A trillion here, a trillion there. For what?

May 8, 2021

The second Iraq War and the twenty-year effort in Afghanistan have cost the U.S. treasury approximately $3 trillion dollars.  And that doesn’t account for the incalculable price of over 7,000 dead.

Considering the state of affairs in those countries today, a cost/benefit analysis points strongly to the “not worth the cost” column.

Domestically, a similar case could be made regarding this nation’s never ending “war on poverty.”

In the fifty-seven years since President Lyndon Johnson first proposed the concept, the federal government has spent over $23 trillion dollars fighting said war.

As President Biden now stumbles around the country pitching another $4 trillion in spending it’s worth looking at just what have we gotten for past dollars already spent.

According to US census data, the poverty rate in 1964, the year Johnson launched his “war on poverty”, the official poverty rate was 19 percent.  It dropped to 17.3 in 65, five points more to 14.2 in 67 and then settled in to 12.8 in 68.

There were signs that it might be working.  And then it stalled.

For the next 50 years the rate would fluctuate between lows in the 11’s to highs in the 15’s.

That is until 2019 when after a downward trend of 12.3 in 2017 and 11.8 in 2018 America’s official poverty rate across all races/groups fell below the 11 percent mark (10.5) for the first time since tracking began in 1959.

And the achievement did not discriminate.  Historic lows were recorded across all major race/groups tracked by the census department.Median household income rose to the highest on record at $68,700 which was an almost 7 percent jump from 2018.

The Wall Street Journal noted in September 2020: “Real media incomes of white, Black, Asian, and Hispanic households all increased from the prior year. Lower-income households did particularly well after missing out on income gains earlier in the expansion. The mean income of the lowest fifth of households rose 9% last year, a larger gain than for any other quintile of households.”

So, what happened the year before that helped contribute to such a decrease in poverty and rise in wages?

The much demonized “trump tax cuts for the rich”, that’s what.

Yes, the rich got richer.  Yes, there were corporations who abused the intent and used the lower rate to buy back stock rather than invest as hoped.

But the biggest YES for the cuts was what happened across the entire economy.  Unemployment was also at historic lows as jobs returned and businesses from shore to shore began expanding with optimism not seen in years.

Drop your political blinders, forget for a moment the turmoil of the twitter tantrums and remember where life was just a little over a year ago.  Jobs were many, opportunity was growing, wages were up, gas prices low, food budgets stable and inflation non-existent.

Millions of Americans who had barely a fleeting understanding of the man were experiencing first -hand JFK’s “a rising tide lifts all boats” economic philosophy.

A philosophy that prosperity was not determined by how much the federal government could take from some to re-distribute to others, but by unleashing the ingenuity and creativity of the American people.

That if given a level playing field, America would come out the winner every time.

I have no doubt that had the communist government in China contained the coronavirus within its own borders that “rising tide” of 2019 would today be a wave of prosperity not seen in modern times.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Congress has allocated almost $6 trillion of COVID related aid and stimulus.  Except for some legitimate infrastructure projects, it’s time to pause.

Mr. Biden likes to use the phrase “this is a once in a generation investment” as if we’re back at the beginning of the Great Depression.

But this is not 1932 and except for a few stubborn governors stuck in lockdown mode, the American economy is primed and ready to return to the path started in 2019.

If Mr. Biden truly cared about “all Americans” he’d stop trying to fix what isn’t broken.

From the Keystone pipeline, to the southern border, to refusing to stand up to national teacher unions on school re-openings, the first 100 days of the Biden Presidency has hurt far more Americans than it’s helped.

And he’d take heed the words of that same “war on poverty” President:

“For my part, I pledge a progressive administration which is efficient, and honest and frugal. The budget to be submitted to the Congress shortly…will cut our deficit in half…It will be, in proportion to our national output, the smallest budget since 1951.”

“Efficient, honest and frugal”, oh how times have changed.

Publisher note:  A version of this column appears in the May 8th 2010 edition of the Joplin Globe.

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