The Slow Decline of America Since LBJ Launched the Great Society

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May 16, 2014George F. Will writes: Standing on his presidential limousine, Lyndon Johnson, campaigning in Providence, R.I., in September 1964, bellowed through a bullhorn: “We’re in favor of a lot of things and we’re against mighty few.” This was a synopsis of what he had said four months earlier.

“In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time”; today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much; the latter is one consequence of his doing so.”

Fifty years ago this Thursday, at the University of Michigan, Johnson had proposed legislating into existence a Great Society. It would end poverty and racial injustice, “but that is just the beginning.” It would “rebuild the entire urban United States” while fending off “boredom and restlessness,” slaking “the hunger for community” and enhancing “the meaning of our lives” — all by assembling “the best thought and the broadest knowledge.”

In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time”; today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much; the latter is one consequence of his doing so.

[Read the full text here, at the Washington Post]

Barry Goldwater, Johnson’s 1964 opponent who assumed that Americans would vote to have a third president in 14 months, suffered a landslide defeat. After voters rebuked FDR in 1938 for attempting to 41npsm-1StL._SL250_“pack” the Supreme Court, Republicans and Southern Democrats prevented any liberal legislating majority in Congress until 1965. That year, however, when 68 senators and 295 representatives were Democrats, Johnson was unfettered.

[Order the book “The Great Society at Fifty: The Triumph and the Tragedy” from Amazon.com]

He remains, regarding government’s role, much the most consequential 20th-century president. Indeed, the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt, in his measured new booklet The Great Society at Fifty: The Triumph and the Tragedy,” says LBJ, more than FDR, “profoundly recast the common understanding of the ends of governance.”

When Johnson became president in 1963, Social Security was America’s only nationwide social program. His programs and those they subsequently legitimated put the nation on the path to the present, in which changed social norms — dependency on government has been destigmatized — have changed America’s national character.

Between 1959 and 1966 — before the War on Poverty was implemented — the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by about one-third, from 22.4 to 14.7, slightly lower than in 2012. But, Eberstadt cautions, the poverty rate is “incorrigibly misleading” because government transfer payments have made income levels and consumption levels significantly different. Read the rest of this entry »


Kirsten Powers: The Age Of Un-Enlightenment

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When people are afraid to express their opinions because they’ve seen other people treated as deviants deserving of public shaming or worse, they will be less likely to speak freely

The following is an edited excerpt from Kirsten Powers’ new book, The Silencing.

The illiberal left isn’t just ruining reputations and lives with their campaigns of delegitimization and disparagement. They are harming all of society by silencing important debates, denying people the right to draw their own conclusions, and derailing reporting and research that is important to our understanding of the world. They are robbing culture of the diversity of thought that is so central to learning and discovery.

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“Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the Black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed,” Haidt said. “Only in the last few years have sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.”

 — Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt

It’s sadly ironic that so many of the illiberal left view themselves as rational, intellectual, fact-based thinkers and yet have fully embraced a dogmatic form of un-enlightenment. Deviating from lefty ideology is equated to heresy and academic inquiry is too often secondary to ideological agendas.

[Jason L. Riley: Will Liberals Ever Forgive Daniel Patrick Moynihan for Being Right?]

The illiberal left insert ideologically driven statistics into the media and academic bloodstream and then accuse anyone who questions them of silencingdiabolical motives. When researchers make discoveries supporting the wrong ideological conclusion, the character assassination and intimidation begin.

[Order Kirsten Powers book The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech” from Amazon.com]

In a 2011 speech, then-University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who describes himself politically as a “liberal turned centrist,” explained, “If a group circles around sacred values, they’ll evolve into a tribal-moral community. They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.”

“Sacralizing distorts thinking. Sacred values bind teams together, and then blind them to the truth. That’s fine if you are a religious community… but this is not fine for scientists.”

The illiberal left likes to accuse conservatives and religious people of doing this, but ignores the central role it plays in their own determination to reinforce their ideological beliefs. Haidt pointed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was labeled a racist for a 1965 report he produced as assistant secretary of Labor in the Kennedy administration.

[Read more here, at The Daily Caller]

The report rang alarm bells about the rise of unmarried parenthood among African Americans, and called for government policies to address the issue. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the Black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed,” Haidt said. “Only in the last few years have sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along. Sacralizing distorts thinking. Sacred values bind teams together, and then blind them to the truth. That’s fine if you are a religious community… but this is not fine for scientists.”

“We are hurting ourselves when we deprive ourselves of critics, of people who are as committed to science as we are, but who ask different questions, and make different background assumptions.”

Haidt believes that the fact that conservatives are underrepresented by “a ratio of two or three hundred to one” in social psychology “is evidence that we are a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering.” Allowing for more diversity of ideological thought would lead to “better science and freer thinking,” concluded Haidt. This argument doesn’t just apply to academia. It applies to any facet of society where non-liberal views are deemed out of bounds. Read the rest of this entry »


Jason L. Riley: Will Liberals Ever Forgive Daniel Patrick Moynihan for Being Right?

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Still Right on the Black Family After All These Years 

Jason L. RileyJason L. Riley writes: Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the future senator’s report on the black family, the controversial document issued while he served as an assistant secretary in President Lyndon Johnson’s Labor Department. Moynihan highlighted troubling cultural trends among inner-city blacks, with a special focus on the increasing number of fatherless homes.

“History has proved that Moynihan was onto something. When the report was released, about 25% of black children and 5% of white children lived in a household headed by a single mother. During the next 20 years the black percentage would double and the racial gap would widen. Today more than 70% of all black births are to unmarried women, twice the white percentage.”

“The fundamental problem is that of family structure,” wrote Moynihan, who had a doctorate in sociology. “The evidence—not final but powerfully persuasive—is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling.”

