Socialists Don’t Aim To End Poverty, They Aim To Use It

Posted: Nov 07, 2018 9:22 AM
Socialists Don’t Aim To End Poverty, They Aim To Use It

In the infamous 1966 The Nation magazine article, A Strategy to End Poverty, Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven articulate their thesis to “end poverty” but unwittingly reveal the utter failure of such a system.  Simultaneously, they also demonstrate what Ronald Reagan warns of in his famous comment “[I]f you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom and in fact all freedom.  It is never more than one generation away from extinction.  Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it.”[1]

Cloward and Piven revealed:

It is our purpose to advance a strategy which affords the basis for a convergence of civil rights organizations, militant anti-poverty groups and the poor.  If this strategy were implemented, a political crisis would result that could lead to legislation for a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty….the strategy we propose, is a massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls.[2]

Akin to The Communist Manifesto, the level of ignorance is stunning.  Their conclusive statement of “a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty” is at such a naiveté plane that it is difficult to comprehend.  The rationalization that if government guarantees income the conclusion is that poverty will be ended assumes that the flow of wealth is perpetual, which it is certainly not.  Moreover, this is not even acknowledging that issues are compounded by removing incentive from people’s lives; to put effort into bettering themselves.  Murray Rothbard very cleverly and disparagingly states, “The chronic modern sociological complaint about specialization that was picked up quickly by Karl Marx and has been advanced to a high art by socialist gripers about ‘alienation’.”[3]

The great economist Ludwig von Mises articulates this stunning and destructive pattern of thinking and behavior of the statist-collectivists.  Mises refers to them as interventionists.  The belief, as was held by Marx and Engels and Cloward and Piven, that the wealthy is simply an endless facet which can be turned up and down as needed for financial resources is not only horribly immoral, but completely counter to the Declaration of Independence’s right of the sovereignty of private property.   Mises explains in detail:

The idea underlying all interventionist policies is that the higher income and wealth of the more affluent part of the population is a fund which can be freely used for the improvement of the conditions of the less prosperous.  The essence of the interventionist policy is to take from one group to give to another.  It is confiscation and distribution.  Every measure is ultimately justified by declaring that it is fair to curb the rich for the benefit of the poor….

The interventionist in advocating additional public expenditure is not aware of the fact that the funds available are limited.  He does not realize that increasing expenditure in one department enjoins restricting it in other departments.  In his opinion there is plenty of money available.  The income and wealth of the rich can be freely tapped.  In recommending a greater allowance for the schools he simply stresses the point that it would be a good thing to spend more for education.  He does not venture to prove that to raise the budgetary allowance for schools is more expedient than to raise that of another department, e.g., that of health.  It never occurs to him that grave arguments could be advanced in favor of restricting public spending and lowering the burden of taxation.  The champions of cuts in the budget are in his eyes merely the defenders of the manifestly unfair class interests of the rich.

An essential point in the social philosophy of interventionism is the existence of an inexhaustible fund which can be squeezed forever.  The whole doctrine of interventionism collapses when this fountain is drained off.  The Santa Claus principle liquidates itself.[4]

Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek astutely describes the philosophical and functional faltering of the collectivist’s worldview:

The intellectual, by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or practical difficulties.   What appeal to him are the broad visions, the spacious comprehension of the social order as a whole which a planned system promises…for the play of the imagination of those who are unencumbered by much knowledge of the facts of present-day life.[5]

The most powerful of these general ideas which have shaped political development in recent times is of course the ideal of material equality…but an intellectual construction originally conceived in the abstract and of doubtful meaning or application in particular instances.[6]

The end game, understood by Reagan, Mises, and Hayek and not by Cloward and Piven, of the end of poverty is the desolation into poverty.  Cloward and Piven’s article harkens the famous warning Margaret Thatcher gave of the perils of collectivism.  “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess.  They [socialists] always run out of other people's money.  It's quite a characteristic of them.” [7]  There is no endless faucet of wealth; nor does government, regardless of the type of government, create wealth.  

[1] Ronald Reagan, January 1978, “Whatever Happened to Free Enterprise?” Address delivered by Governor Reagan at Hillsdale College during the Ludwig von Mises Lectures Series, [].

[2] Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, May 2, 1966, “A Strategy to End Poverty,” The Nation, p. 510.

[3] Murray N. Rothbard, 2006 (originally published in 1995), Economic Thought Before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Vol. 1, (Auburn, AL: The Ludwig von Mises Institute), p. 442.

[4] Ludwig von Mises, 1998 (originally published in 1949), Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute), pp. 851-854.  Also referenced in Ludwig von Mises, December 10, 2012, “The Santa Claus Principle,” Mises Daily, (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute), [].

[5] F.A. Hayek, Spring 1949, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” The University of Chicago Law Review, p. 380.

[6] F.A. Hayek, Spring 1949, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” The University of Chicago Law Review, p. 377.

[7] Margaret Thatcher, February 5, 1976, “Thatcher Interview,” Thames TV This Week, (Thames Television Euston Centre, Tottenham Court Road, central London), [].