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AREVOLUTIONOF DECLINING EXPECTATIONS Michael Harrington. The New American Poverty. New York:Penguin Books [Viking], 1985. 288 pp. CharlesMurray. Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980. New York: Basic Books, 1984. 323 pp. SheldonH. Danziger and Daniel H. Weinberg, eds. FightingPoverty: What Works and What Doesn't. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. viii +418pp. James D. McNiven The Biblical injunction that we will always have the poor with us seems to be brought out once more in three recent books on poverty in America. Michael Harrington returns to the topic that made his reputation in 1962, with the publicationof The Other America, with a new book, The New American Poverty. CharlesMurray has made his reputation recently with his book, Losing Ground, whichhas affected Reaganite thinking in the way that The Other America affected the Kennedyites twenty-five years ago. Finally, Sheldon Danziger and Daniel Weinberg have edited the papers from a 1984 conference sponsored by the Instituteof Poverty at the University of Wisconsin and the federal Department of Healthand Human Services. Entitled, Fighting Poverty, it presents a series of evaluationsof various programs that found their inspiration with Harrington and theirrejection with Murray. In the past year I was present at lectures given by John Kenneth Galbraith and JamesTobin. I was struck in both instances by the tone of the lectures more than by their substance. They were, in effect, reviewing the great strides made in the New Deal and the 1960s in fleshing out the welfare state and exhorting their audiencesto carry on the struggle against the forces ofreaction. I was reminded of Jefferson's notion that each generation should have its own revolution and it seemedthat these two men, whom I had heard before, were now becoming fearful thatthe new generation would forget the revolution to which they contributed. Readingbetween the lines of Harrington's book, I was struck by the same feeling. 242 James D. McNiven There is a veneer of material that suggests that the dimensions and the natureof poverty in America are changing to a degree, but there is no feeling that theauthor really has come to grips with the changes that America is experiencing. Instead there is a clarion call for the renewal of the spirit that motivated the early J960s: Han-ington makes the point that there is not a monolithic group of poor inthe United States, but instead there are different "poverties." He presents thisasa new notion, though I think he is simplytrying to remind us of a truth that mayhave been neglected over the past decade and more as poverty research focussedonthe plight of the blacks in the urban ghettos. Besides them, he discusses the plightof the new poor of the Rust Belt, the homeless, the immigrants, legal and illeoal rural people and Indians. The aged, he seems to agree with most other comme~ta~ tors, have been the major beneficiaries of the reforms of the past two decades.He also notes that women, especially younger black women, have been the biglosers. Along the way, he makes it clear that the War on Poverty did not go inthe direction he had hoped and he provides us with a poignant glimpse of the ideah,;t subverted by the political necessities of the day. Harrington's recommendations are rather subdued. He notes, as if to hisreader~ of a decade ago, that "all of this does not add up to a socialism" (242). First,there is nothing about poverty that full employment won't improve. Very nice, except that his means of reaching this state seem to ignore his earlier discussion ofthe "new international division of labour" and instead focus on a more extensi\'e version of the Humphrey-Hawkins full-employment bill of the late 1970s,acall for deep structural change in American society, some good planning, an activi~t industrial policy and more participatory democracy. Somehow he seems to think that American politics should be more capable of these ideals today than inthe days of Kennedy and Johnson, though I am puzzled as to why. The book can be attacked on much of its logic and data, but then it is meanttobe a polemic rather than a study. Harrington claims he did not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 241-246
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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