Should We Declare 'War' on Inequality?

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

President Johnson on his 1964 poverty tour. (Cecil Saughton/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and announced, "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America."

He continued, "I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort."

The War on Poverty created many government programs that still exist today, including Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid. While liberals and conservatives may disagree on the War on Poverty's policy solutions, 50 years later the scourge of poverty remains—though in 2014 Americans are more likely to hear it described as "income inequality." 

Pope Francis highlighted the issue last November, in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel.

"Today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality," wrote the Pope. President Barack Obama echoed his message in December, telling the media, "I believe [income inequality] to be the defining challenge of our time: Making sure the economy works for every working American."

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, has spent his career researching and implementing policies to reduce poverty across the world. He reflects on the 50 years since President Johnson declared the War on Poverty, and discusses the best policy solutions to eliminate poverty today. 


Jeffrey Sachs

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [11]

Ramon Flesvig from Florida

Republican congressmen often note that the the fight againt poverty has been going on for 50 years but still is not working. They do not mention that during the years Republicna were presidents it was almost nonexistent. If Mitt had been president, he only would have increased the inequality divide.

Apr. 09 2014 06:08 AM

Did anyone see USA TODAY, Jan 9th 2014? Report: "Most members of Congress are millionaires" ~ "WASHINGTON — In a week dominated by politicians' talk about income inequality, a new tally shows that most members of Congress are millionaires.

Of 534 current lawmakers on Capitol Hill, at least 268 had an median net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, the analysis by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics found. That's up from 257 members — or about 48% of lawmakers — in 2011 and marks the first time that a majority of politicians on Capitol Hill were in the millionaire's club." continues:

Goes on~!~ read it, and you'll see that Congress people for the most part are far, far removed from knowledge of "middle-class" pay, and the difficulties of paying off a college loan, but they should become aware!

Jan. 14 2014 01:21 PM

Should we declare war on hypocrisy and cynical distractions?

Our President just returned from a 4 million dollar
Hawaiian vacation while the nation froze and
is being shocked by expensive and cancelled health insurance and he now wants
to discuss income inequality?

Jan. 08 2014 09:21 PM
John A

Mike from Oregon,
Your point was clearly remembered by Mr Sachs, when he mentioned that the majority of American voters, including you and I, are all for it.

Jan. 08 2014 04:12 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The War On Poverty was being won by President Johnson. It can be won again. The Pope is a leader for the world's poor right now. We need someone in this country to express why a war on poverty is so important.

Some wealthy people don't like giving up any of their money to help others. What Johnson realized and what The Pope realizes is that when poor people are helped, the spiritual wealth of the entire planet benefits including the people with monetary wealth.
That is the takeaway that needs to be spread and examined further.

Jan. 08 2014 03:00 PM
Jeff from Bloomington, MN

Why don't we ever talk about education in these conversations? We need a more efficient education system where a mid-career individual can gain in demand skills within 6 months...why are we suggesting that everyone should go to school for 4 years, go $50k+ into debt and neglect everything else in their life (children, family, hobbies, job, etc.) for 4 years...with technology advancing so rapidly by the time someone comes out of a 4 year school even things learned during their freshman/sophomore year will be obsolete by the time they are looking for a job.

Jan. 08 2014 02:28 PM
jim moore

I found your entire conversation and progressive point of view insulting as are the comments of the respondents. The professor(his comments were carefully crafted to avoid the words independent or republican) from Columbia isn't as outrageous as Mark Lamont is but I bet they coffee together. Did you see the report today about the RICH progressives of Wall Street. Pray tell me what are they doing to help? I bet when the car window washers return to the streets of NYC, the guy in the car who says NO, will be the one getting the ticket and force into labor for the state.

Jan. 08 2014 02:11 PM
Pat from Seattle

Use to work in IT the early capabilities to check resources, the hardware and Web traffic like for key words alerts were in place for some time. Ever since news of wiretapping I have nothing to hide why all the fear?

Jan. 08 2014 02:10 PM
JPS from Texas

Poverty has many root causes. The solutions are not easy. And one size does not fit all. Reducing the amount of poverty in the United States will require many different solutions.

A favorite target of many folks is the corporate income tax. If only the corporations would pay their fair share of the tax burden, whatever that means, the U.S. would have the money to fix many of its ill.

Corporations don't pay taxes. They are paid first by the customers who buy their goods and services. If the corporation lacks the market power to push the tax burden through to the customers, the taxes are paid by the shareholders and the workers. By the same token, depending on the competitive forces in the market place, the benefits of so-called tax loop holes accrue to the customers who buy the corporation's goods and services.

Economists and tax experts argue vigorously about who actually pays the corporate taxes. One thing, however, is not in doubt. The taxes are not paid by the corporation.

Jan. 08 2014 01:03 PM
Mike from Oregon

Whatever happened to the progressive income tax to reduce income inequity?

Jan. 08 2014 12:09 PM
Alice Barrett from Brooklyn, NY

Listening to the show this morning, I was quite angered By Mr. Hockenberry's reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement as one of "pitchforks and guns." To the contrary, OWS was a peaceful, egalitarian movement whose goal was to enlighten and motivate the voting general public. The response here in New York by our billionaire mayor was to sic the police force on the protestors. And on the UC Davis campus, protestors were famously pepper sprayed directly in their faces. Thankfully, OWS successfully changed the political dialogue in this country to the point that when Mitt Romney made his famous 47% comment, the voting public understood them to represent the truth of his position and policies, a re-distribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. "Trickle-Down Economics" is not only insulting, "you can have whatever crumbs fall off my table," it is a myth.
Thank you to the professor who called Mr. Hockenberry out on his egregious depiction of OWS.

Jan. 08 2014 09:57 AM

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