Public Square

Johnson’s War on Poverty Turns Fifty

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Has Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty been successful?
Photo courtesy of TradingCardsNPS

Today’s the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the War on Poverty. On January 8, 1964 in his Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union, President Lyndon Johnson said,

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.

How is the War on Poverty going today? After half a century of fighting poverty, what have we learned?

Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center says,

By most accounts, we did lose [the War on Poverty] (certainly by no reasonable standard did we win it)… There was no obvious ceiling to what progressives thought was achievable. At the time the idea that public-spirited men and women, at the head of the federal government, could transform American society sounded ambitious. Today it sounds fanciful and in some circumstances downright destructive (for more, see the Affordable Care Act).

IFWE scholar Jay Richards writes,

The War on Poverty, however well intentioned, might as well have been called the War on the Poor.

So as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty, where do we go from here? Check out the National Review’s symposium on the War on Poverty to hear the experts weigh in on the issue.

For more resources on how to fight poverty effectively and biblically, keep an eye out for for IFWE’s forthcoming book, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, coming out this spring.

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