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January 10, 2014

Paul Krugman: The War Over Poverty

The changing politics of poverty:
The War Over Poverty, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Fifty years have passed since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. ... For a long time, everyone ... “knew” that the war on poverty had been an abject failure. And they knew why: It was the fault of the poor themselves. But what everyone knew wasn’t true, and the public seems to have caught on.
The narrative went like this: ...poverty ... was basically a social problem — a problem of broken families, crime and a culture of dependence that was only reinforced by government aid. And because this narrative was so widely accepted, bashing the poor was good politics...
Yet this view of poverty, which may have had some truth to it in the 1970s, bears no resemblance to anything that has happened since.
For one thing, the war on poverty has, in fact, achieved quite a lot..., evidence ... points to a big improvement in the lives of America’s poor...
And if progress against poverty has nonetheless been disappointingly slow ... blame rests not with the poor..., the problem of poverty has become part of the broader problem of rising income inequality...
So how should we respond to this reality?
The conservative position, essentially, is that we shouldn’t respond. Conservatives ... treat every beneficiary of a safety-net program as if he or she were “a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.” And why not? After all, for decades their position was a political winner, because middle-class Americans saw “welfare” as something that Those People got but they didn’t.
But that was then. At this point, the rise of the 1 percent at the expense of everyone else is so obvious that it’s no longer possible to shut down any discussion of rising inequality with cries of “class warfare.” Meanwhile, hard times have forced many more Americans to turn to safety-net programs. And as conservatives have responded by defining an ever-growing fraction of the population as morally unworthy “takers” ... they have made themselves look callous and meanspirited. ...
Meanwhile, progressives are on offense. They have decided that inequality is a winning political issue. They see war-on-poverty programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned-income tax credit as success stories... And if these programs enroll a growing number of Americans ... so what?
So guess what: On its 50th birthday, the war on poverty no longer looks like a failure. It looks, instead, like a template for a rising, increasingly confident progressive movement.

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