Politics and the Professors: The Great Society in Perspective

Politics and the Professors: The Great Society in Perspective

Politics and the Professors: The Great Society in Perspective

Politics and the Professors: The Great Society in Perspective

Synopsis

In the early 1960s American was in a confident mood and embarked on a series of efforts to solve the problems of poverty, racial discrimination, unemployment, and inequality of educational opportunity. The programs of the Great Society and the War on Poverty were undergirded by a broad consensus about what our problems as a nation were and how we should solve them. But by the early seventies both political and scholarly tides had shifted. Americans were divided and uncertain about what to do abroad, fearful of military inferiority, and pessimistic about the capacity of government to deal affirmatively with domestic problems. A new administration renounced the rhetoric of the Great Society and changed the emphasis of many programs. On the scholarly front, new research called into question the old faiths on which liberal legislation had been based. In this book, the sixteenth volume in the Brookings series in Social Economics, Henry Aaron describes both the initial consensus and its subsequent decline. He examines the evolution of attitude and pronouncements by scholars and popular writers on the role of the federal government and its capacity to bring about beneficial change in three broad areas: poverty and discrimination, education and training, and unemployment and inflation. He argues that the political eclipse of the Great Society depended more on events external to it--war in Vietnam, dissolution of the civil rights coalition, and, finally, the Watergate scandal and all its repercussions--than on its intrinsic failings. Aaron concludes that both the initial commitment to use national polices to solve social and economic problems and the subsequent disillusionment of scholars andlaymen alike rest largely on preconceptions and faiths that have little to do with research themselves.

Excerpt

Scholars played a large part in developing and supporting the programs of the Great Society and the War on Poverty. The broad consensus that underlay these programs was shared by scholars who did research on poverty and discrimination, education and training, and unemployment and inflation.

But by the mid-1970s, the political and scholarly tides had changed. A new administration renounced the rhetoric of the Great Society and shifted the emphasis of many programs. Among scholars, new research— much of it supported by the federal government—called old faiths into question. Education and training, for example, seemed to improve the fortunes of the poor less dramatically than many had hoped.

This book describes the initial consensus and its subsequent decline. In various fields oversimplified research gave way to more sophisticated, though not always more accurate, analysis which suggested that policies adopted in the heyday of the Great Society were flawed. The author argues that the Great Society did not fall of its own weight, but rather was eclipsed by external events—the war in Vietnam, the dissolution of the civil rights coalition, and the political defalcations of the Nixon administration. He finds that faiths and beliefs, not research, are the real basis for commitment to social reform. In his view, research tends to be a conservative force because it fosters skepticism and caution by shifting attention from moral commitment to analytical problems that rarely have clear-cut or simple solutions.

Henry J. Aaron, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation of the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, conducted this study while he was a senior fellow in the Brookings Economic Studies program, which is under the direction of Joseph A. Pechman. Having benefited from many incisive and constructive comments on drafts of his manu-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.