The Not-So-Great Society

Historian Amity Shlaes on the good intentions and bad results of LBJ's war on poverty


In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced plans for what he called "the Great Society," a sweeping set of programs that would represent the most ambitious and far-reaching expansion of the federal government since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Johnson declared war on poverty, jacked up federal spending on education, and pushed massive new entitlement programs that promised to deliver taxpayer-funded health care to the elderly and the poor. When Republican Richard Nixon succeeded Johnson, a Democrat, as president after the 1968 election, he expanded many of Johnson's programs.

Did the Great Society achieve its goals of eradicating poverty, sheltering the homeless, and helping all citizens participate more fully in the American Dream? In Great Society: A New History (Harper), Amity Shlaes argues that Johnson's bold makeover of the government was a failure despite the good intentions of its architects and implementers.

Shlaes is the author of The Forgotten Man, a best-selling history of the Great Depression, and the chair of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. She says remembering the Great Society's failure is especially relevant in an election year when presidential candidates are promising to spend huge amounts of money on new government programs. "Once again, many Americans rate socialism as the generous philosophy," she writes. "But the results of our socialism were not generous. May this book serve as a cautionary tale of lovable people who, despite themselves, hurt those they loved. Nothing is new. It is just forgotten."

In January, Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with Shlaes about the origins of the Great Society, why it didn't work, and what lessons we can draw for the 21st century.

Reason: What was the Great Society?

Shlaes: When Johnson became president, he wanted to do something that would make him look great—greater than President [John F.] Kennedy, who preceded him and died tragically—so he put together a program called the Great Society. The impulses came from sources beyond Johnson. Young Americans, as today, wanted to change the society, clean up any errors, and make us go from good to great.

LBJ gave a speech in which he said, "We will build a great society. It is a society where no child will go unfed and no youngster will go unschooled." 

No accident it was at the University of Michigan—the center of auto land, the university of the elite of Motor City, the heartland—where he declared these goals.

He didn't say, "I will provide a useful palliative." He said, "I will cure poverty." And to be fair, at the time everyone thought maybe poverty could be cured. Norman Podhoretz later said, "We thought this stuff was just the mopping up action, not a big deal. If you can win Europe, you can certainly win poverty."

All presidents are just a collection of impulses. One of Johnson's impulses was to complete Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal from the 1930s; he wanted to deliver to the rest of the poor people Roosevelt didn't get to.

Poor people in urban areas, like Detroit, as well as the countryside, like Appalachia and Texas' hill country.

Nothing is new. It's just forgotten. They had their own Hillbilly Elegy, a book called The Other America, which focused on poverty in Appalachia. Same thing—intractable, difficult, a shame, a humiliation involving hunger.

Johnson didn't really think too hard about what he was doing. He created a czar, Sargent Shriver—the brother-in-law of Kennedy, the man who led the Peace Corps, a man with all the goodwill in the world—to head up the [newly created] Office of Economic Opportunity. But it didn't turn out like they had imagined.

Other programs included Medicare and Medicaid. How did they sell Medicare?

Johnson said, "We'll complete the health care program that [President Harry] Truman so loved and was not able to get through Congress. Maybe we'll do it for poor people, not just old people. These things are expensive, but we'll just append them to Social Security. They can't be that expensive." Remember, life expectancy was not where it is today. These men thought that for a few years, old people could be taken care of.

This is a story of unintended consequences. Those programs would become so giant they would effectively begin to dwarf Social Security itself.

We created a lot of institutions and allowed progressives to run them. I mean, Sesame Street—how can you disagree with that? These were institutions that didn't seem set to change our culture but came to shape it in ways that today seem regrettable.

In addition, they had the legal aid office at the Office of Economic Opportunity. [The idea was that] a lady gets beaten up, she wants to get divorced, she has no money, she's Mexican-American, she may not even have citizenship, so she gets a lawyer funded by the federal government. That legal aid office, instead of representing individual hardship cases, became almost instantly an office to change America through litigation rather than through legislation. All of a sudden, this office from Washington would be funding an office in California to sue the governor of California. This was not quite what Johnson or Shriver had really thought through. It was a dynamic that grew on its own: Let's litigate ourselves to utopia.

Is it right to say that the Great Society is the final act of the New Deal and the Rooseveltian vision of government?

It's the final act of the New Deal and even further than Roosevelt [went].

Think of Norman Rockwell's The Four Freedoms. One of them was freedom from want—a tall order. That's a positive right. Roosevelt never got it all through. What's interesting is that in the '30s, we had a genuine crisis. One in four men were unemployed in the early '30s, hence the New Deal. In the '60s, we didn't have a crisis. It's like now. We just had idealism.

The question is, do you get to great through the public sector or the private sector? Is the public sector the only way? Could the private sector conceivably ever mail letters or [enable] mass communication?

Obviously not.

