‘Nothing worked’

Nathan Glazer’s Warning should be heeded, writes Howard Husock in City Journal.  In The Limits of Social Policy, the Harvard sociologist reviewed the research on education, training and poverty programs including the Job Corps, Head Start, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the school breakfast program and early-childhood education programs.

“At least some of the states known for high expenditure on education and social needs have shown remarkably poor records.”

“After having done badly in schooling, we do not do well at making up for the failure through work-training programs, though we have certainly tried.”

And crucially: “The evaluations of specific programs that were available during the first ten years after the launching of the [War on Poverty] confirmed the verdict: nothing worked, and, in particular, nothing that one did in education worked.”

A neoconservative, Glazer came to see social policy as grandiose and too focused on “remaking” individuals instead of supporting families, writes Husock.

 Any social policy, he writes in Limits, must be judged against “the simple reality that every piece of social policy substitutes for some traditional arrangement, whether good or bad, a new arrangement in which public authorities take over, at least in part, the role of the family, of the ethnic and neighborhood group, of voluntary associations.”

Traditional agents are weakened and the needy are encouraged to depend on the government, Glazer wrote. That increases the demand for more social programs, which inevitably fail to produce the desired results.



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  1. My father was just telling me of a report issued recently that showed that unemployed people largely end up finding jobs within two months after their benefits run out, no matter the duration of the benefits. Wonder what that means…

    • I think it was an 18th-century Englishman who commented that hunger concentrates the mind wonderfully. It’s also worth remembering that the Plymouth Colony nearly starved to death as a result of their initial, collectivist economy. Too many people thought they were too good to work to grow food, so the policy was changed to one wherein those who don’t work, don’t eat.

      • Too many people thought they were too good to work to grow food, so the policy was changed to one wherein those who don’t work, don’t eat.

        That wasn’t Plymouth. It was Jamestown. And Jamestown was never collectivist.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:
          • No. The person who changed the policy to the declaration “Those who do not work, shall not eat” was John Smith, of Jamestown, which was not collectivist.

            As your own link shows, Plymouth–which was collectivist–did not go to a “don’t work, don’t eat” policy, but rather from common ownership to common property.

            You should pay attention to what, specifically, I quoted.

          • Correction–common ownership to private property, obviously.

          • Michael E. Lopez says:


            Why are you always such a sourpuss?

            You tell me to “pay attention to what, specifically, (you) quoted”. But in point of fact, you didn’t quote anything, much less specifically; I don’t understand how I’m supposed to “pay attention” to it.

            (Those little marks there? That’s what specific quoting looks like.)

            Interestingly enough, Momof4 didn’t quote either. What she said was that Plymouth went from collectivist to a system wherein those who don’t work, don’t eat. And in fact, in a private property system, a policy is in place wherein those who don’t work, don’t eat.

            The fact that Jamestown wasn’t collectivist probably should have been your first hint that maybe giving Momof4 an even remotely charitable reading might be a good idea.

          • You know, I’ve been gone from this place for a while, and your post reminds me why.

            1) I QUOTED from her post. I specifically quoted what I was correcting. In telling you to read what I quoted, I was telling you to read the part of Mom’s post I was quoting, and what I was correcting. which had NOTHING do to with whether or not Plymouth was collectivist.

            2) If you had any clue about US History, you’d know that she was referencing a very famous quote. Except she was quoting it in reference to Plymouth, not Jamestown. Only someone ignorant of this history would say “well, they didn’t work, they didn’t eat” hyuk hyuk.

            3) I wasn’t rude, but anyone who uses anything close to “those who don’t work, don’t eat” should know that this is a Jamestown quote, not a Plymouth quote. It was entirely appropriate to correct her, in case she was confusing Jamestown and Plymouth.

          • Michael E. Lopez says:

            Just so… I owe you an apology. You did indeed quote something. It was more than just the part you were focused on, but you did quote something and I mistook it for a general reference to Momof4’s post. So I’m sorry.

            But Jamestown was hardly the only — or even the first — place that the “don’t work, don’t eat” construction was used. It’s a common sentiment, and the saying is at least two thousand years old, maybe older.

            I still maintain that Momof4 was using it just fine, though. She doesn’t need to footnote every allusion that she makes, and it certainly doesn’t seem like she was quoting. And as I mentioned above, it’s a VERY common sentiment that seems to fit the situation quite nicely.

            Heck, she might even have been making a clever allusion. She’s smart like that.

  2. It means your father doesn’t work for the Progressive Policy Institute.

  3. It was the 18th century Englishman Samuel Johnson who said that HANGING concentrates the mind wonderfully. He said this to brush off the claim (which was true) that he had ghost-written a defense of an accused man who was sentenced to execution. His opponents had said that it was impossible for the condemned man to write so well so soon, and that Johnson must have written it for him (he had). No, said Johnson, the prospect of hanging concentrates a man’s mind …. This is probably false. I would imagine that the prospect of handing would paralyze most men’s minds. Hunger might concentrate a man’s mind, but not necessarily productively. For example, read “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun which deals with a man starving in Oslo. His mind is concentrated on his hunger almost to the point of madness. Well, that’s a novel.

  4. As someone who’d be vilified often said:

    “problems without solutions aren’t problems; they are facts.”

    We’d do well to stop thinking, arguing, and spending as if we can change the facts.

  5. They’re probably just not spending enough money on those social programs, and that’s why they’re not working. Throw some more money at them, please.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    I never believed in the claim that Marxism had as a tactic to reduce the apparent and actual influence of the family. There are enough nutcases around already–see the fitty-twoers who voted Obama–without Marxist help.
    But sometimes I wonder.
    Clearly, if all these programs actually worked, reducing the influence of the family would have been a waste of time.
    Sometimes I wonder.

  7. john thompson says:

    I was going to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” for the link. I was going to say that “reformers” should have done more than reread Glazer. They should reread him (and Reisman, Moynihan etc…) with fear and trembling and soul searching. Then, chastened, they could start down the social policy road in the hopes that we could avoid previous pitfalls. I was going to to say that its great that so many people commented on such an important story.

    Then I came across that sad exchange of comments. By the way, thirty five years ago, my field was colonial history. Yes, Edmund Morgan made that unfortunate comment about Virginia colonialists being an “inferior breed of Englishmen,” but the oversimplified debate then was just as It was as unfortunate as the above exchange of comments. Most of those charges, (like many of “reformers” attacks on teachers) were made by people with no understanding of the facts of agricultural life. The same oversimplified charges were made by theorists against sharecroppers down here and in Oklahoma and in the South. Armchair commentators should walk a mile in the shoes of farmers, tenants, teachers, and social workers, and we should get back to Glazer’s brilliance.