Let a vigorous economy fight the war on poverty

Republican Sen. George Aiken of Vermont became a political icon when he encouraged President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 to declare victory and withdraw from the war in Vietnam.

Forty-four years later, as Americans ponder annual trillion-dollar-plus federal deficits as far as the fiscal eye can see and a national debt approaching $14 trillion, it is worth considering whether Aiken’s suggestion bears application to LBJ’s other call to arms: the war on poverty. LBJ declared that war in 1964, and it is still being fought today.

Besides creating Medicare in 1965 — which has become the costliest of all entitlements — LBJ’s mobilization of millions of federal bureaucrats, consultants, academic experts and political opportunists ignited the social-welfare spending explosion that has plunged the nation into a fiscal abyss.

Whatever its original nobility of purpose, government data demonstrate that LBJ’s war on poverty has been lost. Despite everything Washington has done, the official poverty rate stubbornly stays within a range of 11 to 15 percent of the national population, year in and year out.

As the Heritage Foundation’s Morning Bell noted earlier this year, the U.S. has spent $15.9 trillion since 1964 on means-tested welfare programs. After adjusting for inflation, welfare spending is 13 times higher today than it was in 1965. Welfare spending has grown more rapidly than Social Security, Medicare, education and defense.

But instead of producing an economic Valhalla, Washington remains mired in a war without end, with no exit strategy and a casualty list in the millions: According to the Census Bureau, a record-high 3.7 million Americans fell into poverty in 2009. The out-of-wedlock birthrate is now 40 percent, and the black out-of-wedlock birthrate is 72 percent. When the war on poverty began, the out-of-wedlock birthrate was just 7 percent.

Former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson won plaudits last week for their efforts as co-chairmen of President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Their report recommended a host of measures designed to close the deficit without causing riots in the streets like those seen recently in Britain and Greece.

But the Bowles-Simpson report ignored the elephant in Washington’s living room represented by the failed war on poverty and its paradigmatic assumption that federal spending and regulation can lift the poor, assure security to the elderly and guarantee health to all. A new paradigm is needed: that the most important thing government can do to combat poverty is to encourage a growing economy that creates millions of new jobs, rewards hard work and provides opportunity.

The Examiner will return often to this issue in the days ahead, because it’s not enough just to balance the federal budget and pay down the national debt.

editorialsExaminer editorialOpinionSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott leaves the scene of an officer-involved shooting at Brannan Street and Jack London Alley in the South Park area on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chief Scott issues rare apology to man shot by SF police

Officer says he ‘did not intend for his firearm to go off’

Despite the pandemic, San Francisco has ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Better than expected tax revenues leave city with $157.3M surplus for this year

As the fiscal year nears an end and Mayor London Breed prepares… Continue reading

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa hold a photo of their brother Sean Monterrosa, who was killed by a Vallejo police officer early Tuesday morning, as they are comforted at a memorial rally at the 24th Street Mission BART plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
State Department of Justice to investigate Sean Monterrosa shooting by Vallejo police

Attorney General Rob Bonta steps in after Solano County DA declines case

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Most Read