Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (7)


Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Intentions vs. Results 1965 Case Study: The Moynihan Report

The chasm between intention-motivated vs. results-motivated anti-poverty policies was revealed over 50 years ago.  The instigating event was a 1965 report titled The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, which has become  known as the Moynihan Report.  The author was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

This seminal but controversial report was revisited in a 2005 City Journal article titled “The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies.” The tag-line is “Rejecting the Moynihan report caused untold, needless misery.”  A key excerpt follows (emphasis added).

Read through the megazillion words on class, income mobility, and poverty in the recent New York Times series “Class Matters” and you still won’t grasp two of the most basic truths on the subject: 1. entrenched, multigenerational poverty is largely black; and 2. it is intricately intertwined with the collapse of the nuclear family in the inner city.
By now, these facts shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Those mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor, even after a post-welfare-reform decline in child poverty. They are also more likely to pass that poverty on to their children. Sophisticates often try to dodge the implications of this bleak reality by shrugging that single motherhood is an inescapable fact of modern life, affecting everyone from the bobo Murphy Browns to the ghetto “baby mamas.” Not so; it is a largely low-income—and disproportionately black—phenomenon. The vast majority of higher-income women wait to have their children until they are married. The truth is that we are now a two-family nation, separate and unequal—one thriving and intact, and the other struggling, broken, and far too often African-American.
So why does the Times, like so many who rail against inequality, fall silent on the relation between poverty and single-parent families? To answer that question—and to continue the confrontation with facts that Americans still prefer not to mention in polite company—you have to go back exactly 40 years. That was when a resounding cry of outrage echoed throughout Washington and the civil rights movement in reaction to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Department of Labor report warning that the ghetto family was in disarray. Entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” the prophetic report prompted civil rights leaders, academics, politicians, and pundits to make a momentous—and, as time has shown, tragically wrong—decision about how to frame the national discussion about poverty.

That “resounding cry of outrage” occurred because Mr. Moynihan dared to challenge the then Progressive party line that it was only “the system” that stood between the black community and full equality in American society.  Let’s return to the City Journal article for a clear explanation.

For white liberals and the black establishment, poverty became a zero-sum game: either you believed, as they did, that there was a defect in the system, or you believed that there was a defect in the individual. It was as if critiquing the family meant that you supported inferior schools, even that you were a racist. Though “The Negro Family” had been a masterpiece of complex analysis that implied that individuals were intricately entwined in a variety of systems—familial, cultural, and economic—it gave birth to a hardened, either/or politics from which the country has barely recovered.

Note that, in 1965, the Progressive party line focused on “the system” as opposed to the current “good intentions.”  However, the utility of these two ideas is similar, that being something over which Progressives imagined they have direct control, and, that can be changed by government power to gain the desired results.  Note also that already the epithet “racist” is being applied to anyone who deviates from the Progressive party line on how best to improve the lot of the minority community.

However, correspondence between the report’s alternate viewpoint and the previous post’s description of the results based philosophy is striking.  For, Moynihan’s perspective of “complex analysis that implied that individuals were intricately entwined in a variety of systems—familial, cultural, and economic” correlates exceeding well with the reality model description of “a large number of inputs with highly variable controllability.”  Also note that culture, family and economy, along with others in a variety of inputs, correlates well with the above description of Moynihan’s philosophy.

Thus, at the very beginning of the “war on poverty,” the Progressive powers that be explicitly rejected the results based philosophy of public policy in favor of one that simplistically and erroneously allowed them to pretend hero-ship for themselves.  This self-serving decision has indeed “caused untold, needless misery.”  However, we shouldn’t expect an acknowledgement of this cruel failure by the intention based Progressive community.


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