[Check out Jason Riley’s book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” at Amazon]

For his troubles, Moynihan was denounced as a victim-blaming racist bent on undermining the civil-rights movement. Even worse, writes Harvard’s Paul Peterson in the current issue of the journal Education Next, Moynihan’s “findings were totally ignored by those who designed public policies at the time.” The Great Society architects would go on to expand old programs or formulate new ones that exacerbated the problems Moynihan identified. Marriage was penalized and single parenting was subsidized. In effect, the government paid mothers to keep fathers out of the home—and paid them well.

“Economists and policy analysts of the day worried about the negative incentives that had been created,” writes Mr. Peterson. “Analysts estimated that in 1975 a household head would have to earn $20,000”—or an inflation-adjusted $88,000 today—“to have more resources than what could be obtained from Great Society programs.”

“The most critical factor affecting the prospect that a male youth will encounter the criminal justice system is the presence of his father in the home.”

— William Comanor and Llad Phillips

History has proved that Moynihan was onto something. When the report was released, about 25% of black children and 5% of white children lived in a household headed by a single mother. During the next 20 years the black percentage would double and the racial gap would widen. Today more than 70% of all black births are to unmarried women, twice the white percentage.

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Daniel Patrick Moynihan, right, an urban affairs adviser to President Richard M. Nixon, left, in 1970.

For decades research has shown that the likelihood of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, dropping out of school and many other social problems grew dramatically when fathers were absent. One of the most comprehensive studies ever done on juvenile delinquency—by William Comanor and Llad Phillips of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2002—concluded that “the most critical factor affecting the prospect that a male youth will encounter the criminal justice system is the presence of his father in the home.”

[Also see – Moynihan in His Own Words New York Times, September 19, 2010]

Ultimately, the Moynihan report was an attempt to have an honest conversation about family breakdown and black pathology, one that most liberals still refuse to join. Read the rest of this entry »


George Will: ‘Family Structure is the Best Predictor of Life Chances’

Monday Night’s The Factor. After the clip of Paul Ryan, guest George Will lists reasons that Ryan is a threat to liberal orthodoxy, then closes in on the relevant one:

“…but most important, they’re terrified of his fundamental message, which the President himself has said, and social scientists have documented, that the fundamental problem is cultural. That’s the word.”

Will hits his stride when speaking in universal terms, on a subject which honest people on both the right and the left have already mostly agreed: The steep decline of the two-parent family, and its direct role in poverty.

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“The family is the primary transmitter of social capital. By social capital I mean the habits, mores, customs, dispositions, values that enable you to take advantage of opportunities.”

The tragedy of America is that just as the Civil Rights Movement was heroically removing barriers, legal and other barriers to opportunity, a social regression set in. As a result of the fact that the attitudes, aptitudes, and dispositions necessary to seize opportunities were not being developed among a large cohort of children who did not have intact families.”

As conservatives have long emphasized, it’s not political, it’s not racial, it’s not economic, it’s cultural. 

Here’s the lengthier exchange. Will’s comments are condensed, almost pre-written (perhaps explicitly pre-written and carefully rehearsed) characteristic of his habit of public speaking, but the points he makes involve statistics, discussing a racially-charged topic.

George Will: Until the 1960s, we had this serene hope, that in Jack Kennedy’s words, ‘a rising economic tide will raise all boats’. But we found that a lot of boats were stuck on the bottom. And we tried to figure out why. Pat Moynihan and others looked into it, and came to the conclusion that family structure is the best predictor of life chances. That is, growing up in a two-parent family. When Pat Moynihan published his report, 49 years ago, this month, saying that there’s a crisis among African Americans because, 23.6% of African American children were born to unmarried women, he was called a racist. Today the figure is 72%. 54% for Hispanics, 41% for all American children. This isn’t a white-black problem. This is a cultural problem, across the board.”

Bill O’Reilly: And that’s what Ryan was pointing out, he wasn’t saying saying anything about color…

Read the rest of this entry »


George Will: Democrats Are Making Income Inequality Worse

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George Will writes: Someone who is determined to disbelieve something can manage to disregard an Everest of evidence for it. So Barack Obama will not temper his enthusiasm for increased equality with lucidity about the government’s role in exacerbating inequality.

In the movie “Animal House,” Otter, incensed by the expulsion of his fraternity, says: “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture.”

Such thinking gives us minimum-wage increases that do very little for very few. Meanwhile, there are farm bills, like the one Obama signed last month at Michigan State University.

MSU was one of the models for the land-grant colleges created under the 1862 Morrill Act, whose primary purpose was to apply learning to agriculture. Today, we apply crony capitalism to agriculture. The legislation Obama lavishly praised redistributes wealth upward by raising prices consumers pay. Vincent Smith of Montana State University says small non-farm businesses are almost 30 times more likely to fail than farms, partly because the $956 billion farm legislationcontinues agriculture’s thick safety net. The geyser of subsidies assures that farm households will continue to be 53 percent more affluent than average households.

“We spend $1 trillion annually on federal welfare programs, decades after Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that if one-third of the money for poverty programs was given directly to the poor, there would be no poor. But there also would be no unionized poverty bureaucrats prospering and paying dues that fund the campaigns of Democratic politicians theatrically heartsick about inequality.”

Certain payments are, however, restricted. People making more than $900,000 annually are ineligible.

Seventy percent of Agriculture Department spending funds food services. Nearly 48 million people — almost as many live on the West Coast (in California, Oregon and Washington) — receive food stamps. This dependency, inimical to upward mobility, is assiduously cultivated by government through “outreach initiatives” to “increase awareness” and “streamline the application process.”

Read the rest of this entry »