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Losing Ground, by Charles Murray

"Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980", by Charles Murray proposes that in the 1960s there was a paradigm shift in people's thinking about what caused poverty. It was thought that the underclass, largely inhabited by blacks was the result of white prejudice.

This perspective led to a complete change in the way the government dealt with poverty. President Johnson proposed his "Great Society" and his "war on poverty" which was designed to spend poverty into oblivion. Far from banishing poverty from the face of America it broke out like a bad case of acne into perpetual poverty, rising crime, lower education standards, rising illegitimacy and a glass ceiling beyond which the poor seemed unable to rise.

Charles Murray wrote "Losing Ground" in 1984. His book seemed like a bolt of lightening in the middle of the night revealing what should have been plain as the light of day. The welfare state so carefully built up in the 1960s and 1970s created a system of disincentives for people to better their own lives. By paying welfare mothers to have children out of wedlock into a poor home, more of these births were encouraged. By doling out dollars at a rate that could not be matched by the economy, the system encouraged the poor to stay home. By lowering the value of learning, it was discouraged. By lowering the punishment for criminal activity (which was deemed to be society's fault and not the perpetrator - who was seen as a victim) it encouraged more criminal activity and longer criminal records.

By pointing all this out in convincing fashion with graphs, statistics and well-reasoned argument Charles Murray spawned a movement that would ultimately result in welfare reform in 1996. The results of the reform were manifest in the economy and in society almost immediately. Charles Murray since then has had the opportunity to bask in the glow of being proven right.

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