The View From 1776

New Orleans and Germany

One definition of insanity is endlessly repeating an experiment that always fails, often with disastrous consequences, each time expecting success.

German voters, sinking into the quicksands of socialism with skyrocketing welfare expenditures and rapidly declining economic productivity, yesterday rejected Angela Merkel’s call for reforms of the kind with which Ronal Reagan and Margaret Thatcher revitalized England and the United States.  Instead they gave a nearly equal number of votes to Gerhard Schroeder’s socialist party, preferring the slow asphyxiation of the welfare state to the fresh air of individual hard work and personal responsibility. 

In the same vein, today’s Washington Post carries an editorial contending that: “Hurricane Katrina, and the accompanying coverage of the overwhelmingly poor and black evacuees hit hardest by the storm, has rekindled the national debate about poverty and race, offering a sobering reminder, four decades later, that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “unconditional war on poverty in America” is far from over.”

The ethos of servility, the mentality of slavery, is common to both the German voters’ decision and the Washington Post’s editorial.  It reflects a willingness to accept President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 proclamation that the United States had found the original Bill of Rights inadequate and had adopted a Second Bill of Rights, which he summed up as Security in exchange for becoming dependent upon the socialistic National State.

Given its unbroken record of failure, only a sincerely devoted worshipper at the altar of atheistic, secular, and materialistic socialism could possibly still support revival and expansion of the welfare state.  Since political leaders aren’t that blind, we are left to conclude that they are engaged in a cynical scheme to buy votes, knowing that their programs will only make conditions worse for poor blacks and whites.

The Post editorial’s title, “The Other America, 2005,” is a reference to a 1962 book, “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” arguably the most grievously consequential intellectual work of the period.  It became required reading for the Kennedy administration?s New Frontiersmen. 

The author was Michael Harrington, an influential liberal and the chairman of the American Socialist party.  His thesis was that large sectors of the population remained permanently in poverty, no matter how prosperous the general economy.  As had the settlement house socialists at the turn of the century, Mr. Harrington spoke of ?structural poverty?, the idea that our society of Jeffersonian individualism had created this poverty and, furthermore, made it impossible for the poor ever to escape poverty by their own efforts.  Social justice, in liberal-socialist theory, required the political state to eliminate poverty.

Social justice?s starting point is the repeatedly-disproved idea that giving money to people who don?t produce goods or services of equal value will eliminate poverty and promote equality.  What it does produce is inflation and declining productivity, tending to make everyone equally poor.

Mr. Harrington?s solution to structural poverty therefore was a lot more government spending, forever, and a raft of new welfare agencies to provide income, housing, clothing, medical treatment, and spiritual uplift to the ?invisible? one-third of America. 

Harrington declared, ?In order to do this, there is a need for planning.?What is needed is that the society make use of its knowledge in a rational and systematic way.?  Of course, states and cities are incapable of doing this; ??only the Federal Government has the power to abolish poverty.?as a place for coordination, for planning, and the establishment of national standards.? 

After President Kennedy?s assassination, President Johnson implemented Harrington’s socialist-party program with his Great Society, which made a sharp break with all past welfare programs by introducing the age of entitlements.  President Johnson declared to students at Howard University?s graduation ceremony that the ?next and most profound stage of the battle for civil rights? will be ?not just equality as a right and theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.?  Not equal opportunity under the law, but increased handouts to redistribute income and wealth equally.

Past programs had offered temporary relief to workers without jobs and long term assistance to the disabled, widows, and orphans. Beneficiaries had to meet legislated tests of eligibility.  Under the Great Society, anyone with a pulse was entitled to receive Federal aid, and to do so forever, provided that he was a member of a favored social or racial class.

Going on welfare, in effect, became a career choice.  Welfare ?clients? were entitled to welfare benefits and they owed nothing to society.  Since, in socialist theory, it was society?s fault that they were needy, they had no obligation to seek work or to limit the number of their illegitimate children.  Nor was there any reason, moral or legal, that they and their progeny should not collect these benefits forever.  Liberals, harking back to FDR?s Second Bill of Rights declaration in 1944, called this a Constitutional right.

Michael Harrington?s 1968 “Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority” expressed the sense of the Great Society paradigm: 

?Even in a society based on private economic power, the Government can be an agency of social, rather than corporate, purpose?This does not require a fundamental transformation of the system.  It does, however, mean that the society will democratically plan ?uneconomic? allocations of significant resources.?Under such conditions it would be possible to realize full ? and meaningful ? employment for all those ready and able to work. 

“Going beyond the quantities of the the New Deal, the economy could be stimulated by promoting the affluence of the public sector rather than by tax cuts, and in the process millions of creative jobs can be designed to better the nation?s education, health, leisure, and the like.  Within twenty years such a policy of social investments should end all poverty, eradicate the slums and erode the economic basis of racism.

“And those people who are unable to work could be provided with a guaranteed annual income instead of shoddy, uncoordinated and inadequate welfare payments.??

“The very character of modern technology, [Harvard economist John] Galbraith says, renders the old market mechanisms obsolete.  In these circumstances planning is obligatory.  The state must manage the economy in order to guarantee sufficient purchasing power to buy the products of the industrial system.?

From the perspective of forty years it is possible to review the actual results of the Great Society and of Mr. Harrington?s prescription. 

?Promoting the affluence of the public sector? as a means of stimulating the economy meant simply putting more people on the public payrolls.  This is what Al Gore called “creating jobs” with environmental programs.  The only results are inflation from more money in the economy without an increase in useful goods and services, together with declining productivity, as more people stop working altogether and businesses have to cope with extra paper work and tens of thousands of new regulations.

