Let’s End the War on Poverty

by on June 28th, 2012

I know, some will gasp in abject horror and even cry out while tearing their clothes, “Why do you hate the poor?” This is an emotionally charged issue to be sure but MCOI has never really shied away from controversy. Although I am not suggesting we forsake the poor I am suggesting we follow the arguments used for abandoning the war on drugs to answer whether we should continue the War on Poverty. Consistency in political social policy is as important as consistency in an individual’s life. The parameters are fairly simple and I think Sting did as good of a job as any in his March 2010 piece, Let’s End the War on Drugs. He argues that is has been, “…the most unsuccessful, unjust yet untouchable issue in politics…” While it may not be the “most” unsuccessful” it has been pretty unsuccessful and it is for the most part “untouchable,” politically at least. What are the criteria Sting used to demonstrate his point?

The War on Drugs has failed — but it’s worse than that. It is actively harming our society. Violent crime is thriving in the shadows to which the drug trade has been consigned. People who genuinely need help can’t get it. Neither can people who need medical marijuana to treat terrible diseases. We are spending billions, filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders and sacrificing our liberties.

This is all fairly simple to understand:

1) The Federal government is spending billions but there has been no noticeable change in the drug trade.
2) It is actively harming our society.
3) Crime has increased in spite of the war on drugs or perhaps because of the war on drugs.
4) Some who actually do need certain assistance which currently illegal drugs can provide cannot get it. (On the other hand, some who have learned how to game the system can get medical marijuana legally).
5) The crimes committed which are being prosecuted are filling up our prisons.

I have touched briefly on the issue of “The War on Drugs” in Anthony Weiner, the War on Drugs and Moral Questions and now as then, my concern isn’t really the war on drugs per se but the criteria and how it is loosely applied in areas which liberals, whether political or religious, seem to apply to one issue while turning a blind eye to another equally important issue which is also failing for all of the same reasons used to abandon “The War on Drugs.” Why is that? There is a serious inconsistency of application by opting to make decisions based primarily on emotions. Like the War on Drugs, the War on Povery is an abject failure and it is politically untouchable.

Being that I believe humans are sinful by nature and will do wrong as much as society permits there may be appropriate limitations to what one may legally do but perhaps the best enforcer of behavior is community and family peer pressure rather than Federal control. But that is perhaps a discussion for another day. For the moment, if we should abandon “The War on Drugs” shouldn’t we also abandon “The War on Poverty”?

By 1999 the Federal Government had spent over 5 trillion dollars on “The War on Poverty.” That is a tidy sum of taxpayer money to be sure. What did we have to show for it? James L. Payne wrote in his article, ”Why the War on Poverty Failed” in the January 1999 issue of Freeman. Even though this article is over 13 years old, it is as up to date as this year’s Federal budget and certainly more accurate. A sampling may be helpful:

In a front-page story on poverty in rural Kentucky, Michael Janofsky detailed the failure of this effort in the one region that was supposed to be the centerpiece of reform. “Federal and state agencies have plowed billions of dollars into Appalachia,” he wrote, yet the area “looks much as it did 30 years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty, taking special aim at the rural decay.”

Janofsky visited Owsley County, Kentucky, and found a poverty rate of over 46 percent, with over half the adults illiterate and half unemployed. “Feelings of hopelessness have become so deeply entrenched,” he reported, “that many residents have long forsaken any expectation of bettering themselves.” For years, the government has been trying to treat the despair with welfare programs: two-thirds of the inhabitants receive federal assistance, including food stamps, AFDC, and SSI disability payments. This, it now appears, is part of the area’s problems.

“The war on poverty was the worst thing that ever happened to Appalachia,” Janofsky quotes one resident as saying. “It gave people a way to get by without having to do any work.” Local officials told him that “many parents urge their children to try to go to special education classes at school as a way to prove they are eligible for [SSI] disability benefits.” (The senior class at the local high school picked as its motto, “I came, I slept, I graduated.”)

This is not confined to Appalachia but is the trend across the system. ”Why the War on Poverty Failed” is well worth reading in its entirety. A more recent article, “The Democrats’ failed ‘War on Poverty’ is still failing” by Kimberly Morin points out:

The original intentions of ‘welfare’ were as a temporary ‘hand up’ to help those who were in desperate need due to circumstances out of their control. That is no longer the case in Boston or anywhere else in the country. Democrats have created an entire segment of society which consists of people (their voting base) who believe that they are entitled to housing, food, clothing and healthcare paid for through the taxes taken from others who actually work for a living.

