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The Half-Century Failed Progressive War to Perpetuate Poverty

Year after year, leftists run for office promising to solve the very problems they helped create with central planning and distorting the private economy.  They self-righteously ingratiate themselves to an array of constituencies promising policies that will redistribute wealth and create a utopia for all.  Well, 50 years into the so-called war on poverty, and after flushing roughly $20 trillion in inflation-adjusted spending on mean-tested programs, they have nothing to show for it but dependency and perpetuation of their own power.

Throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s, the federal poverty rate declined sharply thanks to the post-WWII economic boom.  In 1964, as the poverty rate was tumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the Great Society campaign, ironically declaring an end to “the days of the dole in our country.”  Well, as President Reagan noted in 1988, “the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won.”

Sadly, things have only gotten worse since Reagan’s era.

The AP reports that according to a revised census measure released today, the poverty rate has topped 16%, enveloping 49.7 million people.  In 1966, the poverty rate was 14.7%.  So after spending at least $20 trillion on welfare programs, we have failed to move the needle one inch against poverty.  Instead we have perpetuated and exacerbated the problem.

We could have flushed $20 trillion down the toilet and enjoyed the same result sans the dependency and extra Democrat votes.  Or as Cato’s Michael Tanner pointed out last year, with the amount we spend on combined federal and state welfare each year, we could write a $61,830 check to every poor family of three.

Unfortunately, when you ponder the real motivation behind the welfare state, it is clear that the war on poverty was a smashing success.

Cross-posted from The Madison Project   

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