No, no. The private sector could never do that. [laughs]

We went for the public sector over and over again in the 1960s, with the idea that the private sector was the milk cow that provided the money. The private sector was taken for granted. Someone like Johnson or Shriver would think America will always grow, all things being equal.

They didn't have a clear understanding of a capitalist, creative destruction model. They took wealth production for granted.

It's easy for us to talk about creative destruction, because we've seen eBay destroy some kinds of retail, we've seen Amazon destroy other kinds of retail. Brutally, but arguably interestingly, and maybe for the better. They hadn't seen that.

In the beginning of the book I describe the employees of Fairchild, the camera parts company that made microchips, wondering if they would ever have a contract that was not a government contract. The entire state of California was dependent on the military. They said lawmakers would get up on their hinds like donkeys and bray when defense contracts were taken away from their states. [Then someone got the idea that] "Oh, yeah. We can make these little chips and we can put them in things people want at home. And not just refrigerators. We can make things that help the economy grow without the government."

At the beginning of each chapter, you give the amount of the federal budget that's devoted to defense (guns) vs. butter (entitlements). Tell me about that.

The idea is that guns cost so much more than everything else. Everyone thought, "We can't afford the Great Society because of the guns."

But by 1971, the federal government was spending more on butter than on guns.

That's right—a big change for the United States. If you look at defense spending today relative to the Korean War, or World War II, or Vietnam, it's very small as a share of GDP. When you look at the whole budget you'll see that entitlements are so much more than guns.

Right. Although we do spend a lot of money on guns still, but as a share of the federal budget—

It's smaller. They were just beginning to see this. A few characters see it early. One is Arthur Burns.

Burns is one of the major figures of the book. Who was he and why is he important?

He pioneered numbers crunching. It was said he could predict the business cycle by the strength of the tobacco in an auto dealership sales room. He considered himself the mentor of Milton Friedman. Burns had written a monograph of which he was very proud called Prosperity Without Inflation. He's like a character in a Greek tragedy, because he warns of inflation, sings like Cassandra, and then is complicit in causing the great 1970s inflation.

He became the head of the Federal Reserve.

Oh, yes. Nixon liked Burns, since he'd given Nixon a precious gift. Nixon had lost in 1960, and Burns had given him an explanation for that defeat, which suggested the defeat was not Nixon's fault but had happened because interest rates weren't low enough. It was the Fed's fault. Vain people, all of us, love to know a big defeat of ours was not our fault.

Nixon made him Fed chairman, and Burns expected that Nixon would do everything that Burns—the Fed god—wanted. Just as now we see President Trump and the Fed chairman at odds, Nixon realized that if interest rates didn't come down, then he might not win re-election. Burns gave in because he wanted Nixon's love.

So he helped the Fed lower interest rates to serve Nixon.

Rates lower than he otherwise might have, let's just say that. Nixon sends his yes men to Mr. Burns and says, "The president made you Fed chairman, Arthur. He expects you to be loyal, Arthur. We need lower interest rates." And Burns basically caves.

This is the story of working for a charismatic boss—the OxyContin of being in the White House, right? It's a terrible failure for the economics profession that an economic leader would act so irresponsibly.

Talk about the show Bonanza, a gigantic hit TV show that spanned the '60s. Why is Bonanza in your book?

The book is about economic growth and whether you can get it through the public or private sector. One of our preoccupations at the very beginning of the '60s was: What do you do with the growth?

Bonanza was a different kind of Western. It wasn't a cowboy coming into town, shooting a bad man, and leaving with the girl. It was about cowboys, the Cartwrights at Ponderosa, so wealthy that they have responsibility to civilize Main Street. To teach men not to shoot, to figure out what the price of a bull should be, and mainly to figure out how to be leaders in their community. It's a very different kind of Western. It was the story of America: We're rich now, so what should we do with that?

In the beginning of the decade, it squeezed out some other shows. It was on Sunday prime time. When presidents had to give addresses, they had to decide whether to pre-empt Bonanza. But you risk offending Americans and we, Americans, were addicted. Nixon actually pre-empted Bonanza to make his announcement of his awful populist economic plan in 1971.

This was lower interest rates, wage and price controls, and a bunch of tariffs?

And going off the gold standard was the main thing—denying any accountability for inflation.

Who is Walter Reuther?

Reuther was the head of the mighty UAW, the United Auto Workers. We, today, cannot imagine how important big unions were, since unions in the private sector have faded since then.

Reuther was a social democrat. He wanted to replicate Scandinavia, Germany, or maybe Yugoslavia in the United States. He got out the vote. Unions were much closer to the Democratic Party than they are today, in part because we've created laws that distance unions from the party. [Reuther] could claim he helped to elect Johnson more than he helped to elect Kennedy. Therefore he was owed these things, and Johnson knew it.

