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What’s Missing in the War on Poverty?

January 23, 2019 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

This year the federal, state, and local governments will spend
close to a combined $1 trillion to fund more than 100 separate
anti-poverty programs. In fact, since Lyndon Johnson declared
“war on poverty” in 1965, government efforts to fight
poverty have cost more than $23 trillion.

If our goal was to reduce the material deprivation of poverty,
we have undoubtedly been successful. By the metrics, there are
clear signs of success. Conservatives often focus on the
traditional Census Bureau definition of poverty, which has remained
largely stagnant since the 1960s, yet more accurate poverty
measures that consider non-cash government benefits and refundable
tax credits like the EITC suggest that the real poverty rate is 5-6
percentage points lower than the official version. Perhaps not as
successful as we would like, but successful nonetheless.

But is that sufficient?

Reforming criminal
justice, education, and housing policy, while encouraging job
creation, economic growth, and individual savings will do more to
help reduce poverty than anything we are doing today.

President Johnson himself called for something more than simply
fighting material poverty. The War on Poverty was created not only
to meet the “basic needs” of those in poverty, but also
to “replace despair with opportunity.” Yet in focusing
on the material aspects of poverty, we have neglected the more
important aspects of human flourishing. Our tax and spending
policies should be better designed to enable every person to attain
their full potential, to be capable of being all that they can
be.

After all, it wasn’t just government spending that
contributed to the drop in poverty. Although studies suggest that
poverty rates would be considerably higher in the absence of
government benefits, improvements that resulted from spending in
the early years after welfare programs began have plateaued more
recently, and we are no longer seeing marginal declines in poverty
commensurate with increased spending. It seems likely the passage
of the Civil Rights Act, the expansion of economic opportunities to
African-Americans and women, increased private charity, and general
economic growth may all have played a role.

In proposing a better way to fight poverty, we should not
blindly support cutting programs for the sake of cutting. Nor
should we assume that what we are doing now is working just fine
and we should simply do more of it. Rather we should ask whether it
is possible to continue to ameliorate the suffering of those living
in poverty, while also creating the conditions that would enable
people to live a fulfilled and actualized life.

In my new book, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to
America’s Poor
, I lay out what I …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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