The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

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.


  1. Interesting choice of examples, Edison and Ford, as I’ll bet you know, were both raised in quite poor farming families, and went to work by the time they were about 12, and if you look at what they produced, in large measure it was designed to make life easier for the common man (who isn’t really).

    • I did know that and I was sure you did as well – which you ably desmonstrated in your response. However, if you were to ask your average millenial to give a brief description of what these two men accomplished, I suspect a fair number of them would respond by saying, “Who?”

  2. The internet give us access to an amazing amount of information. It sure beats the heck out of my old Encyclopedia Britannica. But I guess you have to get off the “Kardashian” page and on to the history page to absorb it.

  3. A lot of our ancestors suffered through the depression. While some no doubt took advantage of their fellow poor at the time the majority sympathized and shared what little they had with each other. And they worked hard to see the next generation fared better than they did. They were successful! I don’t want to minimize society gap between those who have and those who don’t. However my Father who was dirt poor during his childhood used to say if all the wealth of the world were to be evenly distributed to all equally within a short time there would again be rich and poor. He commenced work at an early age putting new cardboard to cover the holes in his shoes every day before knocking on doors to try and sell products most couldn’t afford and knew what it was like to be hungry. But he kept at it and eventually through careful management of money and hard work he was able to provide for us as we grew up. The classic example of disadvantaged succeeding is found under Communism. Theoretically all were on an equal financial plane, but when restrictions were eased the energetic became wealthy. Looking around the world I can see the same situation in both the developed and undeveloped world. It’s not an issue of opportunity in most cases where there is an element of freedom. It’s an issue of making opportunities. But our governments throw money and give the impression they are responsible to cover everyone’s needs in our increasingly socialistic western societies. Why would the younger generation want to put out effort to better themselves when political parties vie with each other to buy votes with handouts? There are people who are genuinely disadvantaged and need our taxes to give them a leg up in life, but our society includes those as disadvantaged who could do more to help themselves. We are now “owned” by other countries who finance our deficits and that brings threats to our way of life.

    • Your analysis is excellent and exactly correct. My father also went through the Depression and it was tough. Having a full stomach was an achievement. Today we have people who are ticked off because they will have to wait several months to get the new Apple watch.

      I completely agree that as a matter of humanitarianism we have an obligation to try to help those who truly cannot care for themselves. But I suspect our political policies are less directed to “doing good” than they are attempting to “look as if we are doing good.” And those who are the “beneficiaries” of this construct haven’t a clue how they are being used as pawns in a game in which they are viewed by the real players as expendable.

  4. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown and commented:
    You have a wonderful writing style. Thanks for all your posts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: