The Great Society & Its Repercussions

By Germinal Van
February 17, 2019

When Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was elected on his own right as the 36th President of the United States, he wanted to do great things. He won the election of 1964 by a landslide. He planned a series major societal projects for the American society. This great societal project that was the epicenter of his administration, bore the name of the Great Society. President Johnson envisioned a society in which poverty and racial inequality would be utterly eliminated. And government would be the means to eradicate these societal predicaments. Nevertheless, the very well-intentioned policies of the “War on Poverty” did not deliver the outcomes so much hoped for. On the contrary, President Johnson’s policies have created more economic and social disparities between the poor and the wealthy, and between whites and minorities. The only concrete result that his policy has delivered, is the concentration of government’s authority over the individual. If the Great Depression had enabled FDR to change the role of government, that is to make it more interventionist, LBJ meanwhile, used the “War on Poverty” to consolidate and to perpetualize the interventionist role of government. FDR’s social security has indeed marked the creation of the welfare state, and LBJ has expanded the welfare state by creating a multitude of domestic social programs that would help low-income families. These programs, of course did no favor to those it intended to help.

           In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing—today, only 19 percent do. [1] Between 1959 and 1966—before the War on Poverty was implemented—the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by about one-third, from 22.4 percent to 14.7 percent. [2] The welfare policies of LBJ has mainly harmed Blacks and Hispanics. In fact, about 47 percent of blacks and 48 percent of Hispanics live in households receiving means-tested benefits. [3] One of the major accomplishment of President Johnson was to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to end race-based and gender-based inequality and to secure equal rights and opportunity for everyone. When the bill passed, Dr. Martin Luther King jubilated it as one that would “bring practical relief to the Negro in the South, and will give the Negro in the north a psychological boost that he surely needs.”—Dr. King’s assessment would have been correct had government not had another more insidious plan. [4] For LBJ, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the main tool by which the government would amplify its authority. The message behind the War on Poverty was to tell the deprived individual that the government will take care of him. But one essential problem with such approach is that it considerably diminish personal responsibility. Social programs such as Head Start, which effectively diminished parental responsibility under the guise of providing parental assistance. [5] Before President Johnson signed the Civil Act, 82 percent of blacks lived in married, two-parent households; 40 percent of blacks were small-business owners. [6] After the enactment of the Civil Right Act of 1964, programs such as Affirmative Action, Minimum wage laws, or Food Stamps have made it difficult for minorities , especially for Blacks to prosper. These programs incentivized low-income student in education to dropout, to remain low-skilled and to live in the ghetto.

LBJ is also known to be the most effective president in terms of legislation. In 1965, except the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he proceeded by signing into law, a set of legislations that would give a substantial power to the government to have a permanent foothold in the economy and in social affairs. He signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provide federal aid to schools with concentrations of poor children; the Higher Education Act, providing federal funds for scholarships and work study programs for low-income students; Medicare and Medicaid, which provide federal support for health care for the elderly and the poor; the Voting Rights Act; and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, eliminating pro-European quotas in American policy and opening the doors to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[7] Medicare and Medicaid established a permanent federal role of government in health care, one that continues to grow in expense year by year. [8] Medicare began with about 19 million participants in 1966 and has expanded to about 57 million participants today and is projected to grow to 80 million by 2030—Medicaid has grown even more rapidly, from 4 million beneficiaries in 1966 to nearly 70 million today. [9] These findings epitomized the administrative control that the government has exponentially exercised throughout the years. As the number the participants has substantially augmented, government has to increase as well, the price of medical supplies. The enactment of Medicare and Medicaid empowered government to subsidize the cost of medicine, which indicates that, in order to effectuate medical subsidies, the government must impose a compulsory augmentation in income taxation. This incrementation in income taxation legitimized the coercive power of the government over the individual. Moreover, the promulgation of Medicare and Medicaid is a constitutional violation because it violates Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, which assessed the enumerated and define powers of the United States government. The federal government’s power to regulate healthcare, certainly went beyond its constitutional power. The education acts (Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act) similarly established a large and ever-growing role for the federal government at all levels of the educational system. [10] With respect to education, government plays three principal roles, whereby only two of them require a legitimate government intervention. (1) The government has the power to legislating compulsory schooling, which means that every child, no matter what is social status is, must receive an education; (2) financing education, which means that the government is empowered to provide financial resources to public education; (3) administrating schools, which implies that government determines the a uniform curriculum in the entire educational system that every school must follow. [11] The first two roles are clearly justified. However, the third role, is absolutely unjustified. It is not the role of the government to administer schooling. The government’s act of administrating school curriculum impedes the parent’s freedom to choose the kind of education he wishes to give to his child. By administrating school curriculum, the government adopts a paternalistic role wherein it portrays itself as the providential father who knows better what a child needs than the child’s own parents would know. One way for the government to exercise its administrative control over schools was to impose affirmative actions, and common core—common core, which was invigorate way after the Great Society programs, in 2010, is a consequence of government control over school system through uniformed standardized test. As I have argued in Affirmation: The Fallacy of Preferential Policies, race-preferential policies have harmed minorities more than it has helped them. It has only help the government consolidating its control over the school system.

It is essentially important to fathom that, far beyond amplifying the role of government, the War on Poverty had a political incentive. From being the party of slavery, Jim Crow laws, racial segregation, and states’ rights; the Democratic Party has veered to become the party of minority rights, equal rights, and racial equality. In other words, from being the oppressor, the Democratic Party has become the party of the oppressed. The question is to know why? Was it because the Democratic Party had resentment toward the horrible acts of the past? Did the Democratic Party become the party of the oppressed in order to shadow its own guilt? The political incentive of the War on Poverty was merely to secure the votes of those who were recipients of the welfare state’s benefits. This in one of the reasons why the Democratic Party has changed its trajectory. The main beneficiaries of the welfare state are members of social minority groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, and women. Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party targeted them because they are the three principal groups that constitute the electorate of the oppressed, which needed to be controlled. President Lyndon Johnson comprehended that the way to regulate the oppressed groups is to maintain them under government control. It suggested that the government puts at their disposal, programs dedicated to “help” them. These programs provide fallacious benefits which develop a dependency between group members and the government. The welfare state makes the oppressed believed that only government can help him to becoming politically, economically, and socially emancipated. In exchange, the oppressed will vote for the party [Democratic Party] that advocates for more government intervention in the lives of citizens. That is the reason why the Democratic Party has become the champion of big government policies. The use of the welfare state has merely strengthened the political platform of the Democratic Party. As of today, minority groups are mostly supporters of the Democratic Party. This phenomenon, is the concrete legacy of the War on Poverty.

  1. Will, George, “LBJ’s ‘Great Society’ Failed America In Several Arears”, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, May 21, 2014, Article. Web.
  2. Will, Ibid.
  3. Will, Ibid.
  4. Massie, Mychal, “How The Great Society Harmed Blacks”, WND, September 5, 2011, Article. Web.
  5. Massie, Ibid.
  6. Massie, Ibid.
  7. Pierson, James, “A Not-So Great Society”, The Weekly Standard, September 30, 2016, Article. Web.
  8. Pierson, Ibid.
  9. Pierson, Ibid.
  10. Pierson, Ibid.
  11. Dr. Lanny Ebenstein, “Essay Eleven: School Choice: A Personal Retrospective”, The Indispensable Milton Friedman: Essays on Politics and Economics, (2012), Regnery Publishing Inc. ISBN: 978-1-59698-808-8 P. 112.