American Families Plan Undermines Families, Self-Fulfillment | RealClearPolitics

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Ever wonder why we're losing the War on Poverty, launched nearly 60 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson? Ask Abraham Maslow. "What happens to man's...
Ever wonder why we're losing the War on Poverty, launched nearly 60 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson? Ask Abraham Maslow.

"What happens to man's desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?" the famed psychologist asked in his seminal 1943 paper first outlining what would become known as Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In that paper, Maslow categorized five core human needs, each to be fulfilled before the next can be actualized.

First, there are physiological needs (food and water), followed by safety needs (order, low crime), then love and belonging (friendship and family), esteem (self-respect, respect from others and achievement), and finally, self-actualization. Maslow described self-actualization as the individual "doing what he is fitted for." The musician, he explained, must make music, just as the artist must paint. "What man can be, he must be."

Using Maslow's framework, we can better evaluate government welfare and education programs. The War on Poverty hasn't been lost due to a lack of spending (over $30 trillion) on what has swelled to 89 means-tested welfare programs. It's been lost because federal welfare spending undermines something closely aligned to the higher order aspirations of Maslow's hierarchy.

When Johnson launched his "war" in 1964, the original goal was to "give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities." In other words, to have the physiological needs satisfied in order to climb the hierarchy toward greater fulfillment and happiness. Ironically, Johnson's efforts and the welfare state have focused exclusively on physical needs but have undermined higher-order human needs. For example, the need for "love, affection and belongingness" is fulfilled primarily within families. It thrives in the strong emotional bonds between wives and husbands and between parents and children.

Regrettably, the growth of the welfare state has coincided with the collapse of the family in…
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