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State, national columnists

Liberals ignore true consequences of actions

By From page A11 | January 24, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on the topic of fact-free liberals. The final installment will publish Sunday.

Since this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty,” we can expect many comments and commemorations of this landmark legislation in the development of the American welfare state.

The actual signing of the “war on poverty” legislation took place in August 1964, so the 50th anniversary is some months away. But there have already been statements in the media and in politics proclaiming that this vast and costly array of anti-poverty programs “worked.”

Of course everything “works” by sufficiently low standards, and everything “fails” by sufficiently high standards. The real question is: What did the “war on poverty” set out to do – and how well did it do it, if at all?

Without some idea of what a person or a program is trying to do, there is no way to know whether what actually happened represented a success or a failure. When the hard facts show that a policy has failed, nothing is easier for its defenders than to make up a new set of criteria, by which it can be said to have succeeded.

That has in fact been what happened with the “war on poverty.”

Both President John F. Kennedy, who launched the proposal for a “war on poverty,” and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who guided the legislation through Congress and then signed it into law, were very explicit as to what the “war on poverty” was intended to accomplish.

Its mission was not simply to prove that spending money on the poor led to some economic benefits to the poor. Nobody ever doubted that. How could they?

What the war on poverty was intended to end was mass dependency on government. President Kennedy said, “We must find ways of returning far more of our dependent people to independence.”

The same theme was repeated endlessly by President Johnson. The purpose of the “war on poverty,” he said, was to make “taxpayers out of taxeaters.” Its slogan was “Give a hand up, not a handout.” When Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law, he declared: “The days of the dole in our country are numbered.”

Now, 50 years and trillions of dollars later, it is painfully clear that there is more dependency than ever.

Ironically, dependency on government to raise people above the poverty line had been going down for years before the “war on poverty” began. The hard facts showed that the number of people who lived below the official poverty line had been declining since 1960, and was only half of what it had been in 1950.

On the more fundamental question of dependency, the facts were even more clear. The proportion of people whose earnings put them below the poverty level – without counting government benefits – declined by about one-third from 1950 to 1965.

All this was happening before the “war on poverty” went into effect – and all these trends reversed after it went into effect.

Nor was this pattern unique. Other beneficial social trends that were going on before the 1960s reversed after other bright ideas of that decade were put into effect.

Massive “sex education” programs were put into schools, claiming that this was urgently needed to reduce a “crisis” of teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases. But teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases had both been going down for years.

The rate of infection for gonorrhea, for example, declined every year from 1950 through 1959, and the rate of syphilis infection was, by 1960, less than half of what it had been in 1950. Both trends reversed and skyrocketed after “sex education” became pervasive.

The murder rate had been going down for decades, and in 1960 was only half of what it had been in 1934. That trend suddenly reversed after the liberal changes in criminal laws during the 1960s. By 1974, the murder rate was more than twice as high as it had been in 1961.

While the fact-free liberals celebrate the “war on poverty” and other bright ideas of the 1960s, we are trying to cope with yet another “reform” that has made matters worse, “Obamacare.”

Thomas Sowell is an author, economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Thomas Sowell


Discussion | 28 comments

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  • Tax PayerJanuary 24, 2014 - 5:33 am

    I like it when someone presents the facts. Thank you.

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  • DanielJanuary 24, 2014 - 6:38 am

    If all libs read this and let it sink in they'd change their tune.

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  • Mr. SmithJanuary 24, 2014 - 7:05 am

    Just wait until more people who have been herded onto the medicaid rolls learn about MERP--the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program. This should be a hoot. I see another of Obama's emergency executive orders coming down the pike.

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  • rlw895January 24, 2014 - 9:04 am

    What's the ERP, and what's wrong with it?

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  • Mr. SmithJanuary 24, 2014 - 9:16 am

    All medicaid recipients automatically become part of this estate recovery program (MERP). It gives a state the right to claim all or part of that recipients estate (with some exceptions) after they die. The idea is to reimburse the government for their expenditures, up to the amount they actually expended, for a person's care. The immediate problem is that many of the newly enrolled folks rushed into the medicaid program without fully realizing the consequences or the existence of the MERP. The long-range confiscatory effect can also impact a deceased person's family or heirs.

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  • rlw895January 24, 2014 - 9:07 am

    How many times do we have to catch Sowell misleading before everyone realizes that's what he does for a living?

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  • It's too late!January 24, 2014 - 7:22 am

    It's my opinion the only possible way we can save our Country now is to put all registered democrats in concentration camps!

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  • ceeJanuary 24, 2014 - 7:54 am

    Nice article, your points have some validity. On the other hand you fail to mention the trillions wasted by conservatives on wars and hey, don't forget, you Reaganites created the 'war on drugs'. Why don't you go to your stat sheet on that one and show us drug use has more than tripled among teens since you championed that cause. Good job right wingers! Create a war on drugs and make Mexican drug cartels rich on American children!

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  • The MisterJanuary 24, 2014 - 7:56 am

    @ It's Too Late! Would those be the concentration camps authorized and built under George W's Patriot Act?

