Escaping the Poverty Trap

Robert J. Samuelson, Newsweek, September 10, 1984.


Political scientist Charles Murray is probably going to be roasted as a reactionary. He’s just written a well-documented polemic arguing that government’s efforts to combat poverty have not only failed but have actually made matters worse. He’s at least half wrong, but if his tract (“Losing Ground, American Social Policy, 1950-1980.” Basic Books. $23.95) rattles conventional thinking about poverty, its sins will be pardonable.

We desperately need a new debate about poverty. The existing one has degenerated into name-calling about who’s a good Christian and who isn’t. None of this has much to do with who’s in poverty and how they escape. And, on these matters, Murray is essentially correct. We cannot reduce poverty simply by being generous. Ultimately, only economic growth and individual effort will suffice.