In the '60s, the one thing unions wanted that they didn't get was an end to what we call "right-to-work," the loophole whereby some states don't have to have the most stringent union culture, where you can start a company without unionizing, where the people who work in your shop don't have to join the union.

The union men, Reuther and George Meany, the leader of the AFL-CIO, said, "Oh my gosh, this loophole threatens our existence, because state after state is opting to be right-to-work. Let's close that darn loophole," just as Elizabeth Warren is suggesting today. They almost managed to get Johnson to do it, [but he] ran out of steam late in the game. Therefore, the natural experiment of a right-to-work state versus a state where unions are dominant came to pass. America saw that right-to-work states did grow faster and, indeed, drew manufacturing jobs. We have a record of what damage an overly demanding union can do that we never would have had if the Great Society had succeeded.

Pruitt-Igoe, a housing complex, is very early in the book and very late in the book.

This book is about the folly of planning. The smart guys who planned Vietnam with their spreadsheets…they were a kind of fool who failed to look at reality. Domestically, the best and brightest existed, too. Men who thought they could edit lives to achieve optimal outcomes.

Pruitt-Igoe was actually started before the Great Society, in the '50s. It was the first area where we had this vanity that we could manage lives. It was a housing project in St. Louis, one of the largest in the nation…but instantly it began to have troubles.

The troubles partly had to do with the absence of growth. It was imagined that St. Louis would fill these towers, 22 towers of 11 stories each, because of its incredible rate of growth. St. Louis began to stop growing in part because of its heavy unionization. You could move somewhere else and make an auto or rocket part more cheaply, so the housing project by sheer arithmetic failed. It didn't have enough tenants who paid enough rent for it to succeed.

Rather than acknowledging the failure, we compounded it by spending more on such housing projects. The architect of Pruitt-Igoe, whose name was [Minoru] Yamasaki, by 1965 or so was saying, "It's a project I wish I never had built." What a stunning admission from an architect.

It was a tragedy of the commons. Nobody cared about it and everyone trashed it.

A great way to think about your book is as the domestic policy version of The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam's story of how the Vietnam War happened. Daniel Patrick Moynihan comes in for a lot of abuse. Talk about how he's the patron saint of the failure of the Great Society.

Moynihan was the wise fool. He was the jester who sees through what the king is doing. Moynihan was devoted to government, willing to admit a mistake and persevere. There's some beautiful humility to that. Moynihan was present—and complicit—at the scene of many errors.

In the beginning, he wrote a federal architecture manifesto, which basically says, "We like modern. You can build modern, and you can impose modern on people." What if people don't like modern? No, that doesn't matter. Buildings such as [the Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters, designed] by Marcel Breuer, a very ugly building in Washington, loved by no one.

[Moynihan] also wrote the memo that gave us the modern public sector union and became Kennedy's executive order, 10988, which didn't give public sector unions the right to strike—so they didn't figure it had much effect—but emboldened unions to expand and demand more wages, leading to the budget-busting at the federal level and even at the state level that public sector unions represent today.

He tried guaranteed income, which is popular now. Moynihan said, accurately enough, that by funding social workers we were feeding the horses to feed the sparrows. What he failed to recognize was the complexity of giving a lot of people money. There's a tremendous incentive not to work when you get a guaranteed income.

What was the role of Vietnam in both the passage of Great Society programs and their ultimate failure?

In the standard history, Vietnam was everything. I found Vietnam was surprisingly less important.…The Great Society was much-loved even without any Vietnam.

Johnson and Reuther were afraid of riots in the cities. They had riots. Vietnam did, in part, force those riots. "If you're sending my son to Vietnam I deserve adequate housing, I deserve police who don't beat me up." But less than I thought, frankly, when I went over it. Imagine a stage of actors, these geniuses who think they can re-engineer society in an almost Aldous Huxley sense, and in the background, off-stage, loud thunder and rumbles made by contraptions. That's the way it felt.

One thing Vietnam did for the left: They took a look at North Vietnam and they said, "Oh, there's socialism. I'm going to go check it out." There's a chapter here where Tom Hayden, the progressive activist, goes to Hanoi. He was completely hoodwinked by the North Vietnamese and their Soviet allies. He [felt] a sense of unity. He said they had a socialism of the heart—which I think many Vietnamese would disagree with—and he drew inspiration from it.

Hayden wanted a mass movement. How do you get that? Socialism is a great rallying cry. It sounds good and it's never finished. Anyone who criticizes socialism can be rebutted: "Well, we're on the way. We're not really there." He came back from Vietnam very pleased with himself because he'd found a modus operandi for protest.

How do we know the Great Society failed? How do we total up the cost?

Our government, our people, and most importantly, our markets realized we were overspending. In order to control the resulting inflation, we had to do something terrible and brutal: [We had to] raise interest rates to 15 or 18 percent. What does that mean, when an interest rate goes up like that? You get two fewer bedrooms in your house. You want three bedrooms? You get one and a half. You want four bedrooms? You get two. Your prospects shrink.

