Last week I participated in an all day Atlantic Magazine Forum on the War on Poverty-50 years later. Today, I just finished reading Nina Munk's The Idealist, the story of Jeffrey Sach's Millennial Village experiment to achieve The End of Poverty (the name of his book) in Africa. A few weeks ago I attended an excellent conference in Denver in which hundreds of public-private programs in sustainable development promoting equity were showcased. Poverty and programs to end it are on my mind.
At the Atlantic Forum, it was commonly agreed that "safety-net" programs certainly helped those who are suffering the consequences of poverty at a particular time (like now) and often give individuals and families some time and space to get education and a job and maybe even some equity. Just because the percentage of poor has not dropped that much, we have to remember that they aren't the same people. There were lots of stories even by presenters of their brush with poverty and their gratitude for food stamps, housing subsidies, headstart, welfare payments until they could get on their feet.
Most everyone urged that we try more "structural" solutions to poverty, e.g. job creation, education, desegregation through mixed income housing, minimum wage and earned income tax credit. A bit higher level of analysis was offered by Richard Rothstein who identified the "de jure" segregation of races and classes through government supported financing in housing development and by Cory Booker who identified the New Jim Crow (a book by Michelle Alexander which I am just starting) that creates a special class of mass incarcerated among people of color.
Do programs end poverty? No, not really.
And that leads me to the big question. I asked it of Paul Krugman at the Forum; but he did not, perhaps could not, answer it. I also asked it of Rothstein by letter and we may see what his response will be.