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135 of 148 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could we have been that wrong?, January 22, 2000
This review is from: Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, 10th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
Mr. Murray's analysis of government social programs in the past half century was an eye-opener for a born-and-raised liberal Democrat like myself. It is difficult to disagree with his overall conclusion that these programs have generally been failures, and in many cases did more harm than good. This is not easy to swallow if you were raised with the firmly entrenched (and deeply righteous) belief that people who "really care" always support well-intentioned government programs that aim to solve social problems. It has always been an assumption in my thinking that those who opposed virtually any new government agency or social program lacked compassion, or worse. But, as Mr. Murray points out, these programs, including welfare, housing projects, medicaid, and other twentieth century experiments, must be judged as objectively as possible based on results. And the results are not impressive.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 5, 2008 10:31:36 AM PST
The problem with that statement is that we haven't given those Civil Rights bills any muscle to work. The Housing Discrimination Act of 1968 was led by an incompetent agency who didn't want to deviate from the "market" working out the problems of housing, as well as the redlining practices had already occurred by then. The act also didn't pump much money into these already black neighborhoods where no one was working and poverty was rampant. With the restructuring of the urban economy in the 1970's and 1980's there were not jobs left in these cities. So yeah, giving people money without much prospect does breed laziness and doesnt achieve its goals-very true. For these programs to work we must give people some prospect of advancement. Governmental projects in cities, job training programs, day care, these programs may cost a lot, but consider the cost of do nothing policy. I don't know about you, but I consider it an embarrassing when our central cities look the way they do and we cannot even take care of our own people. Check out William Julius Wilson's book, he's much more eloquent and inciteful than Charles Murray, who misses the point completely.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2009 12:27:04 AM PST
I am personal friends with dozens of folks who have chosen to make welfare and out-of-wedlock parenthood their career. Working the system is their chosen life style. They refuse to be educated and refuse to work. I know them all personally and well. I can name names; they are friends and acquaintences of mine. I offer them work and they refuse to show up.
One young man know personally is 30 years old and has sired 29 children. He refuses to work to support any of them and, in fact, uses the women to support him. He is one of millions who are doing this. Why does he do this? Because he can.

Posted on Oct 8, 2010 4:37:43 AM PDT
Marcus Welby says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 10:34:59 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 20, 2011 10:35:22 AM PDT
Well, there is now a book out which explains a lot of this mess: David Stove's What's Wrong with Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment. A very interesting read.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2011 6:59:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 27, 2011 6:59:58 AM PDT
A. T. Smith says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2012 1:55:24 PM PST
FransSusan says:
OMG. Are you serious---29 kids? Surely you're using hyperbole to make a point. Dear gawd. I knew it was bad--but this is -- is -- well, I have no words for it. Dear gawd!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2012 2:01:01 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 16, 2012 2:01:35 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2012 2:02:39 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 10, 2013 3:18:27 PM PST
FransSusan says:
While your assertions seem noble, it's time to face some facts about poverty. In overwhelming instances, poverty is created by women having children they can't afford (and they know they can't afford them), and no father around to help with the rearing and financial support of these illegitimate children. It's time to face facts and fix this specific problem. Stop burying it with good intentions; stop throwing more money at it--money that's taken at gunpoint by the government from productive citizens and given to the non-productive.

Posted on Jan 30, 2012 9:56:00 AM PST
The government cannot solve social problems. 3rd parties are powerless to solve problems that they are not a party to. Government can solve problems within government, but not problems that exist outside of government.

Illiteracy, for example, can only be solved by people who don't know how to read taking the time to learn. Unless the circumstances are such that they are somehow being prevented from doing so by forces beyond their control, then there is nothing that the government can do. Government can, in cases where a problem is widespread, provide assistance of one sort or another to those who are working to solve the problem, but it cannot solve the problem itself. If no one actually involved in the problem is working to solve the problem, then no sum of taxpayer monies thrown at the problem by the state will make any difference

Government is pretty effective at protecting our rights, at preventing one individual from doing something awful to someone else. But it fails miserably at engendering virtue. It cannot protect people from themselves and attempting to do so only makes the people in question worse.

Attempting to help someone by protecting them from the consequences of their own folly is what therapists generally refer to as being an enabler. The wife who compensates for her husband's alcoholism does nothing to help him, but instead allows him to dig an even deeper hole for himself. For a welfare office to disburse public funds to individuals whose choices in life have resulted in poverty only perpetuates that poverty and encourages others to make those same choices.

The only way to help someone who is harming himself is to hold him accountable for it, either directly, or by standing back and letting the full consequences of his behavior befall him. Even if he or she does not learn and straighten up their act, others are made to witness the consequences of that person's mistakes and will therefore be less likely to repeat them.

When the government steals wealth from those of us who create it so that it can then be disbursed to those who do not, both parties are victimized. The wealth creator is made poorer, and the wealth receiver is made more feeble. You can't make someone a productive member of society by teaching them to be a parasite.

These truths are so self-evident that for many years I've worked under the assumption that those pushing for more taxpayer funded programs and transfer payments to the underclasses were attempting to expand and entrench the ranks of those underclasses, to make them worse. All for the purpose of creating foot-soldiers for their multi-generational project to destroy our liberal democracy and replace it with a communist dystopia. I still believe that this is the purpose for many of them, because they have said so themselves. But after reading your review, I now realize that there are also some who genuinely believe that these destructive programs are intended to help someone.

In regards to your awakening after reading Mr Murray's analysis, all I can say is welcome to the real world.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2012 10:30:07 AM PST
Marxist explanations of poverty don't wash. Being poor does not create the culture of poverty, but the other way around.

The poor you refer to who wish to work and wish to improve their circumstances are the poor who do so. They don't stay poor.

Poverty is not a static condition. For those who come from good families, have good values, whose intelligence is near normal or above, and who are willing to work, poverty is a transitory state.

There are of course many who know the right things to say to ensure that they receive their welfare check, but actions speak louder than words. Someone who wants to work is someone who works. Someone who doesn't want to work is someone who does not.

Character is destiny, and the character of a society is its culture. Members of a dysfunctional society, or sub-society, will have dysfunctional lives because they will make bad choices. Someone so afflicted can only escape their predicament by becoming a better person. This is only possible when they turn away from the toxic values they carry with them and adopt values that will lead to better choices in life.

For someone who is competent and capable, and who has been raised to earn their own keep, a parasitic lifestyle is abhorrent. Even if they came from humble beginnings in a family that struggled financially, such a person will bus tables till midnight before they'll turn to the dole. But to someone who has never been taught the virtue of work, a parasitic existence at public expense seems perfectly acceptable.

The $800 you mention overlooks the fact that transfer payments in the form of cash and/or food stamps are not the only monies that the parasite class receives. They are also given subsidized (and often free) housing, free medical insurance through medicaid, as well as other assorted subsidies and free services from the state. These add up to a lot more than $800.

Americans are fortunate to live in a society where the paths of our lives are not determined by forces beyond our control. We aren't born into a caste from which we can never escape. There are no kings or princes or titled gentry. Each of us is free to rise, or fall, by our own merits. A century of compulsory schooling within a culture that celebrates economic and social mobility has resulted in the nearest approximation of a pure meritocracy in human history. In life it matters not who your father was, only that you have the competence and character to compete. Those who possess these traits and skills succeed, those who do not fail, and deserve to. Far from being a tragedy, this is the most morally virtuous arrangement I can think of.

If you want to understand the real nature of poverty in America, I suggest you read chapter 5 of Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies.

Economic Facts and Fallacies
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