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Conservative Poverty Fighting

Over at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, Ryan T. Anderson reviewed one of the eight books in our series, From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor:
The loudest voices in our national debates about political economy tend to be libertarians and social welfare statists. To our detriment, most public policy discussions are filtered through these two lenses. At the same time, we tend to conflate the policy issues facing our nation as if they were one and the same. But consider the range of America’s political-economic challenges: How to balance our budget; how to reform the major entitlements of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; how to get the economy growing again; how to increase employment; how to increase social mobility; how to help the poor. Though related, these issues are profitably examined one at a time. Poverty, for example, is undoubtedly linked to our debates about government regulation, taxes, and budgets. It is certainly tied to our debates about income inequality, social mobility, and unemployment. But poverty in America is not primarily about any of these issues. And political commentators of all stripes perform a major disservice when they mesh them together. Thankfully, Lawrence Mead knows this, and has been instructing all who will listen on issues of poverty and policy for the past thirty years. A professor of politics and public policy at NYU, Mead was the intellectual driving force behind the welfare reform act of 1996. His latest work, From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor, is a concise statement of a lifetime of scholarship. It is a wonderful book that covers the causes of poverty, how we measure it, who the poor are, how government has tried to help, where it’s gone wrong and where it’s succeeded, and how competing ideologies have hindered or helped real policy reform. Though the book is short, it contains a wealth of information and wisdom. (The volume appears in the AEI Values and Capitalism series; I discussed another title in that series, Wealth and Justicehere.) The critical questions for Mead are these: What do the poor really need? How can we effectively meet that need? Money comes second to what Mead argues the poor truly deserve: a lifestyle transformation. “Progress against poverty,” he insists, “requires programs with the capacity to redirect lives, not just transfer resources.” In reaching that goal, he adds, “recent conservative policies are more effective than what came before, and it would be a mistake to abandon them.”
Read the rest of Anderson’s review here. Anderson previously reviewed Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, another book in our Values & Capitalism series, here.