Tag Archives: War on Poverty

BLM Protests and “The Moynihan Report”


March of 1965, Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan printed and distributed a report he wrote titled The Negro Family:  The Case for National Action. The report made him famous. However, Moynihan forever remained embittered that what became “The Moynihan Report” was never fully understood or acted upon.

Amid today’s massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations, filled with demands for redress of past and present injustices against Black people, it might be useful to revisit The Moynihan Report. The Report’s suggested remedy will sound outdated to today’s readers, possibly because society chose to take the path Moynihan warned against.

The Moynihan Report is a well-written, well documented treatise meant to counter what Moynihan saw as the misguided policies of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The report presents statistical data and interprets the data with care. It is a shot across the bow: continue ignoring the potent positive role of the traditional American family and suffer the consequences.

Indeed, for anyone paying attention, the centerpiece of Johnson’s Great Society, the War on Poverty, amounted to nothing more than war on poor families.

As an aside it should be noted that Pat Moynihan spoke of dysfunctional families and poverty from personal experience. Although he enjoyed an exceptional career as counselor to Presidents, ambassador to India and the United Nations, and U.S. Senator from New York, his parents were of modest means. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his excellent article The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, goes as far as to say that Moynihan “was the product of a broken home and a pathological family… A cultured civil servant not to the manor born…”

War on families: a legacy of slavery

The Moynihan Report notes that while slavery existed in many parts of the world, slavery in America was especially onerous. Under law and custom, slaves were chattel, not entitled to education, religious practice, manumission, and most importantly a family of their own. Such conditions rendered slaves dependent on their masters, unable even to purchase their freedom or find solace in family attachments. Moynihan felt that neither emancipation nor government-granted civil rights could erase this awful legacy.

Emancipation granted freedom, but segregation ensured inadequate education and scant opportunities for advancement. Legislation granted civil rights – those rights government chooses to grant — but did nothing to fully acknowledge that all people are endowed from birth with the unalienable rights of personal liberty and personal responsibility.

Moynihan believed that devoid of a deep sense of personal liberty and personal responsibility, many Black people failed to form strong families or focus on personal advancement.

The bifurcation of American Blacks

In all communities there are those who succeed despite soul-shattering challenges. Moynihan saw a bifurcation between a rising Black middle class and an increasingly disadvantaged Black “lower class.”

There is considerable evidence that the Negro community is in fact dividing between a stable middle class group that is steadily growing stronger and more successful, and an increasingly disorganized and disadvantaged lower class group. There are indications, for example, that the middle class Negro family puts a higher premium on family stability and the conserving of family resources than does the white middle class family.

Moynihan’s concern in his Report is with the “disadvantaged lower class” Blacks. His focus is not on poor whites, Latinos or other persons of color.

Moynihan’s remedy

His remedy for the intractable poverty and chaos Moynihan perceived was to build strong patriarchal family units, in which fathers were the primary breadwinners and mothers the primary caretakers of offspring.

The role of the family in shaping character and ability is so pervasive as to be easily overlooked. The family is the basic social unit of American life; it is the basic socializing unit. By and large, adult conduct in society is learned as a child.

A fundamental insight of psychoanalytic theory, for example, is that the child learns a way of looking at life in his early years through which all later experience is viewed and which profoundly shapes his adult conduct.

The remedy society chose

While Moynihan persistently advocated for strong family units, administrations during his time in office helped the devastation of Black families with policies that fostered dependence on public assistance, absentee fathers, and incarceration. No need for fathers to stick around when moms and children will be cared for via numerous public assistance programs. No need to worry about poor education and work opportunities when there are plenty of prisons to isolate those who turn to crime as a last resort.

And plenty of prisons we have, as noted in the Prison Policy Initiative.

For four decades, the U.S. has been engaged in a globally unprecedented experiment to make every part of its criminal justice system more expansive and more punitive. As a result, incarceration has become the nation’s default response to crime. States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018.  June 1918.

Such response results in absent fathers or mothers, unemployment due to conviction records, and broken families. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons estimates the current prison population is 38% Black. The U.S. Black population is around 13%. The U.S. “default response to crime” does disproportionate harm to Black families.

After the Great Society troubles remain

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted 55 years ago, government-granted civil rights and public assistance programs focusing on individuals rather than families would do little to improve the lot of the poor and Black. Malevolent efforts such as the war on drugs and mass incarceration further destroy economic and social mobility for the poor and Black.

Intermittently, there are uprisings prompted by particularly egregious events perpetrated against Black people. Today, protests rage throughout the U.S. and the world in response to the May 25th killing by police of George Floyd. Floyd was unarmed, the arrest that led to his killing was for an alleged non-violent incident (suspicion of purchasing cigarettes with a forged $20 bill), and the manner of his killing was barbaric (police’s knee pressing on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds). George Floyd, a Black man, was one of the latest victims at the hand of police.

Protesters today and in the past demand police accountability, even police “defunding.” They demand “social justice” and “equity.” But challenges remain, even as politicians expand the traditional largess in the model of Johnson’s Great Society.

The Moynihan Report, old fashioned and outdated as it sounds, might be worth revisiting.

