Ready to go! President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty had some important successes, but
it got at least one thing very wrong: Its leaders used the language of civil rights
to talk about income and poverty. Financial assistance from the government
is not a right! It’s not protected by the Constitution like religious freedom or
freedom of speech. Using the language of rights led to two big mistakes. First, it
told people in need that they had no role in improving their economic
situation; the government would take care of everything. And second, it led to a
misguided effort to use Congress and federal courts to impose uniform
anti-poverty policies on every state. Helping people struggling with poverty doesn’t
work that way! Individual responsibility plays a role.
It’s not always sufficient – but it is essential – and federal mandates often
mean decision makers are too far removed from what is happening in cities and
states. Our anti-poverty programs work best when we insist on some effort by
those seeking assistance, and we allow states to devise the best approaches. What do you think about Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty? Let us know your comments.
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