The Not-So-Great Society: Back to the Future?

Nothing so surely signals that liberalism has lost its mind than the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Great Society under way this week.  Has there been a greater self-evident social policy failure in American history?  More importantly, are today’s young liberal journalists completely ignorant of the fact that even liberals despaired of the Great Society by the end of the 1960s—that it completely shattered liberal optimism?  (Don’t bother answering—that was a rhetorical question.)*

Conveniently forgotten is the fact that Johnson’s poverty warriors confidently proclaimed that they would completely eliminate all poverty in American in ten years.  (Sargent Shriver told this to a congressional committee.)  Gone down the memory hole in this week’s retrospectives.

There’s an obvious political purpose in trying to rehabilitate the Great Society: it forms the predicate for Obama’s desire to wage class warfare and ramp up redistributive policies to the maximum extent possible, though, in an irony lost on today’s liberals, LBJ disdained straight out redistribution, favoring instead a “services” strategy that only served to build a self-interested welfare bureaucracy that has become one enormous dependency machine.  It’s back to the future time for the Left.

Liberals right now are dining out on the chart below comparing marginal income tax rates and the share of national income earned by the top 1 percent since the income tax was started 100 years ago.  Employing simple cause and effect and ignoring all the important factors such as changes in return to specialized education and the decline of two-parent families, the Left thinks all we need to do to flatten out income distribution again is raise income tax rates.

Income Tax Inequality copy

Well fine, if they want to live by simple-minded charts, they should die by them, too.  Our pal Dan Mitchell offers this next chart, showing that poverty was rapidly and steadily declining—until the Great Society programs started.  And the poverty level has been stuck ever since.  Cause and effect?  There’s probably more to it than this, but for simpleminded liberals it ought to be game-over.

War on Poverty copy

Besides, maybe the problem isn’t tax rates at all, but Congress.  The last chart shows that trends in income distribution correlate just as closely with measures of polarization in Congress.  (Looks just as good as the correlation mentioned here the other day between organic food sales and autism.)  No wonder the Left wants a monopoly of power.

Income Inequality by Polarization copy

• There’s a pretty good book that goes through this story in some detail.  Then, too see everything by Charles Murray on the subject.

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