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CR February 2012 Pages

CR February 2012 Pages

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Published by: Colorado Christian University on Jan 31, 2012
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HOW AND HOW NOT TO FIGHT POVERTY:LESSONS FROM THE PRESIDENTS
By Lawrence W. Reed
“The lessons of history show conclusively that continueddependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moraldisintegration fundamentally destructive to the national
ber. To dole out relief in
this way is to administer a
narcotic, a subtle destroyerof the human spirit. The federal government must andshall quit this business of relief.
Surprisingly, these words of an American president do not
date from the early years of the Republic, butfrom the progressive days of the New Deal.Franklin Roosevelt spoke them in 1935. Buthis pledge of quitting was empty. Indeed, 30
years later Lyndon Johnson would take “this
business of relief” to new heights in an ofcial “War onPoverty.” Another 30 years and more than $5 trillion in federal
 welfare later, a Democratic president in 1996 would sign a
bill into law that ended the federal entitlement to welfare. As Ronald Reagan, a far wiser man, observed long before itdawned on Bill Clinton, “We fought a war on poverty, andpoverty won.”
Poverty-stricken Policies
 What Reagan instinctively knew, what Clinton nally admitted, and what FDR preached but didn’t practice
 was that government poverty programs are themselves
poverty-stricken. We have paid an awful price in lives and
treasure to learn some things that the vast majority of  Americans of the 19th century—and the chief executivesthey elected—could have plainly told us:
Government welfare or “relief” programs encouragedidleness, broke up families, produced intergenerational
dependency and hopelessness, cost taxpayers a fortune,
Editor, John AndrewsPrincipled Ideas from the Centennial Institute
Volume 4, Number 2 • February 2012
Publisher, William L. Armstrong
Lawrence W. Reed
has been president of the Foundation for EconomicEducation since 2008. He was previously president of the Mackinac Center forPublic Policy. He is a prolic author and lecturer, holding degrees in economicsand history. This essay is adapted from his address at the CCU Symposium onCompassion for the Poor on October 12, 2011.
Centennial Institute
 
sponsors research, events, and publications to enhance
public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation.
By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizen
-
ship, and renew the spirit of 1776.
The dole deadensthe human spirit.
and yielded harmful cultural pathologies that may take
generations to cure. The actual beneciaries of the whole20th century experiment in federal poverty-ghting werenot those whom the programs ostensibly were intendedto help. The beneciaries were the politicians who got elected and
re-elected as champions of the downtrodden, along with
the bureaucratic armies of professional poverty-ghters whose jobs and empires always seemed secure regardlessof the ill effects of the programs they administered.A lot of people went to Washington to do good,” asthe economist Walter Williams quipped, “and apparently have done very well.Some of those were well-meaning,others were not. But all were misled into paths which no
administration of the 19th century ever took—the use of 
the public treasury for widespread handouts.
 What the Welfare Statists Miss
 A welfare statist would probably survey the men who heldthe highest ofce in the land before 1900 anddismiss them as hopelessly medieval. Evenduring the severe depressions of the 1830sand the 1890s, Presidents Martin Van Burenand Grover Cleveland never proposed that Washington, D.C., extend its reach to the relief of privatedistress.
 Yet welfare statists err when they imply that it was left to
presidents of a more enlightened 20th century to nally care enough to help the poor. The fact is, our leadersin the 1800s
did 
mount a war on poverty—the most
comprehensive and effective ever mounted by any centralgovernment in world history. It just didn’t have a publicrelations ofce, nor elitist poverty conferences at expensiveresorts, nor a gimmicky name like “Great Society.”
S   a  v  e   t   h  e   D   a  t   e  
W   e  s  t   e  r   n  C   o  n  s  e  r   v   a  t   i   v   e   S   u  m  m  i   t   
D   e  n  v  e  r    
     
 J   u  n  e   2   9    -   J   u  l    y   1   ,  2   0   1  2   “   C   a  l   l   i   n   g   A  l   l    C   i   t   i   z  e  n  s  ”   
 