Out of wedlock births are more common in this segment of the population, regardless of race, as it increases the amount of finances given to single mothers with dependent children. It has also impacted the church serving this population. Churches that had at one time been theologically and socially conservative are now a strange mix of being socially liberal and theologically conservative or moderate. The moral base is not being inculcated in the youth. Crime is up. In Chicago, for example, shootings and gang assaults are making it more dangerous to be in Chicago than Afghanistan.

The solution would be a return to personal responsibility and return charity to being done locally. Biblically there were various forms of charity. For those who were not physically able to work, the family and community cared for them but these were exception cases. For those who were able to work other provisions were made. Farmers were not to glean the corners of the field when harvesting which left provision for the poor. But, the poor were expected to so and pick the food themselves. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was clear that if someone didn’t work, neither should they eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). In 1 Timothy 5 the Apostle starts out this section with the injunction that it is the family’s responsibility to care for the widows (1 Timothy 5:3_5). He follows up with:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

For those who do not have family, he outlines the criteria for adding a widow to the rolls for support in verses 9-16. Even then there were expectations of work they would perform for the church.

Some years ago someone did a study which concluded that if each church and synagogue adopted 4 families to care for, we would eliminate welfare in the United States. That doesn’t mean eliminating poverty. I don’ think we will do that this side of the Lord’s return. It does mean that the trillions that are currently being frittered away in the “War on poverty” could be turned back to the tax payer who could then see it used through the local institutions they trust. Those in need would be known better by those who are locally involved and concerned and this would also be a strengthening factor in the communities as involvement of individuals replaces the nameless, faceless bureaucracy.

5 responses to “Let’s End the War on Poverty ”

  1. Joanne says:

    Good assessment Don. Hard to see how we can ever ween the chronic, professionally poor off the government teat and show them a better way. Especially when they are a bought and paid for voting block. The students in Appalachia made me very sad. Talk about the sins of the father being passed down to the third and fourth generation. God’s heart would be to bless for 1000 generations. I think change at this point will only come one life at a time.

    The church will have to answer to God for having sinfully abdicated to the government its God commanded role to minster to the poor in a loving, practical, relational, responsible, mentoring way. It has led to what Chesterton saw as the problem of “virtues run amok”. Virtues unmoored from their Christian foundation eventually wreak havoc on society and we are left in the death grip of niceness… and everybody loses. The state can never be our savior. Forgive us Father for the sin of niceness. We have too often replaced Christian love with ‘niceness’ because it is much less messy. Or worse, we do it to rob You of Your glory wanting everyone to see how nice we are. Jesus was not nice. Loving yes, kind yes, caring yes, but not nice. Lord have mercy on Your church. Turn our hearts back to You and give us eyes to see where we need to confess and repent. We need Your grace Lord.

  2. GreyGoat says:

    Primary logical fallacies with your article:
    Fallacy of false cause or non sequitur: incorrectly assumes one thing is the cause of another. Non Sequitur is Latin for “It does not follow.”
    * Example
    Argument: A welfare system exists; therefore, people will not work.
    Problem: The conclusion is false because there are many reasons why people do not work, most commonly the lack of employment opportunities. In WV there are 69.3 people for every available job. [1]

    Affirming the consequent: draws a conclusion from premises that do not support that conclusion by confusing necessary and sufficient conditions.
    * Example:
    Argument: If people are lazy, they don’t work. Jon is not working, he must be lazy.
    Problem: Other things can cause someone to not work. The argument treats being lazy as a necessary condition of not working; in fact, being lazy is a sufficient condition of not working, but it is not necessary to be lazy in order to not work.

