Aim at the Base

January 13, 2014

In my basic training to become a firefighter our instructors taught us that you can’t suppress flames. Whether you’re using a fire extinguisher or a hose, you have to aim at what’s burning; you aim at the base of the fire. Poverty won in the “War on Poverty” because we tried to extinguish the effects of poverty rather than aiming at the root cause of this blight on our nation.
Fifty years ago last Tuesday, Lyndon Baines Johnson (“LBJ”) declared war on poverty in his State of the Union address. It has had the same success as Nixon’s War on Drugs and Obama’s war on lack of health insurance – in other words, zero success.
The United States has spent $20 TRILLION on this so-called war, yet today roughly the same percentage of Americans are in poverty as they were 50 years ago. In 1964 23% of children lived in poverty; today that number is 22%. We started out fairly modestly, but today we spend more than a Trillion dollars every year on poverty. This money is funneled through an amazing 126 different government programs.
There are more than 30 different federal housing programs! More than 20 agencies that provide food assistance! Eight separate health-care programs! And almost 30 agencies that hand out cash! This is astoundingly inefficient.
We spend more than $20,000 per poor person per year. That’s $80,000 every year for a family of four. And, by and large, the money is wasted because it is not helping them. It’s feeding and sheltering them, but it’s not aiming at the base. It’s not helping them get out of poverty.
We are a generous nation. We are always the first to help in disasters. Both public and private U.S. agencies have donated more to people in distress worldwide than any other nation. And it’s not just because we’re bigger. Per capita giving by U.S. citizens is also greater than that of any other nation. America has a really big heart.
Even people who complain about high taxes don’t gripe about extending a helping hand to the poor. The problem is that the helping hand is actually harming the very people we care about.
We can lay the blame for the various “wars” our government has declared at the feet of politicians who believe that big problems can be solved by big money. But, really, that is only part of the problem. Yes, we have a tendency to throw money at a problem and hope that some of it will do some good. But the bigger failure is our failure as a nation to understand the root causes of poverty.
Until we truly understand what causes poverty, we are just trying to put out its effects – the flames, if you will. We can’t aim at the base unless we know where the base is.
Sometimes in burning buildings there is so much smoke that it’s difficult to know where to aim the hose. Well-meaning people have generated so much “smoke” around this issue that it’s really hard for us to see the solution.
I can almost hear some hard-core Conservatives complain, “What do you mean by ‘Well-meaning’? Don’t you know that all Liberals care about is controlling everyone and everything through big government?” I’m the first to call on Liberals to account for using every crisis or problem as an excuse to put the government in charge of an ever-increasing portion of our lives.
But to understand the “War on Poverty” you have to understand that most Liberals really have good intentions in this area. They really care about the fact that so many people live in poverty. They are just confused about what to do. So they resort to the tried and not-true premise that bigger money will solve bigger problems.
People often quote Jesus as saying in the Gospels, “There will always be poor among you.” What they don’t realize is that He Himself was quoting from another passage of Scripture in Deuteronomy. “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:11).
But earlier in the same chapter God said, “There don’t need to be any poor among you… for the Lord will richly bless you as He has promised.” (Deut. 15:4,6). Aha! Some will say. The Bible contradicts itself! No, it doesn’t.
As always, when God gives a promise, He also gives us the condition that must be met in order for us to receive the promise. In this case, the Word says, “He will richly bless you,  if only you fully obey the Lordyour God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” (Deut. 15:4-5).
In America, as in Israel, there is more than enough. So why doesn’t everyone have enough? Because we (collectively and individually) have failed to follow His commands.
All the solutions for the scourge of poverty that I have heard people advance can be boiled down to a few key principles. Poverty can be eradicated if people…
1) Get married before they have babies.
2) Finish school.
3) Work hard.
A study by the Brookings Institution published in 2009 in the book, “Creating an Opportunity Society” demonstrated clearly that people who did all three of these things had a 2% change of ending up in poverty. People who did none of them were 38 times more likely to be in poverty.
Not surprisingly these are all taught in the Bible. Marriage as taught in the Bible is the bedrock of civilization. In its pages sex outside of marriage is properly labeled as sin. Statistics show that children born outside of marriage are five times more likely to live in poverty. End of story.

The Bible talks a lot about learning and gaining wisdom. Without a high-school diploma people are four times more likely to be unemployed. And they are far more likely to be in poverty, to serve time in jail, be divorced, and to end up on welfare. There’s no magic to this. It’s just common sense. Aside from what we learn from our books in school, graduation means we have learned to finish something, to persevere.
Regarding work, the Bible says, “Look at the ant, you sluggard. Consider its ways and be wise!” (Pr. 6:6) Have you ever seen a lazy ant? Obviously, not everyone who is unemployed is not lazy. But everyone who doesn’t do everything they can to find work is lazy. And people who live off the government because they can’t find a job they like are simply irresponsible. Multiple studies have shown that the longer people are out of work, the less likely they will ever find work. But people who take a job – any job – are much more likely to find better employment.
Government spending on the War on Poverty has soared by 268% since LBJ first proposed it 50 years ago. Money has not solved the problem. The massive government spending on poverty has been aimed at the flames. To put the fire out, we need to take aim at the base, at the sources of the flames.

War on Poverty 50 Years Later, Victory is Nowhere in Sight

War on Poverty at 50 — Despite Trillions Spent, Poverty Won

A New War on Poverty
Fight Poverty: Lower High School Drop Out Rates

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Tom Barrett is the Founder and Publisher of He has written thousands of articles that have been republished in national newspapers and on hundreds of websites, and is a frequent guest on radio and television shows. His unique viewpoint on social, moral and political issues from a Biblical worldview have resulted in invitations to speak at churches, conferences, Money Shows, colleges, and on TV (including the 700 Club). Tom is also an expert speaker and writer on the subject of Biblical Finance, & is the Founder 
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