How not to end poverty

By Tom Quiner

“The poor will always be with us” said Jesus.

“We don’t buy your assertion,” said America. To the credit of this nation, we have devoted 15 trillion dollars in an attempt to prove Jesus wrong.

Each year, the U.S. spends about a trillion dollars at the federal, state, and local levels in an attempt to alleviate poverty.

We have created 126 different anti-poverty programs at the federal level and erected vast bureaucracies to oversee their administration.

Today, the poverty level is defined as being about $20,000 per year.  We spend that much and a little more per person fighting poverty.

Has it worked? Has the “war on poverty” initiated by Lyndon Johnson in the mid 1960,s made a dent in our poverty rate? Some programs have worked well, others are questionable.

As the chart nearby shows, the poverty rate then is about the same as now. There have been periods of significant improvements only to see them fall by the wayside.


U.S. poverty rateThe Cato Institute studied the data and our historic approaches to fighting poverty. They suggest we have focused too much on making folks below the poverty line too comfortable at the expense of creating opportunity for them to move beyond poverty. In other words, have we created a lifestyle of dependence upon the state?

Says the author of the study, Mike Tanner:

“All of this suggests that the answer to poverty lies not in the expansion of the welfare state, but in building the habits and creating the conditions that lead to prosperity.”


“We should end those government policies — high taxes and regulatory excess — that inhibit growth and job creation. We should protect capital investment and give people the opportunity to start new businesses. We should reform our failed government school system to encourage competion and choice. We should encourage the poor to save and invest.”

Or as Jesus, said:

“Give a man to fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”