Centennial Review, February 2012 ▪ 2
Liberty workswonders.
If pressed to name it, those early chief executives might
 well have said their anti-poverty program was simply called
liberty 
. This word meant things like self-reliance, hard
 work, entrepreneurship, the institutions of civil society, a strong and free economy, and
government conned to its constitutional roleas protector of liberty by keeping the peace.Remarkably, the last great 19th-century president, GroverCleveland, was just about as faithful to that legacy of liberty as the rst one, Thomas Jefferson. When Clevelandleft ofce in 1897, the federal government was still many years away from any sort of national program for publicpayments to the indigent.
 An Astounding Century
Regardless of political party, the presidents of that period
did not read into the Constitution any of the modern-day welfare-state assumptions. They understood thatgovernment has nothing to give anybody except what itrst takes from somebody. They also had a humbling faithin Divine Providence, leading to a healthy condence in
 what a free and compassionate people could do without
federal help. And what a poverty program liberty proved to be! In spite of 
a horrendous civil war, half a dozen economic downturnsand wave after wave of impoverished immigrants, Americaprogressed from near-universal poverty at the start of 
the 19th century to within reach of the world’s highestper-capita income at the start of the 20th century. Thepoverty that remained stood out because it was now theexception, no longer the rule.In the absence of stultifying government welfare programs,
our free and self-reliant citizenry spawned so many private,distress-relieving initiatives that American generosity 
became one of the marvels of the world. This essentially spontaneous, non-centrally-planned “war on poverty” hadone decisive advantage over FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s
Great Society:
It actually worked.
President Thomas Jefferson, taking ofce in 1801, setthe tone for America’s rst full century as a nation. His
inaugural address gave us a splendid summation of what
government should do. It described not welfare programs,but “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain
men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwisefree to regulate their own pursuits of industry and
improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of laborthe bread it has earned.”“This is the sum of good government,concluded Jefferson. A similar view was heldby James Madison, his successor, who hadbeen a key gure in the construction of theConstitution and a prime defender of it in
The Federalist 
.It would have been inconceivable to Madison that it was
constitutional to use the power of government to take
from some people and give to others because the others were poor and needed it.
 Anything Doesn’t Go
Madison even vetoed money bills for so-called “internalimprovements,” such as roads. “The government of theUnited States is a denite government, conned to speciedobjects,” he declared. “It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of thelegislative duty of the government. Why didn’t Jefferson, Madison, and other American
presidents of the 19th century simply stretch the
Constitution until it included poverty assistance to
individuals? One reason was paramount:
Such power was not to be found in the rule book
.Imagine playing a game—baseball, bridge, chess, or
 whatever—in which there is only one rule:
 Anything  goes 
. It would be chaotic and unpredictable, eventually 
Scan this code with your smartphone to read this and previous issues online.
CENTENNIAL REVIEW
is published monthly by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. The authors’ views are not necessarilythose of CCU. Designer, Danielle Hull. Illustrator, Benjamin Hummel. Subscriptions free upon request. Write to: Centennial Institute, 8787 W.Alameda Ave., Lakewood, CO 80226. Call 800.44.FAITH. Or visit us online at www.CentennialCCU.org.
Please join the Centennial Institute today.
As a Centennial donor, you can help us restore America’s moral core and preparetomorrow’s leaders. Your gift is tax-deductible. Please use the envelope provided. Thank you for your support.- John Andrews, Director
 
Centennial Review, February 2012 ▪ 3
degenerating into a free-for-all. And while simple games would be intolerable if played this way, the consequences
for the many deadly-serious things humans engage in— 
from driving on the highways to waging war—would betoo frightful to imagine.
 The trend of our time is an erosion of any consensus
about what government is supposed to do. This was notso in Jefferson and Madison’s day. The rule books atthat time were America’s founding documents, namely the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,including the Bill of Rights. In the spirit of those great
 works, most Americans shared a common view of “the
sum of good government”—theprotection of life and property.
 Today, far too many peoplethink that government exists
to do anything for anybody at
any time they ask for it, from
children’s day care to handouts for artists. In the 19th
century, Americans appreciated the concept of individual
rights and entertained little of this nonsense. But there
is no consensus in the 21st century even on what a right
is, let alone which ones free citizens have. The truth thatindividuals possess certain rights—denable, inalienable,and sacred—has been distorted beyond anything our early presidents would recognize.
Rights and Wrongs
 When the Founders asserted rights to freedom of speech,freedom of the press, or freedom of assembly, they did
not mean that one may demand a microphone, a printer,
or an auditorium at someone else’s expense. Their concept
of rights called for no initiation of force against others,
no elevation of any “want” to a lawful lien on the life orproperty of others.Each individual was deemed a unique and sovereignbeing, who required only that other citizens deal with himhonestly and voluntarily. This is the
only 
notion of rights
that does not produce an unruly mob in which each personhas his hands in someone else’s pocket. Vigilance againstsuch abuses is what prompted early Americans to add aBill of Rights to a Constitution that already contained aseparation of government powers, checks and balances,and numerous “thou-shalt-nots” directed at governmentitself.
 They knew—unlike tens of millions of Americanstoday—that a government that lacks narrow rules and
strict boundaries, that robs Peter to pay Paul, that confusesrights with wants, will yield nancial ruin at best andpolitical tyranny at worst.Nearly all of our presidents prior to the 20th century  were faithfully constrained by this view of the federal
‘NEWS21’ PROJECT SEEKSINTEGRITY IN JOURNALISM
 Are integrity and independence still possible in journalismtoday? News21, the Project on News in the 21st Century,aims to prove they are.It launched in August 2011 with an academic courserequired for Colorado Christian University sophomoresand an outreach component through Centennial Institute.
Brent Bozell
of the Media ResearchCenter headlined an all-day conferenceon Dec. 2, on the topic “Have the MediaFailed America?” Prof. Chris Leland
teaches the academic course, with help
from adjunct faculty members Stephen
Keating, formerly of the
Denver Post 
, and
 Jay Ambrose, formerly of the
Rocky Mountain News 
.
Stephen Keating
comments: “‘Beseekers of truth’ is one of the CCUstrategic objectives. Yet today we see the
news media losing their way, fractured
by technology and awash in red ink.Students preparing to enter any eld— including business, ministry, or the mediaitself—will become better citizens by understanding how news is produced, disseminated, and consumed.”
 Jay Ambrose
adds: “News is an all-encompassing force no one can escape,
and that no citizen should try to escape. Without it, there would be a darknessthat could endanger self-governance.“Yet news can be inaccurate, factually correct but misleading, sensational,cheapening, and negligent. Citizens need to become
skeptical, discerning readers and viewers—alert to detect
bias when they see it, careful to offset hidden opinion by seeking out counter-opinions.”
Cal Thomas
, syndicated columnist and
Fox News contributor, will keynote thenext News21 conference. The date is March 2. The topic is “MediaFairness in the 2012 Campaign.”
For details see
 www.news21ccu.com
.
Voices of CCU
Why robPeter to payPaul?

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