Decades of Distortion - Page 7

The Heritage Foundation Weighs In



Although several Rightist think tanks had been in existence during the early 1960s, they proliferated in the 1970's.177 In 1973, the Heritage Foundation was founded by a group of conservative legislative aides, to serve as a "talent bank" for Republicans while they were in office, a "tax exempt refuge" when they were out of office, and a nationwide communications center among Republicans.178 Heritage decided early on to target members of Congress and their staffs, producing everything from one-page executive summaries and twelve-page Backgrounders to full-length books.179

The Heritage Foundation journal Policy Review quickly became an influential publication within policy circles of the Right. In a 1977 article, conservative economist Walter E. Williams argued that an African American and Latin underclass was being created because of excess government intervention (direct income transfer programs, as well as indirect costs in racial hiring quotas and busing), unions (labor support of income transfer programs disguises "true effects of restrictions created by unions... by casting a few `crumbs' to those denied jobs in order to keep them quiet, thereby creating a permanent welfare class"), and minimum wage laws (by giving firms an incentive to only hire the most productive).180 Williams asserts that one of the "best strategies to raise the socioeconomic status of Negroes as a group is to promote a freer market."181 Earlier in 1977, Policy Review author John A. Howard had struck a similar theme of rugged individualism is his critique of the welfare state.182

Other Policy Review authors develop complementary themes, such as the argument that the welfare state, by providing disincentives to produce in both employers and employees, keeps resources in low-productivity, and out of higher-productivity, uses.183 In criticizing capital gains and progressive taxation, Policy Review authors cite back to Martin Anderson's description in his book Welfare of the work disincentive created by the high marginal tax rates of the poor, and connect this welfare/tax policy to a self-interested theory of "power maximization by government."184 The authors then tie Anderson's argument to many traditional Rightist themes:

Tax reforms strengthen the power of government relative to citizens generally when they destroy private wealth and lead to the creation of income claims that are dependent on government transfers....Substantial effort under the guise of promoting justice has gone into promoting guilt over economic success, but what the elimination of poverty really requires is a strong dose of middle class values....Nothing but widespread individual success can constrain the power of government.185


Anderson himself, writing in the pages of Policy Review, argued that Carter's Program for Better Jobs and Income would have expanded the welfare rolls to assist families earning between $5000-10,000 (called "higher-income classes), and would have given earned income tax credits to families earning between $10,000-15,000.

This is not welfare reform. This is a potential social revolution of great magnitude, a revolution that, if it should come to pass, could result in social tragedy.186

He, along with others, made the now-familiar arguments that poverty statistics are faulty, poverty did not stop declining in the late 1960s, and there are few poor people in the United States187 when one counts the value of in-kind benefits, such as health insurance (which is not counted for wage workers' earned income) or housing subsidies (received by only a quarter of families receiving AFDC).188 Other Policy Review articles in the 1970s argued that unemployment statistics are inflated because many government benefit programs (e.g., AFDC and Food Stamps) require recipients to register for work "individuals who are either largely unemployable or have no need or desire to work".189

And finally, Heritage publications argue that "the need for day care was grossly exaggerated by its supporters and the presumed benefits of day care to the recipients were not proven because the data were inadequate."190 Informal day care, neighbors or older children, should be able to provide the services.191 The day care lobby was comprised of day care providers who are advocating for their own interests.192

Two Heritage "Backgrounders," written by Samuel T. Francis and published during the 1970s, attack Carter's PBJI, asserting that there was no need to create jobs, because if there were a demand for jobs, "the private sector would already have created them",193 that the training component may not train for needed skills, resulting in failure to become employed "with possible dangers to public tranquillity",194 and that the concept of a guaranteed annual income violates "the American tradition of individual responsibility and the personal quest for opportunity and upward mobility".195

Racial imagery is then subtly tied to this "danger." In discussing how the guaranteed income concept does not differentiate between geographical regions, Francis says:

A Southern Black may judge an adequate income and a successful lifestyle very differently from a Northern Black, not to speak of an American Indian or a Southwestern Mexican-American.196


Finally, Heritage published a monograph by Charles D. Hobbs, a principal architect of Reagan's California welfare reform programs,197 highlighting a theme later used during the Reagan presidential years. By again overstating the value of benefits by including multiple programs which only some poor people receive some of the time, Hobbs concluded:

Many welfare families are better off financially, by their participation in several programs, than are the families of workers whose taxes pay for the welfare....The key issue of welfare reform is the conflict between work and welfare, personified by the resentment of the tax-paying worker toward his welfare-collecting neighbor.198

Thus we see the continuing framing of subtle themes and twisting of information to appeal to white working class resentment of the gains of the civil rights movement and fears of inflation, that ultimately divert "populist anger from Wall Street and the rich."199



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