Decades of Distortion - Page 6

Refining The Critique

In the post-Vietnam era, the Neoconservative and libertarian movements were swelled with recruits (many with staunchly liberal backgrounds) reacting to the turmoil of the 1960s.124 Another source of recruits after 1976 was large segments of the working class who also blamed the federal government for creating inflation.125 At the same time, conservative Christians began to emerge as a political force, mobilized around issues of morality and family values.126 The political rise of the Christian Right during this period was spurred by events which appeared to legally sanction an assault on the "traditional American family"- for example, the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and the passage by Congress of the Equal Rights Amendment.127 Welfare, portrayed as linked to "family dissolution," continued to provide an issue on which conservative Christians could align with Old Right, Neoconservative, and other Right groups, albeit from different perspectives.128 As the Right was able to trust more and more people to vote conservatively, right-wing strategists developed a "new found appreciation for populism."129
In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon was attacked by Human Events authors, who criticized Nixon's Family Assistance Plan (FAP) as an extraordinarily costly expansion of the AFDC program. They argued that the work requirements would not succeed and attacked the guaranteed income concept.130 Skyrocketing caseloads131 and lax administration132 are regularly highlighted. (Again note the implicit connection to the rise in African Americans on the rolls).
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as Nixon's principal counselor on FAP, was vilified as deviously rigging data to support FAP's enactment.133 The anti-FAP message was graphically promoted by showing pictures of various appliances with the headline "Have you been saving for one of these?" and the reply: "If Mr. Nixon's new welfare plan passes Congress, you may pay to have one of these items delivered. Not to you, but to one of American's 12 million new welfare `clients'(or one of our 10 million old ones)."134

In contrast with the Nixon plan of the early 1970s, the "welfare reform" of California Governor Ronald Reagan is touted as "a program that would save nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars, put many welfare recipients to work and eliminate the chiselers,"135 and California is cited as one of the states which had done "belt tightening."136

Politicians are intimidated - squeamish about resisting its [the welfare establishment's] demands. Gov. Reagan is almost the sole exception, and he is feeling its wrath.137

Reagan is quoted as "being horrified" at the implications of the Nixon Administration's FAP program for California,138 and as urging that the key to reform is state and local control.139

In the same spirit, conservative economics journalist Henry Hazlitt, in his book titled Man Vs the Welfare State?, states:140

We have to ask, for example, whether liberty, economic progress, and political stability can be preserved if we continue to allow the people on relief- the people who are mainly or solely supported by the government and who live at the expense of the taxpayers- to exercise the franchise.141

The advertisement for this book in Human Events calls its thesis "a daring idea which could reverse the trend that is destroying us...."142

Further developing the general critique of welfare, a number of articles in Human Events during the early 1970s cited to behavior (rather than poverty) as the welfare recipient's "problem," 143 and continued to report on waste and fraud within the poverty programs themselves.144 Human Events articles described recipients as "bums, parasites and leeches,"145 and discussed recipient fraud146 and immorality.147 During this period, the ongoing gender-role tension over whether mothers should be in wage work (as Reagan's proposal advocated), or at home, reemerged.148 As evidence of this tension and confusion, a portion of Nixon's FAP which would provide child care for welfare recipients was criticized, along with other child care bills, as "social engineering programs for children."149

In the mid-1970s, The Public Interest once again aired some of the more complex of the Right's arguments against welfare. Nathan Glazer, stating that welfare is an "attractive alternative to work" and that there is "a dynamic interplay between welfare availability and attractiveness and family breakup", argued that making work more competitive with welfare could be done through health insurance, children's allowances, more vacation time, and unemployment insurance coverage for all jobs.150 Chester Finn, legislative assistant to Senator Daniel Moynihan, wrote a scathing review of All Our Children: The American Family Under Pressure, a study by the Carnegie Council on Children, in which he attributes the deterioration of the American family to "this society in which no one is truly accountable for his own behavior, culpable for his own shortcomings, or responsible for his own well-being," rather than considering economic explanations, such as poverty.

In 1978, Martin Anderson of the Hoover Institution151 published Welfare, an attack on the concept of a guaranteed income, or a negative income tax, based on the premise that people's lives are governed exclusively by rational economic decisions.152 By documenting a high effective marginal tax rate for the poor entering wage work, he argued that, as a matter of economic theory, a guaranteed income would bring about a reduction in work effort and labor supply.153 In addition, this economic incentive would bring about other social consequences, such as wives leaving marriages to which otherwise they were financially bound.154 He lauds the welfare reform programs implemented by Reagan as governor of California in 1971, as "`purifying' the welfare rolls of those who were ripping off the welfare system", and urges "a return of responsibility for welfare to state and local governments and to private institutions."155

In criticizing President Jimmy Carter's Program for Better Jobs and Income (PBJI), which would have cut benefits to AFDC recipients with children over the age of six,156 Anderson says, "The states would, of course, not allow benefits to be cut for ... mothers with small children."157 Yet his reform proposals are based on cutting benefits to the non-needy or to certain "unworthy" categories, eliminating fraud and enforcing a strong work requirement.158

One year later, Jack Kemp, who has been described as representing "big government conservatism,"159 published his An American Renaissance, articulating many of the same themes: criticizing the negative income tax as creating less work effort, discussing the high effective tax rate of the poor, and urging a return of control to local governments.160 Assuming economic motivation for all acts, he argues that "tax reform" will change behavior.161 While arguing for tax cuts, however, he does not see those cuts as inevitably leading to cuts in poverty programs.162

It is useless to argue, as some libertarians do, that we do not need redistribution at all. The people, as a people, rightly insist that the whole look after the weakest of its parts.163

Kemp's solutions are based on the need to reward savings and work instead of consumption and leisure.164 Tax cuts, he argues, would encourage welfare recipients to do wage work;165 "the positive approach of income incentives and growth has the effect of reducing the welfare rolls and federal spending without lowering the safety net."166 Thus, Kemp rests his theories on pure economic motivation. However, he differs from the social scientist Charles Murray, who several years later based his influential reform proposals on benefit reductions rather than on incentives and growth.167

In the late 1970s, a number of articles in The Public Interest attacked the concept of redistribution as not only inefficient, but immoral.168 In a review of Anderson's Welfare, John Bishop joined Anderson in opposing the idea of a guaranteed income, but stated that Anderson's ideas for reform basically condoned the current welfare system and therefore had not gone far enough in "reducing dependency."169 Other authors discuss how those who are more productive are "blessed with greater natural ability."170

In the mid-1960s, the Libertarian Movement split with the traditional conservative movement over the draft and the Vietnam War, which libertarians opposed.171 However, in the 1970s, libertarians joined with other conservative movements over opposition to welfare. Their message was threefold: few people in the United States are really in poverty,172 the government should not tax those who work to give money to those who don't work,173 and, consistent with their position that government should not control people's lives, "the welfare system is as arbitrary and demeaning to the recipient as to the unwilling donor."174 The libertarian magazine Reason erroneously reports that AFDC "accounts for a large portion of today's huge welfare bill,"175 and "encourages unemployed and low income fathers to desert their families and avoid work,"176 focusing on the harm of government intervention rather than striking a moral tone.

Next: The Heritage Foundation Weighs In -->
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

Decades of Distortion

Table of contents:

Online Articles:

Spotlight On

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections