I wrote a few comments explaining why John Edwards’ recent poverty tour may serve as good rhetoric but, in the end, demonstrates very poor economic thinking. His ideas essentially represent the failed “war on poverty” initiatives that came out of LBJ’s “Great Society” foolishness. It’s a 2007 remix of a few old, tired, played out ideologies. The programs didn’t work in the 70s and 80s and they won’t work if Edwards becomes president. Edwards wants to raise the minimum wage to nearly $9.50/hour. Where does Edwards expect that money to come from? In the long run, these ideas eventually hurt the poor as we witnessed before Congress overhauled welfare in 1996.
For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”
Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:
• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.
• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”
• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.
• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.
According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”
So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)
Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”
John Edwards formally kicked off his poverty tour in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward this week and of course blamed the president for the government’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Edwards also played up symbolism by visiting some of the samel cities Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy visited during their famed poverty tours. Edwards may not significantly differ from other Democratic front runners for the White House, although some say he is the only candidate with a truly universal health care program.
Edwards does however stand out from the field of Democratic front runners in terms of actually visiting impoverished locations, although not always to the delight of everybody in the region. In addition, there is not a lot of vote power or political contributions likely to emerge from the places he stopped on his poverty tour. He is often accused of orchestrating a well crafted political strategy for trying to draw attention to the nation’s poor, while attempting to distance himself from recent criticisms of his own affluence and lavish spending. Even in the age of overly scripted politicians he should be given the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledged for raising awareness to a critically important moral issue, although his solutions lack the right method for addressing poverty.
While the language and symbolism of his tour is recycled Great Society rhetoric, it adds a dynamic reminder of the failed attempt at combating poverty through massive federal spending and initiative. Of course, that’s not Edwards’ intention but he helps us recall these failed policies.
Lyndon Johnson in his first State of The Union Address declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America.” The same president vowed to “not rest until that war is won.” The War on Poverty in fact institutionalized poverty by trapping people in a vicious cycle of dependency. No doubt, there won’t be any talk of meaningful tax cuts, deregulation, and economic freedom in the Edwards poverty tour. If there is one legacy the Great Society left, it is that the government is not a job or wealth creator — the entrepreneur creates jobs and wealth. Jesus himself proclaims the “poor shall always be with us,” and so shall well meaning but misguided poverty tours.
“No committee, arguably, has more power or attracts more lobbyists than the Committee on Ways and Means,” writes the NYT’s Robin Toner. “Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, joined the committee in 1975, and now, at the age of 76, has finally arrived at the very top.”
Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist, said: “When the Ways and Means Committee has worked well, they’ve identified social needs and advocated for the funds to meet them. Will this committee do that? I hope so.” What does this mean for Rangel’s chairmanship? “Chairmen of the 218-year-old committee have traditionally been at the center of the great debates, including how to support a growing elderly population and how to deal with the excesses of capitalism.” You can expect Rangel to engage economic issues from a similar rhetorical perspective, a liberal one that seeks “to cushion workers in this rough, new, competitive environment.” But as Toner also observes that “the ideological gulf between the two parties is vast, not just on tax cuts, but on the role of government versus the private market in areas like health care.” In recognition of Rep. Rangel’s new position, we offer this moment from the Acton Institute’s history. Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, and Rep. Rangel share the following exchange during Rev. Sirico’s testimony before the Ways and Means Committee in 1995 on welfare reform:
For more on Rangel’s views of religion, wealth, poverty, and charity, check out the dialog from an appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews, where Rangel asserts that Jesus said that “the rich are going straight to hell.”
Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist, said: “When the Ways and Means Committee has worked well, they’ve identified social needs and advocated for the funds to meet them. Will this committee do that? I hope so.”
What does this mean for Rangel’s chairmanship? “Chairmen of the 218-year-old committee have traditionally been at the center of the great debates, including how to support a growing elderly population and how to deal with the excesses of capitalism.”
You can expect Rangel to engage economic issues from a similar rhetorical perspective, a liberal one that seeks “to cushion workers in this rough, new, competitive environment.” But as Toner also observes that “the ideological gulf between the two parties is vast, not just on tax cuts, but on the role of government versus the private market in areas like health care.”
In recognition of Rep. Rangel’s new position, we offer this moment from the Acton Institute’s history. Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, and Rep. Rangel share the following exchange during Rev. Sirico’s testimony before the Ways and Means Committee in 1995 on welfare reform:
Despite a recent surge in economic growth in the European Union, the lack of political will to reform unsustainable welfare systems and curb regulatory excesses does not bode well for the future. Samuel Gregg looks back to the Freiburg Ordo-Liberal School, practitioners of an economic philosophy that helped engineer the post-war revival for West Germany, as a possible path toward greater freedom and economic growth.
On Monday, October 2, Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico debated the President and Founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, Dr. Ronald J. Sider on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary. The topic of their exchange was Wealth and Poverty in Light of the Gospel: How Can Christians Work Together if We Disagree? The event was jointly sponsored by Calvin Seminary and Western Theological Seminary.
Their spirited exhange is now available online in both video (streaming video – Real media format NOTE: the presentation begins about 6 minutes into the video) and audio format. Both the video and audio appear courtesy of Calvin Seminary.
You can also review a responses to the debate from the Kruse Kronicle, and an overview of the event from the Kerux, Calvin Theological Seminary’s student newsletter. And as always, your thoughts and reactions are welcome in the comments section below.
Update 8/5/2013: A reader informed us that the media files originally linked in this post have since gone offline. To make amends, I’ve re-posted the audio, which you can listen to via the player below:
Anthony Bradley, a research fellow for the Acton Institute, looks back on the effects of the welfare reform of 1996. Many people criticized this legislation as it was being passed and predicted that the result would be increased poverty. However, the results of the legislation have been overwhelmingly positive.
Poverty, especially amongst single mothers, has declined significantly. Employment among people formerly claiming welfare has increased dramatically. The number of welfare cases has dropped from 4.3 to 1.89 million — that’s more than 50% fewer cases — and poverty has decreased as well! These results cannot be only attributed to economic factors (although a good economy obviously helps poverty). As Mr. Bradley puts it: “When our society provides incentives encouraging work, marriage, family, and accountability—which are central to human dignity—we see people thought to be helpless rise to the occasion.”