Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Domestic economic assistance -- United States -- 20th century, Poverty -- Government policy -- United States -- Evaluation -- 20th century, United States -- Politics and government -- 1963-1969, Lyndon B. Johnson (Lyndon Baines) (1908-1973)




Even if the failure of President Johnson's War on Poverty is not a controversial issue, the reasons for its failure are still not clear. While conservatives view it as a failed experiment in socialism, and radicals have seen it as a successful attempt to "shore up" capitalism and avoid a race war, the more moderate liberal view (embraced by Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Kenneth Galbraith, and others) of the War on Poverty has been that of a sincere effort to eliminate the sources of poverty that was ultimately abandoned by President Johnson and the Congress to fund the war in Vietnam. This is, of course, how Johnson himself explained it.

I argue that this view is, at best, an oversimplification of the facts, if not an outright denial of the priorities inherent in the structure of the U.S. economy. Specifically, I seek to prove that rather than hindering Johnson's anti-poverty programs, the war in Vietnam actually helped it to achieve its early modest goals, not least by reducing a growing labor force while creating economic growth. Admittedly, my argument leaves some questions open to debate, namely whether the War on Poverty was, as the far left alleges, an obvious fraud, or just, as the former poverty warriors would have it, a failed experiment undertaken by a naïve administration. Nevertheless, I will question two crucial assumptions contained within the moderate liberal view. Once these assumptions have been proven false, we will see that there is another explanation for the failure of the Johnson Administration's war against poverty.


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