In the '80s you see people writing, "In the future people will live in smaller and smaller houses." A loss of hope is the most important thing.

In this period, because we appeared to run out of energy and money as a result of the Great Society, we thought we had to control our population. On television, there was this serious suggestion that we should introduce a heavy diaper tax so that families wouldn't reproduce so much. [That we should] create a whole tax structure that was the opposite of a child credit. Disincent procreation—that was regarded as absolute common sense. [The '70s saw] a dimming of hope, imagination, and inspiration.

Ronald Reagan, governor of California from '67 to '75, was against the Great Society. He saw it as the federal government taking more control, spending more money, causing more problems. But later, he describes saving Social Security and Medicare through a big tax hike in the '80s as one of the most significant actions he took as president. Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid today take up two-thirds of the federal budget. The Great Society as a concept seems to have lost, but in terms of spending, it seems to just keep winning. What do we need to remember about the Great Society for the current moment?

That government failed. Both parties are too vainglorious; both parties often fail. In the book, Nixon is as bad as Johnson. And in some areas, as John Cogan of Hoover points out, Nixon's [domestic] programs grew faster than Johnson's. Politicians will do that, but the positive lesson of the period is carried by three companies: [General Electric], what became Intel, and Toyota. What it suggests is the answer to American problems is often the private sector, which can outgrow the public sector if you make key reforms. If you capped Social Security and did something with Medicare and lowered the capital gains rate, you'd probably get enough growth that we wouldn't be in trouble.

You write at the beginning of the book that many Americans today rate socialism as a generous philosophy, "but the results of our socialism were not generous. May this book serve as a cautionary tale of lovable people who, despite themselves, hurt those they loved." How will you know if your book has succeeded?

Well, there's no limit to what you can achieve if you don't care who gets the credit, as Reagan said. I'm just part of a group of people who are looking at history in a frank, analytic way, and saying, "Here are the results. Let's remember those." In high school we don't get this material. In college we don't get it anymore.

My hope is that education changes. I'm sure that change won't come from the teachers. It has to come from young people, who resent being fed a mono-line about how the Great Society was great, the New Deal was great, and everything else is cold, mean, nasty, and discriminatory. Young people know that can't be the only truth. My interest is in seeing them have the opportunity to ask important questions.

This interview has been edited for style and clarity. For a podcast version, subscribe to The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie.

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  1. The big question: Did the Great Society work?

    In terms of deep poverty, it did not. Deep poverty did not meaningfully change for 50 years. The deep poverty rate now appears to be declining ‘oh so slowly’ by policy changes made in the last few years.

    My start: Get SSA off the government books. That whole program financing needs to be re-thought. And for God’s sake, don’t let politicians be in charge of the fucking money! There are any number of SSA proposals that would work. The current system will not.

    1. I don’t think that that is a relevant question to libertarians.

      We’re ‘liberty-maximizers’ – even if the Great Society had worked, it comes with a massive reduction in individual liberty.

      Would Cabrini Green have been justified in the forced removal of residents and the destruction of their neighborhoods if it had been a success?

      Would rent control be acceptable if it worked?

      Would Social Security be justified if it worked?

      The difference here is the difference between libertarianism and neo-liberalism.

      1. Never asked by Reason: Would violating the Lockean Proviso be justified if it “worked”?

    2. “The big question: Did the Great Society work?”

      Depends what you think the goal was.

      It succeeded in creating an ever increasing class of poor voters wholly dependent on government for their means of support.

      “Historian Amity Shlaes on the good intentions and bad results of LBJ’s war on poverty”

      The Right thinks the Left has good intentions.
      The Left thinks the Right has evil intentions.
      Both are projecting.
      Both are wrong.

  2. Those of us just starting our careers at that time remember well the impact after Johnson and during Nixon.
    The time was referred to as ‘triple double’. We had double digit inflation, double digit home interest rates, and double digit unemployment. So to fix it, they put in wage and price controls. Great idea; since raises were restricted by law, we had to quit and get a different job to get the kind of wage increase needed to survive. And the government wondered why we never got vested in our retirement plans.

  3. “The central problem is _____!”

    There’s any number of ways to fill in the blank. My nomination is the liberal assertion (article of faith?) that “There is no such thing as an undeserving poor person”. Oh yes there is! Poor people who are perfectly capable of working, but chose not to, and stay up at all hours drinking-snorting-injecting who knows what, and blaring their stereo! Call that “deserves poverty dude”.

    Life if complicated. “Doesn’t deserve poverty dude” lives on the other side. He and his wife got sick, and his house burned down from no fault of his own. But he works hard when he can, and doesn’t party loudly at night, or pick needless fights.

