Thursday, November 14, 2013

Libertarian BS About The Great Society Subsidizing Poverty

from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century ~ Joseph A. Califano Jr. (dob 5/15/1931) Special Assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson (7/26/1965 to 1/20/1969).

If there is one thing that Libertarians absolutely can not stand it is the idea that government can be a force to affect positive economic or societal change. Fact is, Libertarians strongly believe that government can't do anything right. One of their favorite pastimes is running down government and heaping praise on the so-called "free market". It's the answer to all our problems, doncha know?

If they aren't demonizing government, an institution that represents The People and works on their behalf (in so far as they haven't been bribed by the wealthy elites), then Libertarians are demonizing poor people; and the demonization of both is exemplified in this recent post by a Libertarian blog I check in from time to time.

Libertarian blogger: The poverty rate was coming down precipitously in this country and for the most part people weren't having children out of wedlock, and then came the Great Society. Thank you so much, the political class. ...this is one hell of a strong correlation and you know, YOU KNOW, that if the trend-lines had been plotted out in the opposite direction the left would have been singing and dancing that it was some sort of proof-positive that the Great Society was effective. And the fact that it makes such total fucking sense. Of course when you subsidize something you're going to get more of it. Hello! (11/12/2013 AT 7:43pm).

The poverty rate was coming down because our economy was growing due to industrialization and continuing innovation, for which, yes, we can thank the so-called "free market". But the reason EVERYONE benefited is because of the existence of unions; organizations that allowed workers to bargain for their share of the wealth. According to Mr. Libertarian Blogger (Mr. LB) Democrats can't blame Reagan, but it was Reagan who kicked off his presidency by declaring a war on working people, as Liberal Talker Thom Hartmann points out in his 2006 book Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class...

Thom Hartmann: We can easily trace decline [of unionization] to Reagan's first public declaration of war on the middle class when he went after the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981. He broke the back of the air-traffic controllers' union and began the practice of using the Department of Labor - traditionally the ally of workers - against organized labor and working people. (Excerpt from Thom's book reprinted by Alternet, 9/5/2006).

If you look at the graph Mr. LB includes with his post to "prove" that LBJ's war on poverty actually subsidized poverty and therefore increased it, you will get the impression that the Great Society didn't have much of an impact, but that is because the graph covers such a large period of time (1940-2010) and all the programs that comprised the Great Society were not actually fully in effect for very long, as noted by Wikipedia...

Wikipedia/The Great Society/The War On Poverty: The War on Poverty [began with] the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created the OEO to oversee a variety of community-based antipoverty programs. ... The OEO was dismantled by the Nixon and Ford administrations, largely by transferring poverty programs to other government departments. Funding for many of these programs were further cut in President Ronald Reagan's first budget in 1981.

Mr. Libertarian Blogger is criticizing a program that began in 1964 and for which the dismantling commenced only 5 years later (under Nixon who assumed office in 1969)? And, then there is the fact that Johnson got us involved in the Vietnam war the previous year (1963) and "Anti-war Democrats complained that spending on the Vietnam War choked off the Great Society". So, the programs were under-funded due to money spend on the Vietnam conflict, which brings us to what the actual criticism should be... a criticism the Lefty publication The Nation notes was levied by Martin Luther King...

Mark Engler, writing for The Nation: King criticized Johnson's War on Poverty for being too piecemeal. While housing programs, job training and family counseling were not themselves unsound, he wrote that "all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis... At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived". (Dr. Martin Luther King's Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom 1/15/2010).

The obvious conclusion is that the Great Society didn't do enough and it didn't do it long enough. Mr. LB did not present "one hell of a strong correlation" that the Great Society caused poverty to increase, as the short while that it was in place it did have an effect (as Joseph A. Califano Jr. points out in the quote at the top of my post).

As for the graph and conclusion drawn from it by Mr. LB that out-of-wedlock births have increased (again) due to the Great Society... this is a simple-minded conclusion (the kind of conclusions Conservatives and Libertarians excel at). The Brookings Institute analyzed the data, and their conclusion was that out-of-wedlock births in the United States increased due to "technology shock".

The researchers lay out their hypothesis as follows...

Brookings: In the late 1960s and very early 1970s (well before Roe v. Wade in January 1973) many major states, including NY and CA, liberalized their abortion laws. At about the same time it became easier for unmarried people to obtain contraceptives. ... We have found that this rather sudden increase in the availability of both abortion and contraception [caused] reproductive technology shock... In our view, it was the technology shock itself that, by eroding the age-old custom of shotgun marriage, paradoxically raised out-of-wedlock birth rates instead of lowering them. (An Analysis of Out-Of-Wedlock Births in the United States by George A. Akerlof and Janet L. Yellen of Brookings, 8/1996).

Why? Brookings concludes that...

Brookings: Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. But women who wanted children, who did not want an abortion for moral or religious reasons, or who were unreliable in their use of contraception found themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations without being able to exact a promise of marriage in case of pregnancy. (same credit as previous quote).

