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Alternatives to the Great Society

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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.

In general, however, Johnson’s economic programs, which cost trillions of dollars to maintain, are not the answer, according to Mauren. Instead, he said, when “wealth production is maximized, poverty is minimized.”

“Freedom is the context for human progress,” Mauren said. “Economic freedom has been the engine of prosperity for 200 years.”

In what he called a “new vision for the great society,” Mauren suggested that when the people can produce their own wealth, then they “can afford to be more generous.” Also, helping the poor to be empowered increases their dignity and “treats the poor as capable rather that objects of pity.”

Mauren also shared a clip of the award-winning documentary “Poverty, Inc.,” which discusses the similar theme of how traditional forms of aid may be hurting those they are intended to help. Rachel Sheffield, policy analyst of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation gave the first lecture, titled, “Has the Great Society Succeeded?” George Mason Professor of Economics, Bryan Caplan, answered the question, “Are We Stuck with the Great Society?”

This series at Northwood University was part of Northwood’s Forum for Citizenship and Enterprise. Director of this Forum, Glenn Moots, “arranged the talks around the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 economic initiatives.” The Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University and the John Templeton Foundation partnered with Northwood University to bring about this lecture.

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Sarah Stanley

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