    WHO (of the 2 of them) are YOU going to give voluntary charity to? Government Almighty does NOT care, and will basically reward them one and the same!

    “There is no such thing as an undeserving poor person”? I call bullshit!

    1. “The central problem is _____!”

      The assumption government should try to do ANYTHING other than protect us from others who’d harm us. Everything government does, starts with taking property from people, which is a problem in itself. The free market provides all the prosperity. The government just takes from the producers to fight criminals and foreign armies.

      1. I approve of this message, MoreFreedom! Let MoreFreedom ring! Minimize Government Almighty to what it absolutely MUST do!

        1. Government always doing bad for ordinary people, so it’s better for you to visit sex Noord Brabant and keep politics away

    2. I’d take it one level further down – its not that there are no undeserving poor people, its the core idea that its acceptable to take resources away from other people. Period.

      You get rid of that and the idea that there are no undeserving poor goes right out the window – because that’s now all *your* money that you’re giving away.

      When its someone else’s money, you can afford to say there are no undeserving poor. It costs you nothing and you get that ‘I’m a good person’ feeling. Once you can’t do that anymore, once you have to make those hard decisions about where to put your limited resources, then the idea that everyone is equally deserving gets smothered in its sleep.

      The core bad idea is that if you take something from someone else its ok as long as its ‘for a good cause’. That has to be one of the, if not the, most damaging ideas in human history.

      1. There is also the implicit statist assumption that people are not just too naive, ignorant, and stupid to be able to help themselves, let alone each other; but that they do not care about each other and will not help each other — therefore government must.

        They hypocrisy shows in full force where they both lambast capitalists for caring only about profit, then complaining that capitalists must be coerced into doing anything because money incentives will not do the trick.

  4. If medicare is the problem then don’t apply for it. People like this author represent 30% of the population. Show us how great the world can be by putting your words in action.

    1. Medicare is a problem, but it is not the problem.

      What we know. When the Federal government is used to administer the program, the spending explodes. We now have 50 years of data and the jury came back: Medicare doesn’t work efficiently enough and politicians cannot help themselves but fuck around with the program to spend even more.

      A libertarian-ish alternative could be a modified HSA structure, so patients directly control healthcare dollars for themselves. How that is funded is the tougher question. But I really would like to see the Federal government out of healthcare to the maximum extent possible.

    2. “If medicare is the problem then don’t apply for it.”

      If I don’t apply for it, can I get back all the taxes that I paid to support it? Is that OK by you? Or do you want me to pay the taxes for it, and then not benefit from my taxes? That’s kinda like “taxation without representation”, ya know… Violent wars have been fought over that kind of thing!

      What next, “If totally federalized production of food, medicine, shelter, and clothing is the problem then don’t apply for it.”

      Federalization of us needing permission to blow on cheap plastic flutes is QUITE ENOUGH already, thank you very much!

      To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

      1. If it’s been paid for then what are we even talking about here. Or are you implying you paid for your portion but others didn’t pay and thus they are the problem not you who paid?

        1. Give me my money back and I won’t ‘apply for it’.

        2. The average recipient takes put 3x what they put into the system, most of the costs occurring to extend life just a little bit longer. It is a broken system.

      2. “If medicare is the problem then don’t apply for it.”

        Your prescription to solve the problems caused by socialism is for All of the Noble Souls to pay, but then not apply for benefits, is clearly implied here, if not stated outright. Anyone with knowledge of the real world, and how people, and even the more-intelligent animals, behave, are aware of a problem called the “free rider” problem. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” becomes “from each according to their willingness to be bilked endlessly, to each according to their utter laziness, greed, and shamelessness”. Have you ever heard of the “free rider” problem, or do I need to explain some more?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-rider_problem … There is PLENTY more out there to study up on!

      3. Liberals like to tug on your heartstrings about the needy poor. They exist, and some of them deserve our help. I encourage free-will giving.

        PUBLICLY funded coerced “giving” runs into troubles like the below… Not the greedy poor! The greedy providers of goods and services!

        The needy poor should be encouraged (or even forced) to get Obama-care-mandated, taxpayer-funded or insurance-funded drug addiction (or other) “therapy” from the likes of “Chris Bathum”, see http://www.malibutimes.com/news/article_62b16ee4-2246-11e8-b456-1f240b332af0.html ,
        Malibu ‘Rehab Mogul’ Guilty on 31 Criminal Counts
        Christopher Bathum’s rap sheet includes a long list of charges, from fraud to forcible rape.
        Your tax and health-insurance money at work!!!

    3. Not applying for Medicare doesn’t make it not my problem. I still have to pay for it. Its still a drain on the economy. It still encourages people to not take care of their own futures.

    4. You don’t apply for Medicare. If you are on Social Security you are forced to take it. Then you find out that the premium for Medicare is based on your overall income and can rival private health insurance. It is why Bernie is lying when he promises M4A.

