical help (such as the system of local credit unions in the U.S.), and the steady assistance of the extension services of the A&M universities; and, fourth, throughout the population habits of creativity, enterprise, and skills such as bookkeeping and the organization of work. Economic development is propelled, as John Paul II said, by know-how, technology, and skill (Centesimus Annus 32). Therein, perhaps, lie the greatest entry-points for Americans and others who wish to help poor nations by proffering assistance in economic development from the bottom up. (more…)

SNAP chartThe House Budget Committee has issued its report on The War on Poverty, 50 Years Later. It’s 204 pages long, so feel free to dig in. However, I’ll just hit some of the highlights.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has created 92 government programs, currently costing us about $800 billion. The committee’s take on this is summed up as:

But rather than provide a roadmap out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that are often difficult to navigate. Some programs provide critical aid to families in need. Others discourage families from getting ahead. And for many of these programs, we just don’t know. There’s little evidence either way.


In the latest episode of Uncommon Knowledge, Peter Robinson interviews Amity Shlaes, author of the new biography, Coolidge. Read Ray Nothstine’s review here.

In the book, Shlaes makes an explicit connection between Coolidge’s rough-and-humble upbringing in Plymouth Notch, VA, and his bootstraps optimism about commerce and markets. The Coolidges believed that responsibility, hard work, and a virtuous life were bound to pay off, in large part because they experienced it in their own lives.

On this, Robinson offers a wonderful follow-up (around the 31-minute mark), observing that some have connected Lyndon B. Johnson’s similar “hardscrabble upbringing” with an entirely different perspective, namely his “championing of the federal government as an instrument for lifting the poor of the nation.” Why, Robinson asks, did the early struggles of each of these men lead them to entirely different conclusions about economic empowerment and poverty alleviation? (more…)

Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty … Lyndon B. Johnson’s Special Message to Congress, March 16, 1964

Anthony Bradley, commenting on the preference black voters showed for President Obama, points out that Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty policies “introduced perverse incentives against saving money, starting businesses, getting married, and they discouraged fathers from being physically and emotionally present for their children — resulting in generational welfare dependence — black voters are lured to choose dependence over liberation.” The full text of his essay follows. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.