    Secondary noted informal fallacies:
    * Argument from ignorance (appeal to ignorance, argumentum ad ignorantiam) – assuming that a claim is true (or false) because it has not been proven false (true) or cannot be proven false (true).
    * Begging the question (petitio principii) – where the conclusion of an argument is implicitly or explicitly assumed in one of the premises
    * Circular cause and consequence – where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause
    * Ecological fallacy – inferences about the nature of specific individuals are based solely upon aggregate statistics collected for the group to which those individuals belong.
    * Fallacy of composition – assuming that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole.
    * Fallacy of division – assuming that something true of a thing must also be true of all or some of its parts
    * Fallacy of the single cause (causal oversimplification) – it is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.
    * Historian’s fallacy – occurs when one assumes that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision.[30] (Not to be confused with presentism, which is a mode of historical analysis in which present-day ideas, such as moral standards, are projected into the past.)
    * Incomplete comparison – where not enough information is provided to make a complete comparison
    * Mind projection fallacy – when one considers the way he sees the world as the way the world really is.
    * Psychologist’s fallacy – an observer presupposes the objectivity of his own perspective when analyzing a behavioral event
    * Regression fallacy – ascribes cause where none exists. The flaw is failing to account for natural fluctuations. It is frequently a special kind of the post hoc fallacy.
    * Reification (hypostatization) – a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a “real thing” something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.

    [1] http://www.bls.gov/lau/rdscnp16.htm

  3. Don Veinot says:

    Thank you for reading and responding to the article. I have to admit I am a bit confused though and reread the article to see if I could find the assertion or assumption that you seemed to find, “Argument: A welfare system exists; therefore, people will not work” or more simply, “Welfare is the cause of laziness.” A claim such as that would obviously violate the fallacies you have outlined but such is not stated nor even implied. The piece was about 2 things. Political consistency and the Federal Government’s and liberals lack of consistency (conservatives, independents and Libertarians are inconsistent in areas as well. It is a problem in human nature.) It was also the failure of the Federal Government to “fix” social issues even though they have stolen trillions of dollars from tax payers under the auspices of fixing these social ills. I am not advocating for or against drug legalization and I am not certain how we would be able to end “entitlements” since so many seem to believe they are entitled to live off of money paid in taxes by others.

    I don’t believe welfare causes laziness and as I stated, “I believe humans are sinful by nature and will do wrong as much as society permits” As you rightly point out, someone not working is not necessarily because they are lazy, there may not be work available or as I state, some may not be physically able. There are other reasons some may need assistance. It also may be that some who are lazy naturally gravitate to systems like the welfare system and learn how to game the system. Your example of WV says little about the ratio of jobs per numbers of unemployed when the referenced article was printed 13 years ago and does not demonstrate that Janofky’s observations or what officials told him are untrue:

    “The war on poverty was the worst thing that ever happened to Appalachia,” Janofsky quotes one resident as saying. “It gave people a way to get by without having to do any work.” Local officials told him that “many parents urge their children to try to go to special education classes at school as a way to prove they are eligible for [SSI] disability benefits.” (The senior class at the local high school picked as its motto, “I came, I slept, I graduated.”)

    The “War on Drugs” does not seem to have diminished or added to the trafficking, sale or use of drugs in spite of the vast amount of money spent. Some will use drugs whether they are legal or illegal. Similarly, the percentages of the population on welfare has not changed much over the nearly 50 years since it was launched. Approximately the same percentage of the population is on welfare as then.

    As I point out near the end, I think these issues are better handled at a local level. If one “War” should be abandoned, in my opinion, the other should also be abandoned. In order to refute what I actually wrote you would need to demonstrate that my proposition to “return to personal responsibility and return charity to being done locally” is wrong.

  4. GreyGoat says:

    1) The premise that the War on Poverty has failed. There are no criteria for success offered, and the only criteria for failure are secondhand statistics of high unemployment, rising crime rates and unsubstantiated rumors of people intentionally and perhaps fraudulently attempting to maximize their benefits.

    An excellent counter to this view would be: Most children from areas of intense poverty that go on to be successful leave their home town. This in turn further decimates the local economy as most of the healthy, educated and motivated either chose or are forced to leave rather than reinvesting in their own communities. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how this scenario skews localized unemployment and crime statistics like the ones referenced. *

    There is also the question of how to define and weight ‘success’. If one child is born to poverty and is allowed to grow up healthy enough to reach their full potential because of these programs, then helps others perhaps as a doctor. Would that qualify as a victory? Take that to a logical extreme and consider the possibility that the next Einstein or Pasteur might have need of social programs. How many such victories are required for the war to be a success? How can we determine how many of these successes we have had? More to the point, is victory and failure only to be defined in terms of unemployment statistics and crime rates?|

    2) It is implied with two separate quotes, one biblical and one mundane, that the poor are not doing enough to help themselves. This intern implies that the primary cause for the failure of the War on Poverty is self-determination, i.e. to say people are too lazy.

