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The insane failure of the “war on poverty”

Posted: January 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm   /   by

A few days ago, we posted “The inmates are running the asylum . . . and it’s driving business abroad,” which included this discussion of the aphorism “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

And that, of course, is where the definition of insanity comes in. They keep doing this, again and again. There are mountains of evidence showing that it does not work. Internationally and historically, there is a list of countries who have tried to follow this course and failed miserably. And study after study show that the more economic freedom a country enjoys, the better off human life is in that country—and conversely, the less economic freedom in a country, the worse life is for the people of that country.

And yet, undaunted, the forces of big government and big regulation march merrily on. Even more repellently, they continually sell their own ideas by ascribing the worst motivations to everyone else . . .

Recently, the Daily News in Bowling Green, KY, had an article on the war on poverty that struck this same chord:

In 1964, the poverty rate was about 19 percent. Census data from 2010 indicates that 15.1 percent are in poverty within a much larger population.

The lack of government programs did not cause poverty, and spending vast sums of money has not eliminated it.

A policy analysis by the Cato Institute found that federal and state anti-poverty programs have cost $15 trillion over the last five decades but have had little effect on the number of people living in poverty. That amounts to $20,610 per poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three. If the government had sent them a check they might have been better off.

Think about that. The government is throwing money at a problem but not making it any better. In fact, it’s doing such a poor job of creating programs that help people that it would be better if they money they spent were simply sent in the form of a check to each family.

And the situation is far worse than simply throwing money down a hole and getting no results. In fact, the results have been negative:

Unfortunately, the war on poverty neglected a key component: human nature. Substantial numbers of people came to rely on government benefits and thus lost any sense of personal responsibility. Teenage girls knew they could get a check from the government if they had babies and so they had them, often more than one. The law discouraged fathers from living with, much less marrying, the mothers of their children and so legions of “single mothers” became the norm, and the lack of male leadership in the home contributed to additional cycles of poverty, addicting new generations to government.

When President Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform bill in 1996, liberals screamed that people would starve in the streets. They didn’t. Many got jobs when they knew the checks would cease.

Failure to accomplish the goals established for the programs? $15 trillion dollars

Amount spent per person? $20,610

Actually causing problems where there were none before? Priceless.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook

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The insane failure of the "war on poverty"