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  • Salty DogJanuary 24, 2014 - 9:17 am

    The Mister No they would be built buy over paid union workers the support the Democratic machine. And how can they be authorized by former President Bush It's Obama running the show now

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  • It's too late!January 24, 2014 - 9:50 am

    Obama and the Liberals have destroyed the private sector..they have destroyed healthcare...and now they got their crosshairs on the middle class! I'll say it again..The only way out of this mess is to put all registered Democrats in concentration camps!

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  • Puddin' TaneJanuary 24, 2014 - 2:07 pm

    @ It's too late! - I see the trolls are alive and well.

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  • rlw895January 24, 2014 - 9:00 am

    If Sowell had finished with the paragraph ending "more dependency than ever" I would agree with what he wrote. But that would not justify his thesis that "liberals ignore true consequences of action." Note he does not actually claim the War on Poverty caused the several trends he cites, not liberal ideas. Those trends can be explained by demographics. As the Baby Boomers have aged, all the characteristics associated with that age have trended up. Likewise, they have trended down as the Boomers leave that age. Sowell's partial use of facts is misleading. Does that make him "fact free?" No, but it does make him wrong.

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  • rlw895January 24, 2014 - 9:01 am

    *nor liberal ideas.

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  • GO AWAY......January 24, 2014 - 9:18 am

    Pinkie the insane liberal....I mean rlw

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  • Pinky's Turn, Your Friend Global DominationJanuary 24, 2014 - 10:55 am


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  • Dave ShreeveJanuary 24, 2014 - 9:43 am

    Bob Beckel, who worked in the State Dept for the Peanut Farmer (Carter), and who carries tons of water for Obama and the Democrats, has stated that all of the programs started under the aegis of the War on Poverty, while well intentioned, have been miserable failures.

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  • G-ManJanuary 24, 2014 - 10:53 am

    Beckel also carries quite a bit of water weight by himself.

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  • Mike KirchubelJanuary 24, 2014 - 1:14 pm

    The fact that here were 40 million Americans living in poverty in the 1960's and 46 million now does not account for the FACT that there are 123 more people living here now than there were then. If you look at the percentage of Americans living in poverty, the RATE is about 5% lower now - after the Great Republican Recession. Also, the definition of the term "poverty" keeps changing over time - during both Republican and Democratic administrations - for their own reasons. The two main components of the War on Poverty were Food Stamps and Medicare. If the Republicans hate those programs so much, why don't they campaign on ending them? Why don't they ask the voters for their support? That would be a great line for them to draw in the sand and defend.

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  • Mr. SmithJanuary 24, 2014 - 9:21 am

    Wow, RLW--I just wrote a response to your question about MERP, and for some reason it didn't post. Which thoroughly ticks me off. Thanks, DR.

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  • SavetheRepublicJanuary 24, 2014 - 11:16 am

    Mr. Sowell.....We need you to read the books Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution ( Ellen is running for California Treasurer you know ) and No More National Debt by Bill Still and comment. I feel this is even more important than Combating the spreading Disease of Liberalism at this point in time.....Please consider doing this....Please are you a propagandist for the right-Neocons just like some people are propagandists for the left? Also if you are a very smart person tell us how to get rid of the Federal Reserve without the International Bankers crashing our economy....Should be a fun intellectual academic exercise for someone of your prominence and analysis abilities.....I find flattery and being polite are often times an appropriate approach....Do you agree Mr. Sowell ? ( please have a soul Mr. Sowell and respond to my petition ) Thank you.

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  • Just Wondering Sowell ?...meant Wandering Soul George JonesJanuary 24, 2014 - 11:20 am


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  • Puddin' TaneJanuary 24, 2014 - 2:10 pm

    For the love of God, the Hoover Institute an be reached at (650) 723-1754, you'll have better luck reaching him by calling them than you will by posting to a website that he doesn't read.

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  • Puppin' PaneJanuary 24, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    For the love of God, nobody should suffer in silence.. National Hemorrhoid hotline can be reached at (415) 765-0413

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  • Puddin TaneJanuary 24, 2014 - 4:14 pm

    You got me good, "Farva". Maybe the enforcer will let you graduate from drinking from a sippy cup. Wouldn't bet on him letting you use the safety scissors though, we don't want things getting too wild before your "inevitable" play date with Sowell, now!

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  • http://www.hoover.org/taskforces/members/by-taskforceJanuary 24, 2014 - 3:30 pm

    Definitely a lot of make war not love types here....Condi Rice....Bomb Iran types......Philip Bobbitt .......Reuel Marc Gerecht ........George P. Shultz ect.....

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  • http://youtu.be/iQpD9LolO-kJanuary 24, 2014 - 3:58 pm

    A video summing up Alex Jones and his worldview in a nutshell. Nuff said.

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  • Rich GiddensJanuary 24, 2014 - 2:27 pm

    The libs and the government thugs are spoiling for a fight that will spin out of control and consume all.

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