Thus out of wedlock births increased. Granted, this explanation is a little more complicated and nuanced than the one put forward by Libertarians and Conservatives who think like Mr. LB. It makes sense to me, in any case. More so than the notion that poor people prefer to live in poverty, so long as they're getting welfare from the government... and a poor woman will have kids out of wedlock on purpose just to get more bennies. Regarding that argument Brookings said...

Brookings: One argument that appeals to conservatives is that of Charles Murray, who attributes the increase to overly generous federal welfare benefits. But... welfare benefits could not have played a major role in the rise of out-of-wedlock births because benefits rose sharply in the 1960s and then fell in the 1970s and 1980s, when out-of-wedlock births rose most. (same credit as previous Brookings excerpt).

However, as I pointed out earlier, demonizing the poor is something Libertarians and Conservatives excel at. If you say the government can't help the poor (and in fact it makes poverty worse) then no money need be spent on these types of programs. There is therefore no need to tax the wealthy to help the less fortunate (as it only harms them). And, let us not forget that it's their own fault for being lazy and preferring to lie back in the social safety net hammock instead of working hard to get ahead.

But most people do not prefer to only get by. Most people do work hard but simply can't get ahead... as the plutocrats are taking more and more, which is easier for them to do since Reagan and his war on unions. It certainly is no coincidence that Libertarians and Conservatives also hate unions, as unions allow workers to bargain for higher wages. Also, it is no coincidence that Libertarians and Conservatives love free trade, as that also drives down wages for working folks. Hello!

SWTD #218, wDel #41.


  1. Will Hart: [Poverty under Reagan] eventually went down and the economy did exceedingly well for years. (11/13/2013 at 5:14pm)

    Will's own chart says otherwise (in so far as his bogus claim that the poverty rate went down under Reagan after initially "ticking up"). What chutzpah Will has that he'd actually believe that he could get away with this blatant falsehood... while at the same time posting the evidence which shows his claim to be incredibly wrong!

    The following is an excerpt from THE NATION magazine that describes Reagan's war on the poor...

    During his two terms in the White House (1981–89), Reagan presided over a widening gap between the rich and everyone else, declining wages and living standards for working families, an assault on labor unions as a vehicle to lift Americans into the middle class, a dramatic increase in poverty and homelessness... During Reagan's two terms in the White House, the minimum wage was frozen at $3.35 an hour, while prices rose, thus eroding the standard of living of millions of low-wage workers. The number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988.

    Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, cut funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the antipoverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. These cutbacks had a disastrous effect on cities with high levels of poverty and limited property tax bases... in 1980 federal dollars accounted for 22% of big city budgets [but] by the end of Reagan's second term, federal aid was only 6%. The consequences were devastating to urban schools and libraries, municipal hospitals and clinics, and sanitation, police and fire departments - many of which had to shut their doors. Many cities still haven't recovered from the downward spiral started during the Gipper's presidency. (Reagan's Real Legacy by Peter Dreier, 2/4/2011)

  2. Sounds like Will really went off the deep end on this one! SMH.

    One reason for the increase in out-of-wedlock births, (what a moralistic judgment!) probably had more to do with the sexual revolution. Clearly the advent of the pill, etc. coincided with this cultural phenomenon. But personally, I think it had more to do with really cute hippie chicks.

    If I'm not mistaken, Will is a little bit too young to have "come of age," so to speak in the 1970s. So instead of having lived through the 1960s and 1970s, he's just randomly pulling utter nonsense out of right wing think tanks and conservative blogs and newsletters. But to his credit, he toes the line of economic warfare and does not delve into race politics. Good for you Will.

    1. Actually, he does delve into race politics. Will is a strong believer that poor African-Americans suffer from "learned helplessness" and vote Democratic so they can continue to get government handouts. And he strongly believes that (at least some) Dems support the "welfare state" for this very reason.


      Will Hart: Just correcting the record. And have the progressives really moved on, Jerry? Or have they simply segued into a softer (yet equally virulent) form of bigotry? (11/6/2013 AT 3:47pm)

      The "bigotry" Will speaks of is Democrats keeping poor African-Americans down via welfare benefits. Take away welfare and (in his mind) poor AAs wouldn't be able to rely on the benefits... instead they'd realize they had to work to support themselves... and when they did many would become richer and stop voting Democratic. It's a twisted rationale and in my mind quite racist... even if Will isn't aware that the argument is racist, it is.

    2. I feel bad making fun of Will over here. but I just can't stand to read his blog. It's like walking through dog shit.

  3. Mr. LB's comments concerning poverty and out of wedlock births left me speechless. It is so ridiculous. I think this is clearly a case where correlation does not mean causation. I just did not have the energy to pursue it. Thank you for picking up the gauntlet.

  4. Mooooooooooo-ch-Hell Ubunga is the missing link. Shes a she-boog just like that dike married to Mayor NeGrasio


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