  5. Armies and navies are what we use to threaten and destroy enemies outside our borders. Political parties and programs are what we use to threaten and destroy enemies within our borders.

    War on what?

    1. Wars on poverty, drugs, too-large-a-serving-of-soft-drinks, too-large bottles of shampoo on airplanes, unlicensed interior decorators, scratching your butt (in a disrespectful manner) during the National Anthem, owning eagle feathers that fell from the clear blue sky, in your own backyard, 17-year-olds (but not 18-year olds) distributing child porn by sexting each other, letting your kid walk a few blocks by himself, to school… And… LAST BUT NOT LEAST!!! Total war on the blowing upon cheap plastic flutes, which has not been properly sanctified, by a certified and licensed doctor of doctorology!!!

      Really, they are all just wars on anyone and everyone who disagrees with the idea of “All Power and All Glory to Government Almighty”!

  6. “War on poverty”? Whatever.

    As Koch / Reason libertarians, we know exactly which policies will produce the strongest economy: (1) unlimited, unrestricted immigration, and (2) no minimum wage. And we’ll have the former in less than a year when Democrats retake the White House.

  7. Amity Schlaes has figured a profitable angle, making clingers feel better about getting stomped in the culture war, feeding their appetite for pining for good old days that never existed.

    If this eases the circumstances of culture war casualties as they proceed toward replacement, perhaps that is good.

    1. “Amity Schlaes has figured a profitable angle, making clingers feel better about getting stomped in the culture war, feeding their appetite for pining for good old days that never existed.”

      Jealous, asshole bigot?
      It’s going to be enjoyable jamming Trump down your throat again.

      1. Just not enough downscale, rural bigots left in America to position Trump for another Electoral College trick shot.

        Or maybe you figure the tanking economy and his mishandling of the pandemic (starting with closing the pandemic office) are enough to offset his bigotry, boorishness, and backwardness?

        1. “Or maybe you figure the tanking economy and his mishandling of the pandemic (starting with closing the pandemic office) are enough to offset his bigotry, boorishness, and backwardness?”

          I figure your idiocy only adds to your bigotry, lies and general assholishness, and your raging case of TDS.
          We can hope it’s fatal in your case.

    2. Just like the Democrat party does by getting rid of all women and brown candidates. But they kept the elderly white men. Go woke go broke right?

    3. Reverend, you’re part of a party of misogynistic racists. How does it feel to know the majority of Democrats are voting to maintain the power of old, white, men? That Democrats are voting in the status quo and all their Progressive talk is just that, talk? That they support Patriarchy?

      In every way, the Democratic Party has shown that it is indistinguishable from ‘the bitter clingers’ that you claim to despise. How are we going to get our comeuppance when the D’s are supporting clinger politics?

  8. I don’t see why anybody would be down on the New Deal or the Great Society, there’s a lot here the government could be doing to improve people’s lives.

    For example, I think the government could easily be the employer of last resort, just put jobless people to work building homes for the homeless. Of course, no community is going to want jobless and homeless people moving into their neighborhoods so you’ll have to build entire communities out in the hinterlands away from everybody else, but it can certainly easily be done.

    Also, there might be jobless and homeless people who have substance abuse problems or mental health issues or are just plain lazy so you’d probably need to force these people into these communities and build fences around them to make sure they stay there. (We could probably call them “Happy Fun Camps” to make them sound more attractive.) But that would just be more jobs for caregivers and social workers tasked with making sure people get the help they need whether they want the help or not.

    And of course with so many of these jobless and homeless people being old and sick and otherwise unhealthy, many of them are probably going to die from being required to work (despite the fact that the work is designed to make them free to enjoy a better life) so one of the first things they’d find necessary to build – after the temporary barracks needed to house them until they can build better and more permanent housing – would be a crematorium to handle the dead. But, hey!, that would provide even more jobs, and it’s not like the old and the sick and the weak and the lazy and the crazy and the drug addicts will really be missed, they’re really just a drag on society if they can’t pull their own weight.

    Sure, it may sound a little harsh if you want to just look at the negative side of what I’m proposing, but I can assure you it’s all with the best of intentions, I really do want to do what’s best for everybody. Jobs and homes and Happy Fun Camps for all! Good intentions!

    1. I see what you did there!

      “…the work is designed to make them free to enjoy a better life…”

      Your “Happy Fun Camps” would be MUCH embellished by entrance gates with an overhead slogan “Work Sets You Free”!

    2. On an unrelated note, nothing to do with my silly joking about a scenario that could never happen here, I watched this movie last night called Enemy of the State that I thought was kind of interesting despite its rather far-fetched plot.

      It seems there’s some high-level intelligence community officials secretly manipulating the government into supporting legislation establishing a surveillance state so they can spy on everybody all the time. Fortunately, the plot is exposed, the traitorous plotters get what’s coming to them and all the good people in government condemn such vile un-American liberty-intrusive actions in the strongest possible terms.

