Before you can assess the success or failure of a program you must first understand the mission. Then, with the objectives of the mission in mind, one can measure success or failure.
If you set the bar low enough or modify the mission, then anything can look like a success. Conversely, everything fails if standards are sufficiently high.
Thomas Sowell discusses those ideas, in relation to the war on poverty, in Fact-Free Liberals.
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.”
The real question is: What did the “war on poverty” set out to do — and how well did it do it, if at all?
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.
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 clearer. 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.
By any reasonable measurement of war on poverty mission statements made by presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the war on poverty was a miserable failure.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock