chapter  14
8 Pages

The paper war on poverty

In institutionalism, context is the key. In this short article, more like a review essay, Hamilton sets the literary context of the U.S. war on poverty. He does so first by discussing the books that influenced the declaration of war. Although the war was declared in 1964, Hamilton explains that a number of 1950s books had painted the picture of a society in which poverty was unnecessary or was not a big social problem. In most of these books, social conformity and the lack of authenticity in suburban life were made out to be far more significant. However, John Kenneth Galbraith’s Affluent Society came out in 1958 and made poverty amid plenty an enigma. Galbraith’s book also made poverty in the United States hard to justify. Then, in 1962, came several books on the existence and severity of the poverty problem in America. Still remembered today is Michael Harrington’s The Other America. Dwight McDonald reviewed Harrington in The New Yorker, and put The Other America in the limelight. A number of other books were also important, explains Hamilton, among them Gabriel Kolko’s Wealth and Power in America. Continuing to set the context of the war, Hamilton next explains how the conduct of the war was affected by cultural context. The cultural setting determined the choice between two strategies: an income maintenance strategy or an individual salvation approach. Income maintenance was out because of the onus placed on “welfare.” So, the poverty warriors fought against their foe by trying to save the poor. Trouble was, the poor neither wanted nor needed to be saved. In evaluating the war, Hamilton introduces the reader to a number of books that explored how the war was going. In these books, the Community Action Program was probably the most controversial part of the war on poverty. It may also have been a more successful part of the war because it did not try to save the poor. Instead, the Community Action Program tried to empower the poor, something entirely different.