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The Great Society at 50

J.J. Summerell
J.J. Summerell
Brian Irving

When President Lyndon Johnson ushered in the Great Society 50 years ago, he had two admirable and noble objectives: eliminate poverty and eliminate racial injustice. One goal has been at least partially achieved, but eliminating the other has been an utter failure.

“Though we still have some degree of racial injustice, Johnson’s programs, and subsequent federal programs, have been quite successful at the goal of eliminating racial injustice in our society,” said J.J. Summerell, chair of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina.

“However, our goal of eliminating the scourge of poverty has been an utter failure,” he said. “In fact, many of our programs to relieve poverty seem to exacerbated the problem.”

Summerell pointed out that President Barack Obama confirmed that failure in his last State of the Union address, citing the growing dichotomy between high income and low income families in the United States.

“One of the most disturbing aspects of this failure is that there is no lack of will or resources on behalf of the American people to solve the problem of poverty,” Summerell wrote. “We are a wealthy and generous society and I believe we can eradicate poverty among our population.”

So why does poverty in the United States seems worse than ever today, he asks. The answer is simple: solving the plague of poverty is not a wise function for government, and would be more efficient and effective if administered on a private, voluntary basis.

“Americans are the most caring and giving people in the world,” Summerell observes. “For most of our history, voluntary mutual aid societies and spontaneous action by neighbors served to take care of the poor and people in need.”

He pointed out that before the War on Poverty was declared we rarely used the word welfare. Instead, charity was freely and cheerfully given by churches, service clubs, foundations, the United Way, and other agencies.

“The care was direct, personal, and tailored to individual needs,” he noted. “It was not a hand out, but a hand up, designed to lift those in need out of poverty or distress and into the workforce.”

Summerell said that War on Poverty, in contrast, recruited an army of bureaucrats whose lives depend on getting as many people on welfare as possible and keeping them there.

“About two-thirds of government welfare money goes to pay the salaries and benefits of middle class social workers,” he said. “That's enough for a family of four to receive $50,000 a year.”

“In contrast, two-thirds of the money donated to private charities goes to help the poor,” he said.

“If we have a sincere compassion for the less fortunate, and I think we do, then we need to take action – each one of us, individually and in groups – and not simply advise the government to throw more money at the problem,” he concludes. “Government is simply not the most appropriate vehicle for the delivery of charity.”