War on Poverty is Ultimately Futile

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stood in front of Congress and delivered his annual State of the Union address.

Since this date, the U.S. government has established specific federal agencies aimed at directing revenue towards those living in impoverished circumstances.

Johnson, along with a largely Democratic 89th Congress, succeeded in passing legislation creating, among other things, the Office of Economic Opportunity, Medicare, and Medicaid.

These programs reinforced the idea that our government had a moral obligation to help the poor; Johnson’s Great Society program increased the federal government’s role in providing for the positive rights of its citizens to a never-before-seen extent.

More than 50 years removed from this Congress, however, poverty has not been eliminated. In fact, thanks to the catastrophic economic mess we’re in, it has actually accelerated. Sadly, it’s the degree of acceleration that is being hotly debated, not the fact that it has accelerated.

A new statistical release from the U.S. Census Bureau claims that the number of Americans living in poverty has soared by 10 million.

The New York Times recently analyzed information provided by the Census Bureau and came to the conclusion that the statistics regarding income were somewhat flawed; the Bureau, for instance, didn’t take into account money poor people receive from the government’s own wallet.

Statistics aside, however, poverty is obviously an issue one should be concerned about, and rightfully so. After all, how can one law-abiding citizen justly live in better conditions than another?

Yet this “War on Poverty” Johnson started in 1964, that has spent millions of tax dollars trying to help those in need, fails to recognize an important element of capitalism.

Maybe, in order for society to accumulate wealth under capitalism and improve living conditions for its middle class and elite, these improvements must be done at the expense of someone else.

If this is the case, the logic that follows, then, is this: Maybe poverty cannot be eliminated.

Affirmative action and policies intended to equalize the economic playing field might be fair as reparations for unjust actions of the past, but the rules are instituted at the expense of other citizens and workers within the economy. Under capitalism, someone is going to lose.

In America’s case, her companies, for example, have outsourced jobs to foreign countries in order to take advantage of cheap labor. American workers, then, have also lost.

It is important to remember that economic advancements under capitalism are always done at the expense of someone else — whether they are affected at a local level or at a more indirect way.

So yes, capitalism provides wealth for many and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs for others; yet it also maintains poverty and assures its existence.

Poverty can be alleviated, not eliminated.


Reach the columnist at spmccaul@asu.edu. Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.

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