If there is any statement that we can make on America’s fifty year long “War On Poverty” on which all of us might agree it is that we have spent a great deal of money waging this battle. In fact, we have spent $11 Trillion fighting the war – a war that by virtually every metric has been a failure. As I write this, the classic cartoon Pogo came to mind:
For those who still see doing math as a worthwhile enterprise, I did a little bit of calculating of the amount of interest that is attributable to that large expenditure. And adjusting for the various rates of interest that were current during that half century time span, one way of looking at both the War On Poverty and the National Debt is that if we had never engaged in this losing onslaught, there would be virtually no National Debt. We’ve spent about $3 Trillion in interest to fund this project. Of our official $17 Trillion National Debt, we can attribute a total of $14 Trillion to the War On Poverty.
It is rather mind boggling, but even at today’s near zero interest rate, the United States (or more exactly the citizens of the United States) accrue interest on this debt at the rate of an astounding one million dollars a second. Of this, $820,000 is attributable to the money spent and interest accrued funding the War On Poverty. Put another way, if we had never engaged in this futile effort in social engineering and justice, we could give a cash award of over three quarters of a million dollars to 86,400 Americans a day and in eleven years we would have distributed that to every American, man, woman or child, irrespective of their financial circumstances. A reasonable person might argue – that would end the War On Poverty by ending poverty – or would it?
Only infrequently is mankind blessed with the birth of a Mozart. But it is a common happenstance that we give birth to people who are tone deaf – the existence of karaoke being evident proof of that statement. Seldom do we find people who have the genius and determination of a Thomas Edison or a Henry Ford, possessed of a vision and who worked to create a workable plan to transform the human experience, making a great deal of money in the process. And seldom do we have people who understand how to make their money multiply many times over in order to assure a secure future for themselves and their posterity.
If the grand plan of distributing this three quarter million “dividend” to every American had in fact been implemented, I suspect we would see the same thing that we have seen repeatedly throughout human history. Ten years later, a small percentage of those recipients would be incredibly wealthy; a significant portion of people would have a bit more than the original grant or slightly less; and a large portion of those who received this check would be dead broke and demand that they be taken care of by the government, just as is the case today.
Much of the talk about the cause of poverty is that it is a direct outgrowth of ignorance. I agree with this premise but it is not the only factor. In the old days, many workers were paid on the basis of “piece work.” The greater the number of widgets a worker produced, the more he was paid. If two workers, both illiterate grammar school dropouts, worked side by side and the first of these produced twice as many widgets as the second, his compensation, even though modest, would be twice the amount the second worker was paid. So we see from this example that while ignorance is an impediment to success there are ways to overcome a lack of school learning or at least to mollify it. A person’s willingness to work or work harder than his counterpart also plays a role in his success or failure. And by inference, a refusal to work – to do something to improve a person’s own situation, is a virtual guarantee that person will be doomed, not by society, but by his own actions, to a life of poverty and need.
If there is a cure for poverty it might lie with science. Perhaps some genius will be able to isolate the gene that contains the “Protestant work ethic” and implant it in all new embryos. Or, even better, perhaps they can fuse it into nanobots and give us an injection which will, within a short time, instill that philosophy into each recipient. Even better, perhaps they can lay their hands on the “common sense” gene. If that were to come to pass, I suggest they begin the injections on Capitol Hill.