Paul Ryan’s shocking notion: Maybe there are better ways to fight poverty

Image Credit: NewsHour via Flickr

Image Credit: NewsHour via Flickr

by Dan Calabrese

What? You mean it’s not working?

It is a testament to the dysfunction of American politics that the hardest discussion to have should be the most obvious: Are we getting acceptable results from the things we’re doing?

Paul Ryan dares to ask that provocative question with respect to the federal government’s anti-poverty measures and has the temerity to state what should be plain as day to anyone willing to look at the question honestly: These measures have failed in every way, and we need a different approach. The Los Angeles Times reports, although they characteristically focus more on the politics of the story than on the substance of what Ryan is saying:

The plan returns Ryan to the national stage, where he hopes to position himself as the party’s big thinker in advance of a possible 2016 presidential run.

In the short term, Ryan’s proposal also seeks to introduce some concrete Republican solutions to reverse perceptions that the GOP has become simply the party of “no” in opposition to Obama.

Republican leaders animated voters a generation ago with a pivot toward welfare issues in the 1990s. This year, potential Republican presidential contenders, including Ryan, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, appear eager to revive the debate. Each has offered his own anti-poverty proposal.

But in the run-up to the midterm election, Republicans risk alienating moderate and independent voters if the party’s right-wing stakes out more extreme approaches to cutting off government help for the poor.

All that may be true, but why can’t the media just report the substance of what policymakers propose and let the political reverberations take care of themselves? When it comes to poverty, what’s more important? Who gets elected next time or whether people actually get free from poverty?

Ryan gets to the heart of the matter in comparing the status quo to the time we started pouring gobs of money into this effort 50 years ago, and of course, liberals respond:

Ryan’s 204-page report concludes that the expansion of anti-poverty programs, which number more than 90 and cost almost $800 billion last year, have done little to achieve President Johnson’s Great Society goals. The 17.3% poverty rate in 1965 is not much different from today’s 15%.

But analysts at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, said the outcome was more mixed than Ryan’s overview suggested.

Without federal assistance, more Americans would probably be in poverty, the center concluded. When the poverty rate is measured not just by income but also includes non-cash assistance from food stamps, housing aid and other federal programs, it has steadily improved, according to Sharon Parrott, a vice president at the center.

Actually I think the liberal group’s response is a perfectly healthy part of the process. My rejoinder to them is that it may very well be true that many poor people are slightly better off from the aid they receive, assuming the programs don’t impact their situation in any other way. But that’s the key. If we’re spending $800 billion a year, and we’ve been spending a fortune since 1965, and things aren’t much different than they were then, how much better could we have spent that money all those years. Could more resources in private hands have created more opportunity? Did we damage the work ethic such that we bred dependency? Do we now have a permanent underclass that we trained to depend on assistance programs? How might the direction of these folks’ lives have been different if we had not introduced such incentives into their lives?

These are crucial questions that must be asked, and Ryan is right to ask them. If the left wants to insist that any move away from federal assistance programs is an attack on the poor, then they should be made to defend the track record of their programs – which ain’t all that grand. They should be made to explain why we shouldn’t expect anything better than this.

As it stands right now, any time a conservative suggests massive federal spending is not the answer to poverty, the response is a massive chorus of Republicans-hate-poor-people, and the discussion never really gets beyond that. It needs to get beyond it.

Now if the media can get past its political horse race obsession and focus on the substance of this issue, maybe we can really move toward policies that actually attack poverty.

About the Author
DCalabresebiopic65x65Dan is in training for ministry, and writes regularly about matters of spiritual victory and national renewal (OK . . . and baseball too) at, where you can also get his series of Christian spiritual thrillers – Powers and Principalities, Pharmakeia and Dark Matter. Follow all of Dan’s work by liking his page on Facebook.


To read the original article on Best of Cain, please click HERE.