Was the War on Poverty too Ambitious (Part I)
Can the War on Poverty be won in America? That depends on how you define what victory looks like. If you are the eternal optimist that presumes somehow our government or the free-market or church and private organizations will eliminate poverty during our lifetime and one day relegate it to a history museum, then you may be sorely disappointed. That does not mean that we should wave the white flag and surrender the fight against poverty. Nevertheless, we need to step back and gain a wide-angle view of the interwoven web of multiple moral, social, and economic issues that perpetuate poverty. Poverty is much too complex of an enemy than “pundits” compel us to believe. It is much more than “a lack of money, period” as left-wing social commentators Cornel West and Tavis Smily have passionately declared in their poverty manifesto. And so much more than a series of bad choices and habits by the poor as Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey recently insinuated in his “20 things the rich do everyday” article. Such sweeping generalizations and simplistic solutions do not paint a realistic portrait of 21st century poverty in America, but rather reinforce the tired old stereotypes within political debates between the left and right that dominate traditional and social media.
Nonetheless, my purpose for writing this particular post is not to explore in detail each cause of poverty, but rather bring to light the multiplicity of poverty to bring us back to the question: Was the war on poverty too ambitious and too optimistic? Did our progressive elders put all of their social change eggs in the government basket, believing that large-scale interventions totaling trillions of dollars could, for instance, prevent or counter the colossal phenomenon of the breakdown of the traditional family, a major contributor to poverty? Studies show when fathers are no longer present in the home, it results in the increasing number of children growing up in poverty. But that’s not all. Without a father, more teenagers end up dropping out of school, more teenage girls get pregnant, and more teen boys get locked up, all of which lead to even more poverty! All the money in the world cannot fix the broken relationships that correspond with the disintegration of the family.
Ironically many of my progressive friends and fellow poverty-fighters, especially those who are post-modern, post-9/11, post-baby boom, post-industrial, post-Christian, post-war, seem to give a free pass to the high-modernist ideology that assumes the all-encompassing proficiency of the state to harness all of its available power, redistribute financial resources and create a plethora of social programs that will result in the eradication of poverty. The past century is littered with the unintended consequences of failed schemes from ambitious governments (including our own) who presumed that their central planning, knowledge, technology, and ideology could create a grand utopian society. But then again, as a Bible-believing Christian, I am confronted with a certain verse in Scripture (Duet 15:4) that seems to advocate the ideal of poverty eradication, “there need be no poor among you……” Or does it? More to come next week with part II with “Was the War on Poverty too Ambitious?”