There is no evidence that this did anything to eradicate poverty or racism, if one is to believe black spokesmen like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, then and now in New Orleans. 

Huge portions of Federal aid went to buy alcohol and drugs, stimulating drug dealing in minority neighborhoods.  Almost none of it went into savings for a better future, which mattered less than in the past, because families were increasingly single-parent mothers with illegitimate offspring.

Within five years after institution of the Great Society, we were in the hitherto unknown waters of economic stagflation: an economy dead in the water, while prices of everything soared and interest rates, even on prime credits, leaped toward 20 percent per annum, levels never before endured in this country. 

With increasing numbers of people doing no productive work, while welfare and Vietnam War spending flooded the economy with cash, price levels by 2002 were more than four times greater than when the Great Society started.  The Federal government had effectively stolen three quarters of the value of savings by people who had worked to educate their children and fund their retirement years.

In what was called “moonlighting,” men had to hold two and three jobs to pay rising costs of food, clothing, and heating.  Women too were thrust into the full-time work force to help pay the bills.  Between 1960 and 1980, the number of women in the labor force increased 96%, compared to only a 33% increase in the number of men.  By 1980, women accounted for 43% of the entire full-time working population.  Clearly the forced separation of so many mothers from their children was related to the explosion of drug addiction and crime in the 1970s among children and young adults.

The full-blast impact of the Great Society is illustrated by New York City?s experience, where Michael Harrington?s message was taken to heart more than anywhere else in the nation. 

According to Nathan Glazer, a prominent member of the New York socialist intellectual community, New York City in the 1960s and 1970s essentially abandoned its critical role of collecting garbage, policing crime, and building and maintaining roads, bridges, and subways.  Yet public spending by the city tripled, while housing, health care, and education declined in availability and quality.  Most of the increased city spending was absorbed by welfare payments and unemployment compensation.  What also rose, at a spectacular rate, was the number of public employees, particularly in the teachers? union.

No one objectively surveying the facts can claim that increased spending improved the city?s quality of life for the poor or the rich.  Between 1960 and 1990, as social justice became City Hall?s primary focus, the city?s population declined, and 109 of the 140 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Manhattan moved elsewhere. 

Worse, composition of the city?s population shifted drastically.  High-income, tax-paying, and socially responsible middle class citizens abandoned the city for the suburbs (the same process that occurred in New Orleans), while hundreds of thousands of illiterate or poorly-educated people from other states and, above all, from Puerto Rico flooded into the city and inundated its welfare system.  The highest level of welfare benefits in the nation was too good a deal to be ignored. Why work for poor wages elsewhere when you could improve your status by coming to New York and not have to work at all?

Spending for basic governmental functions, such as policing, fire-fighting, and sanitation, dropped 32 percent.  While the police, fire, and sanitation departments were being squeezed, the number of school system employees doubled.  Yet, of the $14.5 billion spent on social services (an amount more than ten times the total budget for the city of Houston), only $3 billion went to the poor in direct payments.  The rest, seventy-nine percent of the total, almost four of every five dollars, was spent on a vast expansion of the administrative bureaucracy.

One of the claims made for social justice, starting with Rousseau in the 1750s, is that redistributing wealth to achieve social justice will eliminate crime, because the poor will no longer be poor and will have no need to resort to crime.  In other words, criminals are the victims of the society that protects private property. 

In real life, outside liberal fantasy-land, while welfare-related spending tripled, violent crime rose exponentially.  Large sections of Harlem and other neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant were reduced, building-by-building, to burned-out hulks occupied by drug dealers.  In the bad old days before the New Deal, people could safely cool off on steamy summer nights in the city?s parks.  Under the caring, social-justice administrations of the 1960s and 1970s, doing so was an almost certain way to get raped, mugged, or murdered.

This, of course, is precisely the process that occurred at the same time in New Orleans and produced the looting, raping, and murders witnessed in the aftermath of Katrina.

Charles R. Morris (“The Cost of Good Intentions: New York City and the Liberal Experiment, 1960-1975”) points out that one effect of the great experiment in liberal social justice was making the city heavily dependent upon state and Federal aid.  The city accepted servile dependence upon the political whims of Albany and Washington in return for ?security.?  Its vast complex of welfare, Medicaid, social services, subsidized public transportation, public radio stations, schools, and city hospitals could not be supported by the city?s diminishing level of business and its dwindling tax base.

To finance its enormous enlargement of welfare-related spending, the city developed, in Professor Glazer?s words, ?the most complex, irritating, and, indeed, destructive tax system of any city.?  In the middle 1960s, a city income tax was levied, in addition to endless new fees on every imaginable form of economic activity. 

Even with all its new taxes and fees, New York City?s outstanding debt almost doubled between 1964 and 1974.  By 1975, the city effectively defaulted on all its debt and had to be bailed out by Washington.

Middle-class citizens left in huge numbers, and businesses discovered that they no longer needed to be located in a crime-ridden, graffiti-covered, bureaucratically high-handed city with one of the nation?s worst public school systems, a city in which the costs of doing business came to be roughly two to four times higher than elsewhere in the nation?s major cities.

The rest of the nation, in varying degrees, suffered similarly.

Social justice has a high-minded ring to it.  Politicians, of course, became great ?humanitarian? champions in the eyes of fellow liberals and of the enormously enlarged classes of welfare beneficiaries whose votes had been bought and paid for.

A sober assessment in the cold light of dawn, however, is that the Washington Post’s editorial amounts to complicity in a true crime against humanity.

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