Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

George Will: The Prescience of Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

George Will: The Prescience of Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Article excerpt

In the mid-1960s, a social scientist noted something ominous that came to be called "Moynihan's Scissors": Two lines on a graph crossed, replicating a scissors' blades. The descending line charted the decline in the minority male unemployment rate. The ascending line charted the simultaneous rise of new welfare cases.

The broken correlation of improvements in unemployment and decreased welfare dependency shattered confidence in social salvation through economic growth and reduced barriers to individual striving. Perhaps the decisive factors in combating poverty and enabling upward mobility were the habits, mores and dispositions that equip individuals to take advantage of opportunities.

This was dismaying because governments know how to alter incentives and remove barriers but not how to manipulate culture. The assumption that the condition of the poor must improve as macroeconomic conditions improve was to be refuted by a deepened understanding of the crucial role of the family as the primary transmitter of the social capital essential for self-reliance and betterment.

Fifty years ago this month, Moynihan wrote a report, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." The crisis he discerned was that 23.6 percent of African-American births were to unmarried women. Among the "tangle" of pathologies he associated with the absence of fathers was a continually renewed cohort of inadequately socialized adolescent males. This meant dangerous neighborhoods and schools where disciplining displaced teaching. He would later write: "A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority ... that community asks for and gets chaos."

Academic sensitivity enforcers and race-mongers denounced him as a racist who was "blaming the victim." Today, 72 percent of African- American children are born to single women, 48 percent of first births of all races and ethnicities are to unmarried women, and more than 3 million mothers under 30 are not living with the fathers of their children. …

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