Join My October Tele-Townhall
I will be holding my
October tele-townhall on Tuesday, October 14, at 7:00 p.m. MT. If you
would like to attend you can sign up here:
"To Elevate the Condition of Men"
share a few proposals I have been working on to reduce poverty and
help Americans who have fallen behind get back on the path to
For all America�s reputation for individualism and
competition, our nation has from the beginning been built on a foundation of
community and cooperation. In America freedom does not mean you
are on your own. Freedom really means, we are all in this
Together, America�s free-enterprise economy and
voluntary civil society enabled millions of ordinary Americans to protect
themselves � and each other � from material want and social isolation
� long before Lyndon Johnson tried to do better by growing and
centralizing government authority.
Defenders of today�s status
quo say that any critique of our welfare system is really just a
thinly-veiled attempt to destroy the social safety net. But what we all
should want � and what I certainly do want � is not to destroy the safety
net, but to make it work.
This is an important point for
us to remember: the constitutionally limited but indispensable role
that government played in America�s original war on poverty. That role
was best expressed by a president who understood poverty better than
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln told Congress that the
�leading object� of American government was:
�to elevate the
condition of men � to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to
clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered
start and a fair chance, in the race of life.�
single sentence, Lincoln explains precisely what poverty is, and what
government ought to do about it.
As Lincoln knew first hand,
true poverty was, for most people, not an absence of money, but an
absence of opportunity � a lack of access to those social and economic
networks where human opportunities are created.
now, people were not isolated because they were poor � they were poor
mostly because they were isolated. And however unintended, too many
government programs today only exacerbate that
Networks of opportunity formed within the free market and civil society
are not threats that poor families need more protection from. They are
blessings that poor families need more access to.
in America�s original war on poverty, government did not give the
poor other people�s money. It gave them access to other
In Lincoln�s era that meant dredging rivers, building canals, and
cutting roads. It meant the Homestead Act and land-grant
These public goods weren�t designed to make poverty more
tolerable � but to make it more temporary. They reduced the time it
took to get products to market, increased access to banks and land, and
increased the speed at which knowledge could be developed and
Poor farmers and trappers in Lincoln�s Mid-West were no
worse at their trades than their more affluent counterparts back east.
They just didn�t enjoy the same access to networks of human, social,
and economic capital.
Likewise, poor children today
possess the ability to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to
succeed in the 21st century. But what they lack is access to the networks of
human opportunity where that knowledge and those skills are
Properly considered, then, the war on poverty is not so
much about lifting people up. It�s about bringing people