    There is no logical justification given for this view. No empirical evidence, nothing beyond the contention; people are intrinsically evil. In addition there are a number of other likely possibilities** (or combination thereof) that could explain the statistics. None of which are even explored let alone expressed to a degree that might provide support for this position as the central point in such a complex model.

    3) Assuming that man is in fact inherently evil and/or lazy, the position that the indolent when not given the alternative of social services will seek employment is contradictory. It would logically follow that those so inclined to avoid labor would turn to crime rather than difficult to acquire or low paying employment.

    4) It is directly posited that local communities (small pools)/charities are better suited to handling social needs than the federal government (or large pools). This is both mathematically unsound and historically unsupported.

    What you find in much of Appalachia are ‘single-industry’ communities. These communities have a quantitatively high percentage of the community employed in the same industry. Since the failure or decline of a single industry can destabilize the entire community. These communities are mathematically incapable of handling their own social needs. In addition non-standardized forms of charity are subject to personal biases (i.g. religion, race, gender, etc.) and therefore rarely meet the needs of a diverse community. *

    5) The assumption that the War on Poverty was ever meant to be ‘won’. I would submit that if only enough resources are expended to maintain the status quo, then progress is not a logical expectation. *

    I am done, I have expended perhaps four to six hours crafting this response. It would have taken twice that long to fully cite my opinions and I am simply too apathetic. If what I have offered here is not enough to convince you that your views are not fully realized or at least inspire you to do enough research to prove me wrong (which I would find very interesting if you do) then there is really nothing more I can do to change your mind.

    I will not be continuing this thread no matter your reply. So feel free to treat this response any way you like. Good day.

    * I am not inclined to do the math or the research to prove these contentions. They are offered as is and meant mainly to highlight other possibilities or views. If you are not inclined to concede them at least for the sake of the debate, there is little point in continuing to read.
    ** http://metrostudies.berkeley.edu/pubs/proceedings/Shrinking/12Leadbeater_PA_final.pdf

  5. Don Veinot says:

    In the original post I wrote:

    Although I am not suggesting we forsake the poor I am suggesting we follow the arguments used for abandoning the war on drugs to answer whether we should continue the War on Poverty.

    and

    my concern isn’t really the war on drugs per se but the criteria and how it is loosely applied in areas which liberals, whether political or religious, seem to apply to one issue while turning a blind eye to another equally important issue which is also failing for all of the same reasons used to abandon “The War on Drugs.” Why is that? There is a serious inconsistency of application by opting to make decisions based primarily on emotions. Like the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty is an abject failure and it is politically untouchable.

    By 1999 the Federal Government had spent over 5 trillion and we have had 13 years of unfettered spending since then. The percentages of the population in poverty are statistically about the same as they were when the War was started.

    Your first response contended that the blog explicitly or implicitly argued that welfare is the cause of people not working. I communicated in my reply that this wasn’t stated (it should be noted that you didn’t provide any such statements from my blog) and I clearly stated, “I don’t believe welfare causes laziness” I also went on to say, “someone not working is not necessarily because they are lazy, there may not be work available or as I state, some may not be physically able. There are other reasons some may need assistance.” There are a whole variety of reasons why a person or family may be living in poverty.

    I can find no compelling reason to defend a position I clearly never took to begin with. I am not even really arguing for or against The War on Drugs or The War on Poverty per se. My point was and continues to be that the Federal Government is an ineffective and very expensive vehicle to use in an attempt at fixing social issues, whether it is drugs or poverty.

    Your point about WV not even having enough jobs available is a valid one and, in my opinion, a role the Federal Government would have and could be used better would be to make it more (not less as they are now) conducive for businesses to start up in those areas. Perhaps a tax free zone for 5 or 10 years after the start up for those businesses which choose to take that risk and a stark reduction in the out of control Federal regulation. But again, that is another discussion for another day. For the moment, my main point was that if we take the criteria which is being used to claim the War on Drugs is a failure and apply it to the War on Poverty we find, with that criteria, that if one (the War on Drugs) is a failure than their other (the War on Poverty) is equally a failure. I am not sure if you think either has been successful but if so you have provided no basis for that position.

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