In a recent review of the new book by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz entitled The Great Divide, reviewer Brian Wesbury writes this:
” A running theme of the book is that the American dream is dead because policy makers have failed to implement truly liberal policies. But for the past 50 years, liberals have gotten almost exactly what they wanted. Between 1950 and 1965, government spending outside of defense was just 7.8% of GDP. Liberals weren’t happy with that, so they proposed to make American a “Great Society” by creating the modern welfare state along with Medicare and Medicaid. After five decades of growth in these redistribution programs, nondefense government spending is now 16.8% of GDP……………….Liberals are like the dog that finally caught the car. Now what will they do?”
Good question. And, as we recognize the 50th anniversary of the release of the U. S. Department of Labor report titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action”, better known as The Moynihan Report after its author Daniel Patrick Moynihan, particularly in light of the recent series of events in Ferguson, Charleston, and Baltimore, it is more than fair to expect some accountability and to wonder what we have gained from this transformation of American society. The amount of treasure expended in the various Great Society programs originally dubbed the “war on poverty” now totals approximately $12-15 trillion, depending on whose numbers one uses, yet Stiglitz and his fellow travelers on every channel of communication call for even more funding, a “national urban strategy”, a “conversation” about race, etc., etc., etc.
When the report was released in 1965, 25% of black births were to unmarried mothers and this was characterized as a looming disaster. Today, that number is 72%. The comparable numbers for whites are 5% in 1965 and 36% today, so the disaster is well past the looming stage, and the meaning of single motherhood has changed, making it even worse. In 1960, 95% of unmarried mothers had been married at some time in the past; by 2003, only 50% had ever been married. These numbers alone are plenty of evidence that, in spite of some progress in lifting the worst burdens of poverty, this massive experiment has been an abject failure in terms of the societal dysfunction that has been the result. Again, liberals caught the dog a long time ago, and have no plan about what to do now.
One of the helpful things they could do right away is to stop listening to people like Stiglitz and start reading and listening to people like young black leader Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal, who, in his book, Please Stop Helping Us, suggests that they could do better to focus much less on racial grievances and much more on prevalent ghetto attitudes towards school, work, marriage, and child-rearing. For this is not about race, it’s about the creation, through a half century of misguided government intervention, of a culture of dependency that is in its third generation. They could also pay attention to David Brooks, whose writings have lately taken a spiritual and moral direction, to his credit, and who has recently noted the social cost of the moral relativism that permeates our society. He writes: “The first response to these stats and to these profiles should be intense sympathy…….But it’s increasingly clear that sympathy is not enough. It’s not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles; it’s norms. The health of a society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens……….Reintroducing norms will require, first, a moral vocabulary. These norms weren’t destroyed because of people with bad values. They were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism”. Amen.
There are any number of other changes in approach that would be helpful, but first will be required the realization on the part of liberal elites that more government is not the answer and, despite all its best intentions, the unintended consequences of the Great Society have done much more harm than good. I would like to think that most of the responsible among them will have the intellectual honesty to do so.