The Culture of Victimhood

Sometimes a post on Facebook resonates. People get it. This was the case with a post, shared on the Just Vote No Facebook Page, showing a video of a young man (Brandon Tatum) saying he voted for Barack Obama for U.S. President, but came to regret it. The young man’s message is that Democrats have harmed Black people by casting them as victims.

Just Vote No does not deal in partisan politics. A crook from one party looks the same as a crook from another party. So, let’s focus on what the young man is saying regardless of political party. When someone viewed as an authority figure (politician, police officer, teacher, social worker) acts as if you are different and in need of their assistance and discipline, you internalize that information, and neglect to review your own actions to see how they might change to improve your situation. The young man in the video calls this treatment the feeding of a false narrative – a narrative that does not help, and certainly hinders.

Thought of racism is for those who have time to think about it, or who promote it for their own benefit. The young man says he has no time to think of racism because he is too busy getting things done. Focusing on racism is victimhood. Focusing on getting things done is rejecting the false narrative and being on the way to success.

His recommendation? Same as ours. Believe in yourself and your ability to thrive. Look carefully at what you vote for. Don’t vote for crooks.

Brandon Tatum

Brandon Tatum speaks out against the feeding of false narratives.

War on Poverty or War on the Poor?

The Washington Post and other mainstream media are livid about the Trump administration proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“President Trump and congressional Republicans want Americans to think that their proposed tax legislation is all about increasing economic growth. That’s their stated goal. But the stealth goal of GOP tax cuts is to start down the path toward gutting the New Deal and the Great Society — and if tax cuts pass, they might get away with it.”

”The stage is being set for an all-out attack on the welfare state the minute a tax cut is signed into law.”

One could garner from the Washington Post that the administration is poised to commit the unforgivable deed of tampering with a highly successful agenda. Or one could take a contrarian view and point to the actual results of the New Deal, the Great Society, and The War on Poverty.

The War on Poverty in hindsight

homess vet
Homeless vets are a national shame – evidence of failure of the welfare state.

Half a century after Lyndon B. Johnson launched The War on Poverty, urban streets serve as beds for the homeless, children have no roof over their heads but that of an unsafe and unclean shelter, tents under freeway overpasses are called home, jails house poor and dispossessed youth by the thousands, and the working poor depend on food stamps and Medicaid.

All this while the Ruling Elite declares the welfare state brought about by The War on Poverty a success, but in need of even more growth in order to take care of those who fall into the cracks.

What does it take to declare The War on Poverty a success?

* Changing the description of poverty:

Prior to the 1960s, poverty meant inability to take care of one’s needs for food and shelter. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society changed that description to inability to receive enough public assistance. A 2015 study of the country’s “safety net” is described in Center on Budget and Polity Priorities,

“Previous analysis of Census data showed that safety net programs cut the poverty rate nearly in half. Data released recently by the Urban Institute, which correct for underreporting of key government benefits in the Census survey, reveal an even stronger impact: the safety net reduced the poverty rate from 29.1 percent to 13.8 percent in 2012 and lifted 48 million people above the poverty line, including 12 million children. Correcting for underreporting reveals that the safety net also did more to reduce deep poverty than previously shown, although 11.2 million Americans remained below half the poverty line.”

It should be obvious that if someone receives a free gift of $1,000, that person’s poverty will immediately decrease by $1,000!  Do we need a study to figure that? It should be equally obvious that when the $1,000 is consumed, that person will be just as poor as before the gift, unless another gift is forthcoming, or he/she finds a way to get out of poverty by becoming self sufficient.  We do not need a study for that either; we just need to look around us.

* Encouraging adaptation to dependency:

Survival depends on adaptation to external events. Short-term adaptation might mean trimming our budget if someone in our household loses a job, but we are confident another job is just around the corner. Longer-term adaptation might mean giving up a physically demanding job if we hurt out back. Long-term adaptation might mean cultural acceptance of raising children outside a traditional two-parent family in order to obtain public assistance. In more progressive regions of the country such as California, cultural adaptation includes middle-income families feeling comfortable receiving government subsidies for purchasing a home.

Although it is important to distinguish correlation from causation, the statistics are clear that so much of our precious youth is lost to inner-city violence or languishes in jails, our families are trapped in welfare-dependent neighborhoods, our children go to school hungry and depend on some slop gifted to them at some run-down government school. All this is culturally accepted and superficially monitored.

What does it take to fight back?

The first step to getting out of poverty might be to realize a good many folks have been screwed over by the Ruling Elite. In the Old South, power and the economic well being of the then Ruling Elite depended on slaves. Today’s Ruling Elite depends for its power and economic well being on a vast network of governmental bureaucracies doling out rules and make-believe benefits.

The next step is to truly wish to produce goods and services, rather than only consume them.  This is where the Just Vote No comes in:  threaten to run out of office anyone who makes it difficult for you to earn some cash braiding hair, selling tacos, typing, or selling your own apps on-line.

By the way, Forever 21 founder Do Won Chang started out as a janitor.  Ralph Lauren worked as a clerk at Brooks Brothers before building his fashion empire.  Read all about it on 15 Billionaires Who Were Once Dirt Poor.