Glenn Beck and the tea partyers have been closing in on the true source of all of America’s woes, and she is…Frances Fox Piven, noted author and political scientist, welfare advocate and co-inventor of the "motor voter" strategy to register low-income voters! Readers may be surprised to learn that, forty-four years ago, Piven and her late husband, Richard Cloward, engineered the current financial crisis and designed the Obama strategy expressed in Rahm Emanuel’s statement, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Nor did she do this all by herself. Among her many confederates in the vast left-wing conspiracy to overthrow capitalism and install socialism was, curiously enough, Woodrow Wilson.
The plot was hatched in an article published in this very magazine in 1966 [see Richard Kim, in this issue]. Cloward and Piven noted that, at the time, large numbers of eligible people were not enrolled in Aid to Families With Dependent Children (or "welfare"), and recommended a massive effort–by civil rights groups, social service agencies, etc.–to get them on the rolls. Not only would this enrollment drive provide some badly needed help for the very poor but by imposing large spending obligations on the public sector, it would "break the system."
Here some closer reading–or any kind of reading–on the part of Beck and friends would have helped, because "the system" Cloward and Piven proposed to smash was not capitalism but the welfare system. Yes, they wanted more eligible people to receive welfare benefits, but at the same time they pointed out that those benefits were appallingly low, leaving many recipients without, for example, adequate furniture or winter clothing.
The heart of Cloward and Piven’s argument–and here the dots were not so tightly connected–was that getting welfare to everyone who was eligible would put fiscal pressure on the states (welfare required state matching funds), which would then persuade Congress to replace it with a "guaranteed annual income," set at a dignified and adequate level, for all. At the time, this was not a wild-eyed radical goal: John Kenneth Galbraith and Paul Samuelson were for it, as was Richard Nixon, who was also, it should be recalled, a fan of national health insurance.
Consistent with the Cloward-Piven strategy, and thanks to the efforts of a robust welfare rights movement and the dedicated work of legal services lawyers, the welfare rolls increased in the late 1960s and early ’70s, along with other important gains for the poor during that period. Congress enacted Medicaid in 1965 along with Medicare, and Robert Kennedy’s encounter with near-starvation conditions in Mississippi in 1967 eventually led to the expansion of food stamps into a fully national program that now helps one in eight Americans. Without these and other programs, like the earned-income tax credit, poverty rates would be even higher, and poverty itself deeper, than they are today.