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Throwing Money at Poor Communities Won’t Fix Them

The Honorable Newt Gingrich
 

Then I reread Theodore White’s Making of the President 1972, the biggest surprise was not political, it was in policy.

To a degree, I wasn’t ready for how White captures the absolute failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the amount of damage it was doing to our cities. It is hard to believe, but by 1972, only seven years after the peak of the Great Society legislative tsunami, White saw clearly that liberal government policies were already destroying the poor and the urban neighborhoods which had before been vibrant.

Not since Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion had I read such an extraordinarily insightful understanding of why billions and billions in urban investment had failed and were doomed to fail no matter how much money we poured in to the wrong policies. And White was writing 20 years before Olasky, so his perception and insights are even more remarkable.

When you read this analysis, you will understand how big the problem urban America is facing really is. It is deeply entrenched in the wrong ideology and defended by bureaucracies of failure.

Since the passage of the Great Society, the federal government has spent $27.8 trillion (in 2016 dollars) on the War on Poverty. By contrast, all of America’s wars have cost $8 trillion and World War II, our biggest war, cost $4.3 trillion.

So, for three and a half times the cost of all our wars—or six and a half times the cost of World War II—what has the federal government accomplished? As a share of GDP, means-tested welfare and aid to the poor was 1.11 percent in the 1950s, 1.68 percent in the 1960s, and since then it has blossomed to 5.91 percent. Measured by violence in poor neighborhoods, absence of local jobs in poor communities, and collapsing educational achievement in schools in poor communities, the War on Poverty has been an expensive failure that has made things worse.

Could anyone seriously suggest that Baltimore or Southside Chicago or East St. Louis represent a “Great Society”?

The problem is clearly not money. Baltimore City already spends $16,184 per pupil—the third highest per student out of the 100 largest school districts in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As Sanford Horn wrote for the Federalist:

“Project Baltimore reported that in 13 of 39 city high schools, zero students were proficient in math. Zero. Let that sink in for a minute. In six more Baltimore high schools, only 1 percent tested proficient. In roughly half the schools, 3,804 students attempted the exam, with a mere 14 proficient in math. Not 14 percent, 14 actual students. It’s no wonder the poverty rate in Baltimore is 22 percent.

“Incompetent so-called leaders and teachers’ unions have corrupted the public school system. They hide behind tenure while indoctrinating students instead of educating them, condemning the next generation to the consequences of the corrupt and broken system they created. It’s not all their fault, though: the children they teach have largely grown up in chaotic homes that do not value learning.”

The Left will argue that all this spending is necessary to fight the legacy of slavery and discrimination. But it is clearly failing to do so.

As Jason Riley wrote for The Wall Street Journal, only 28 percent of black students passed the math exam in the latest New York City tests (by comparison, 74 percent of Asian students, 67 percent of white students, and 33 percent of Hispanic students passed). “On the English exam, the passage rates were 68 percent for Asians, 67 percent for whites, 37 percent for Hispanics, and 35 percent for blacks,” according to Riley.

This failure of policy and bureaucracy was foreseen by White nearly 50 years ago. As he wrote:

“By the early 1970’s it was clear that the Liberal-inspired programs of the Great Society had failed in the cities; they had been based on a political misreading of how those cities functioned, and what communities in those cities required for community survival. What had actually happened in the great cities of America in the 1960’s, and was continuing to happen as America entered the seventies, mocked all the billions of dollars spent on programs to ‘save’ them. If the decade of the 1960’s can appropriately be called the Decade That Gave Goodwill A Bad Name, it is not because of the Vietnam war—it is because of what distant goodwill has done to life in the big cities. All the programs had been advanced by Democratic thinkers practicing the best doctrine of the day; but theologians put doctrine above experience. The Movement insisted on more of the same for the seventies—and in the big cities, where the Democrats get their core votes, more-of-the-same frightened too many of the communities who were being driven from their neighborhoods.”

Not a single Democratic candidate for president can be honest about the collapse of big city schools; the culture of poverty and unemployment; and the widespread corruption, drugs, and violence which are the legacy of the Great Society’s failed principles and failed institutions.

Even on the Republican side, no one has yet had the courage to tell the truth: More money will simply lead to more expensive failures.

The failed ideas must be replaced.

The failed institutions must be uprooted and replaced.

The corruption must be uprooted and called what it is.

The answer on the Left will be to scream racism while the Liberal Theology and teachers’ union bureaucracy continue to destroy children.

The answer on the Left will be to attack the police while more and more poor neighborhoods suffer from unchallenged violence and barbarism.

The amazing thing is how much of this White analyzed in 1972 – and how little has changed since.

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