Charles Murray ravages the federal welfare system—but what does he offer in its place?

Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980, by Charles Murray (Basic Books, 1984, 323 pp.; $23.95). Reviewed by James W. Skillen, executive director of the Association for Public Justice, Washington, D.C.

Are poor people poor in America because we have not done enough to overcome poverty, or because we have relied too heavily on federally funded antipoverty programs? While a public consensus on “the answer” does not now exist, author Charles Murray says he has evidential proof that the war on poverty made things worse—not better—for the poorest of Americans. Thus in his little bombshell Losing Ground, Murray “simply” suggests that most if not all of the federal welfare system should be “scrapped.”

According to Murray, a senior research fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a consensus did exist back in the 1950s: the belief that government should do nothing more than provide a small dole to those in greatest need. No federal antipoverty programs existed, and no one would have entertained the thought of creating them. As Murray sees it, this “popular wisdom” of the 1950s was generally correct, and most people still possess it today.

“The popular wisdom is characterized by hostility toward welfare (it makes people lazy), toward lenient judges (they encourage crime), and toward socially conscious schools (too busy busing kids to teach them how to read). The popular wisdom disapproves of favoritism for blacks and of too many written-in rights for minorities of all sorts. It says that the government is meddling far too much in things that are none ...

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