Little Bang for the Buck

September 16, 2010 • Commentary
This article appeared on The New York Times (Online) on September 16, 2010.

The new numbers from the Census Bureau showing that 14.3 percent of Americans are now living in poverty is a national disgrace — and a clear sign that we are doing something wrong.

The federal government currently operates 122 different anti‐​poverty programs, ranging from Medicaid to the tiny Even Start Program for Indian Tribes and Tribal Organizations. All together, the federal government spent more than $591 billion in 2009 on means‐​tested or anti‐​poverty programs, and will undoubtedly spend even more this year. That amounts to $14,849 for every poor man, woman and child in America. Given that the poverty line is just $10,830, we could have mailed every poor person in America a check big enough to lift them out of poverty — and still saved money.

Since we started the War on Poverty in 1965, the federal government alone has spent more than $13 trillion fighting poverty. Including state and local government brings total anti‐​poverty spending over $15 trillion. Clearly we have received very little bang for the buck. Throwing money at the problem has neither reduced poverty nor made the poor self‐​sufficient.

Perhaps its time to focus less on making poverty comfortable, and more on creating the prosperity that will get people out of poverty. That means that if we wish to fight poverty, we must end those government policies — high taxes and regulatory excess — that inhibit growth and job creation.

We must protect capital investment and give people the opportunity to start new businesses. We must reform our failed government school system to encourage competition and choice. We must enable the poor to save more, and build their own future.

After all, an effective anti‐​poverty program should be judged not by how much we put in but by what we get out.

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