      Well, except for one single legislator at the end of the movie who seems to see this as merely a set-back for the plot and suggests that they will be back again with legislation to spy on everybody in the name of national security and keeping the public safe. I assume they just stuck that last part in there to set up a possible sequel to the movie but it proved to be such an implausible story line that no sequel was ever made.

      Which is sort of understandable, the movie was made in 1998 before 9/11 happened and exposed our shocking lack of a surveillance state and the absolute necessity of establishing one. Funny what some people used to think of as an unacceptable level of government control when we now clearly see what a good thing it is. I wonder what lessons about acceptable levels of government control in the name of national security and public safety we’ll learn from the coronavirus pandemic?

      1. The coronavirus pandemic may put in place, new Government Almighty programs that will never go away! Could be…

        On the other hand, the pandemic may expose as bullshit, that which is bullshit. Search for search-string “bullshit” in the provided link contents below. Example: Suddenly the TSA allows us to hand-carry more liquid hand sanitizer than before, onto the airplane! Ergo, the previous limits were all bullshit, and now we have more confirmation of that! As if we needed it! Maybe the carry-on liquids limits will be permanently liberalized! We can always hope!

        Of course, this is leftist-oriented Slate, so they count as “bullshit”, things that I wouldn’t put in that class… Certainly not in the long run! So, for what it is worth…

        America Is a Sham
        Policy changes in reaction to the coronavirus reveal how absurd so many of our rules are to begin with.

        1. You may now bring a bottle of Purell as large as 12 ounces onto the plane to assist in your constant sanitizing of yourself, your family, your seat, your bag of peanuts, and everything else. All other liquids and gels, however, are still restricted to four ounces.

          This is outrageous! Why can’t you bring on a 12oz bottle of “cough syrup” in addition to the “Purell”?

          1. The cough syrup you have to chug the whole bottle waiting in line to board.
            Absolute proof against coronaplague.
            There may be some minor side effects

      2. Trolls, take note: This is how you do satire.

        Well done.

        1. Stupid threading.

          Really well done, Jerryskids.

      3. Bravo

      4. ‘Enemy of the State’ is decent, ‘The Conversation’ is better.

      5. So, what jerrys is saying is that we need to elect will smith?

        I’m skeptical

    3. Happy Camps? Where you will eat the finest meals, have access to fabulous doctors, and be able to excercise regulary.

    4. “I don’t see why anybody would be down on the New Deal or the Great Society, there’s a lot here the government could be doing to improve people’s lives. ”

      Neither did anything to desegregate public schools in the US south, Alabama, Mississippi and others, despite at least two supreme court decisions ordering school desegregation. These southern schools were desegregated under Nixon, not Roosevelt or Johnson. It was a risky move on Nixon’s part, and the south has ever since been a stronghold for Nixon’s party.

  9. Can we hurry up and make Joe Biden President already?

    The White House is no place for on-the-job training — Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has made that even more clear. We need a president who is ready to clean up his mess, take responsibility, and lead us forward on day one.

    Biden first arrived in Washington DC in 1973 so you know he has the necessary experience. In fact he’s arguably the second most qualified candidate in history. (Hillary Clinton is still #1.)


    1. Yea, Hurry up! Before full blown alzheimers sets in

  10. good intentions

    This seems like a big assumption to me. Especially considering LBJ was a total blatant racist

    1. IW, I think it’s a matter of, you can’t do enough research on a person such that you can write a scholarly work on them, and not end up in some way seeing things from that person’s point of view. Tom Wolfe wrote a wry vignette about that in Bonfire Of The Vanities, where his Assistant District Attorney character starts telling another character about how wonderful a person his witness is. Said witness being a thieving, lying piece of shit, like most everyone else who goes through the system, but the ADA needed to believe that this particular guy was more trustworthy than the others.

      People also don’t generally see themselves as evil. Or corrupt. Even people who I don’t think ever had a good intention in their body, like LBJ. I’m sure he had reasons that sounded good and noble to him, and would also incidentally give him power and money.

    2. If you read Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of LBJ, what emerges is a fairly complicated picture of a politician whose primary motivations are 1) his self-aggrandizement, and 2) consolidating power within the Democratic party. He was the driving force behind getting enough party support to get the first civil rights acts passed in the Senate, and then took advantage of the nation’s grief over Kennedy to get pretty much whatever he wanted passed after that.

      For the Democrats, getting 90% or better support from black voters has single-handedly kept them relevant. You won’t find a larger kept voting demographic in all the country like black women, who vote for Democrats by at least a 95% margin election cycle after election cycle, regardless of who runs, for the last 50 years. And most of that support was built on the back of the Great Society. They don’t care that LBJ was a racist for the same reason that George Takei votes Democrat despite the party’s leader literally putting his family in a concentration camp–because the current iteration gives them what they want.

