By James Buckley
It’s the economy, stupid.
Well, kind of.
Over the past five decades, at least since 1965, when President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society” legislation began to be enacted by an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, the U.S. government has been in a battle against poverty. Here’s what that legislation was supposed to do: End poverty, reduce crime, abolish inequality, improve the environment, and eradicate racial injustice. Nearly 200 separate pieces of legislation were signed between 1965 and 1968 in furtherance of creating that Great Society.
The results have been less than overwhelming.
Ending poverty was big on the list so we can start with that. In 1965, the official poverty rate was 15% or so. After subsidizing a great number of “poor” people with government handouts — oops, I mean “hands-ups”; oh wait, that’s for taxpayers. No, I mean a “helping hand.” (Yeah, that’s it). Well, after the “helping hand,” all of those impressive Great Society programs barely moved the needle. The result of adding hundreds of billions of dollars to our national debt in the fight against poverty is that 50 years later, the number and share of Americans who live below the poverty line went from the aforementioned 15% (give or take) to — wait for it — 15% (give or take)!
Voila. This is what passes for success in government terms.
Oh, but within that same half a century, the number of people living below half the poverty line (surviving on less than $11,157 annually for a family of four) reached its highest level on record. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that figure was 6.7% of the population.
Big whoop, right?
How about “reducing crime?” Yeah, that’s it. Aggravated assaults, for example, went from 215,330 in 1965 to a peak of 1,099,210 in 1995. Vehicle thefts in 1965 amounted to 496,900; by 1995, it had jumped to 1,472,400. Property crimes went from 4,352,000 to 12,063,900. Etcetera.
All crimes began to abate after the passage of things such as “Three Strikes and You’re Out” legislation, “Broken Windows” policing, placing more and better law enforcement in high-crime areas, and other programs. The anti-crime legislation and similar measures that President Bill Clinton signed and now makes apologies for finally put a halt to what was surely a nationwide crimewave.
And now, in the words of Monty Python, for something completely different.
We really can begin to right our economic ship. Divided Government, for example, is with us and will probably remain for the next few election cycles (though anything can happen). So, while we have this political stand-off, Republicans should be brainstorming new strategies for the 2030s.
To save real money, we should start by doing away with truly unnecessary spending by abolishing the Departments of Energy, Education, and Transportation for starters.
The Department of Energy was established during the Carter years for one specific purpose: to reach energy independence. We got there during President Donald Trump’s last year in office but as soon as President Joe Biden came in, he reversed that often-touted and much-desired independence. So who needs a Department of Energy? Oh, wait, that would be the secretary of energy, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who basically knows nothing about energy.
Department of Transportation? What did and/or does Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, know about transportation? Little or nothing, so who needs him?
Department of Education? All I know is that the average grade of public-school students has gone down considerably since 1965. And that standards have been so reduced that, rather than trying to cram actual useful material into distracted youths’ brains, teachers have been amusing themselves by crafting “lessons” on each of the holy educational trinity subjects of “Diversity! Equity! Inclusion!”
Johnny can’t read? So what? None of his classmates can either (and his teacher isn’t particularly good at it)!
Jill can’t do math? Who cares? All her friends and classmates know how to use a credit card! (And they also know that Uncle Government will help them out if they overspend.)
Johnny can’t put two coherent sentences together? What of it? Neither can President Brandon or Vice-President Harrison or Lincoln (or whoever)!
Speaking of math …
It was a very expensive proposition to reduce the poverty level from 15% of the population to … 15% of the population.
We now have a national debt of $31 trillion and climbing.
Every U.S. person owes $72,217 (2021 estimate).
However, even at these astronomical heights, the U.S. is not the most indebted of first world nations. The United Kingdom’s per capita debt is an astounding $129,203; France’s is $107,245, and poor Switzerland’s national debt comes in at $213,100 per capita. India, curiously, stands out as one of the most frugal spenders among nations: per capita, each resident there owes just $437 (though that may be a year’s salary. Who knows? Not Johnny!).
James Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com. Readers are invited to visit jimb.substack.com, where Jim’s Journals are on file. He also invites people to subscribe to Jim’s Journal.