Welfare Lines

By Allen, Charlotte | The Washington Monthly, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Welfare Lines


Allen, Charlotte, The Washington Monthly


"What a racially segregated system once taught the young black about living with his inferiority [is] now taught by a benevolent social welfare system. The difference was that in an earlier age a black parent could fight the competing influences.

--Charles Murray, arguing for the abolition of welfare in Losing Ground, 1984

"The United States already has policies that inadvertently social-engineer who has babies, and it is encouraging the wrong women.... The technically precise description of America's fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution."

--Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, arguing for the abolition of welfare in The Bell Curve, 1994

Ten years ago, Charles Murray published Losing Ground, a pathfinding, eloquently argued book that called for getting rid of most government assistance programs for the poor. Murray contended that the programs encouraged laziness, dependence on handouts, and endemically low self-esteem among recipients that translated into self-fulfilling prophecies of failure for many poor blacks and members of other minority groups. As the above passage from Losing Ground indicates, Murray had nothing but scorn for a well-intentioned liberal elite that professed compassion for the underclass but doomed its members to permanent dependency by expecting nothing of them. His thesis: Welfare is bad because it subsidizes bad habits and attitudes. Take away the check, and you will be treating the poor like equals, spurring them to take responsibility for their lives and possibly climb to prosperity.

On the way from 1984 to 1994, something happened to Murray's thinking. His core proposal--get rid of welfare--is unaltered, but his characterization of the welfare problem has changed drastically. First there was his much-discussed Wall Street Journal op-ed in the fall of 1993. In that article, and in a longer piece for the spring 1994 issue of The Public Interest, Murray's villains were no longer the kindly but deadly liberal social engineers of Losing Ground. …

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