  11. I’d like to see an alternative history where Nixon beats Kennedy in 1960. He’d still have to deal with LBJ as majority leader but LBJ would not have been able to implement any of his Great Society plans and Nixon’s subsequent government expansion plans would have nothing to build on. And how would Nixon have dealt with Vietnam? Balls to the Wall Kennedy style, where we go from 100 advisers to 10000 troops in country ? Or hands off Eisenhower style? The world would have been a better place if LBJ took that bullet in ’63.

    1. “I’d like to see an alternative history where Nixon beats Kennedy in 1960.”

      I would have thought conservatives welcomed a Democrat in office. The party was in thrall to populist segregationists like Wallace until well into the 1980s, which prevented them from doing anything about desegregating public schools in the south, for example. Nixon, especially the 1960 version of Nixon, wouldn’t have had anything stopping him from going medieval on democratic segregationist asses.

      1. You mean like the democrats of today who are trying to obstruct Deblasio’s plans to desegregate NYC’s charter schools?

        1. No, it’s the Republicans today who most resemble the populists like Wallace. Nixon was essentially putting the final touches on liberal policies that were started by liberal democrats. Had Nixon gained the Whitehouse in 1960, desegregation would likely have been more advanced than turned out to be the case with Kennedy’s successful electoral rigging.

          1. School segregation in the south was a fait accompli in the sixties. By the 70’s it was the North’s turn(unless you count South Boston as part of Dixie). Nixon stepped back and watched the courts order the bussing and various desegregation regimes eventually leading to massive failures in places like Kansas City MO. Nixon was too busy running his racist southern strategy to implement liberal policies, no?

            1. “Nixon was too busy running his racist southern strategy to implement liberal policies, no?”

              He was definitely laying the ground work for the Republican takeover of the south, but at the same time he managed to desegregate the southern public schools, unlike his Democratic predecessors. That he could accomplish both simultaneously is testament to his political adroitness.

              The voters of East coast Liberal elite strongholds like Mass, were the least of Nixon’s concerns.

              1. You’re both right, really. Nixon let it be known that they were going to enforce the laws, but was smart enough to bring in local leaders to hash things out between them and federal officials to figure out their own solutions. Despite warnings of violence, most of the desegregation was relatively peaceful, but by that time period, the buildup of political activism throughout the country made it a lot easier to make desegregation happen than what Eisenhower had to do in the 50s.

                Of course, this was also the white flight era, and places like Denver ended up seeing the passage of the Poundstone Amendment and communities incorporating themselves, specifically to avoid getting sucked into Denver Public Schools and having their kids bussed across town. Go down south, and communities are largely self-segregated even today, although they aren’t nearly as hypocritical about it as white liberal urbanites are with their communities.

  12. Ya’ think? There are anecdotes galore. One has LBJ arriving at a huge Texas air force base, exiting the presidential limo, and en route to DC.

    Appearing confused as he exits, LBJ is grabbed by an assistant who humbly says to him, “ Excuse me, Mr. President, but that is your plane is over there.”

    “ Son,” he replies, “these are all my planes.”

  13. “When Johnson became president, he wanted to do something that would make him look great”

    For some reason, lead in quote was omitted.

  14. Poverty is an absence of wealth. It’s what happens when someone is unable or unwilling to create wealth for themselves.

    Wealth distribution isn’t the answer. It makes everyone poorer in aggregate because it’s zero-sum.

    Want to wage a war on poverty? Eliminate government barriers to the creation of wealth. Things like minimum wage, licensing schemes, price floors, tariffs (yes, yes, I know… True libertarians support protectionism because if they don’t then they irrationally hate Trump, blah, blah), certificates of need, and whatever else I can’t think of off the top of my head that prevent people in poverty from lifting themselves up by the bootstraps.

    As the patron saint of conservatism famously said “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

    1. Or if you feel compelled to violate individual liberties, including property rights, how about this: instead of confiscating property from those who manage their own lives for financial success, let’s manage the lives of people who seem incapable of generating their own wealth. I would rather that most of us can keep our earned property, and dumbasses are prohibited from choosing life paths like theater major or hobo.

    2. Tariffs bad, income and payroll taxes ok.
      Thanks, sarc

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  16. To net it out, socialism and socialist programs (such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and welfare) are failures.

    That should be no surprise to Reason’s readers. It seems simple enough to understand: when government takes from producers and gives to non-producers, it creates incentives to not produce, and less production means more poverty and less wealth. More and more people become dependent on government taking more and more from others in a nefarious negative feedback loop. And the history of socialist countries shows it gets worse and worse over time. The US is about $200 trillion in the hole with promises it won’t be able to keep. So the only hope to keep the Ponzi scheme going is for more taxed immigrants to support more people collecting government checks.

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