Cloward and Piven, What Was Their Infamous 1966 Strategy?

Cloward and PivenIn 1966 Cloward and Piven wrote a now infamous Nation piece titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty”. Many have discussed the meaning and intent of the piece, but what was it really, and would it have achieved their intended goals?

The strategy was well designed, and in fact quite consistent with U.S. Military Doctrine complete with “Ends”, “Ways” and “Means”.

“Strategy is all about how (way or concept) leadership will use the power (means or resources) available to the state to exercise control over sets of circumstances and geographic locations to achieve objectives (ends) that support state interests.”

In order to simplify and expose Cloward and Piven’s strategy, its been framed under the above three categories, using their own words (shown in italics) from the “Nation” article.

First, Cloward and Piven’s “Ends” or their Objective:

  • Using legislation, A federal program of income redistribution has become necessary to elevate the poor en masse from poverty.
  • The ultimate objective of this strategy: to wipe out poverty by establishing a guaranteed annual income…by the outright redistribution of income.
  • The income must meet two criteria:
    • First, adequate levels of income must be assured.
    • Second, the right to income must be guaranteed.
  • A federal income program would not only redeem local governments from the immediate crisis but would permanently relieve them of the financially and politically onerous burdens of public welfare
  • Legislative measures to provide direct income to the poor would permit national Democratic leaders to cultivate ghetto constituencies.

Next, the Cloward and Piven Strategy’s Ways, or “How” It Would Be Achieved:

  • It is our purpose to advance a strategy which affords the basis for a convergence of civil rights organizations, militant anti-poverty groups and the poor.
  • The strategy we propose, is a massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls by precipitating a profound financial and political crisisand to impel action on a new federal program to distribute income.
  • A national Democratic administration would advance a federal solution to poverty that would override local welfare failures, local class and racial conflicts and local revenue dilemmas.
    • By the internal disruption of local bureaucratic practices
    • And by the collapse of current financing arrangements.
  • In order to generate a crisis, the poor must obtain benefits, which they have forfeited.
    • Crisis can occur spontaneously (e.g., riots) or as the intended result of tactics of demonstration and protest
  • Massive educational campaign Brochures describing benefits in simple, clear language, and urging people to seek their full entitlements, should be distributed door to door in tenements and public housing projects, and deposited in stores, schools, churches and civic centers. Advertisements should be placed in newspapers; sport announcements should be made on radio. Leaders of social, religious, fraternal and political groups in the slums should also be enlisted to recruit the eligible to the rolls.
  • Advocacy must be supplemented by organized demonstrations to create a climate of militancy.

Last, the Cloward and Piven Strategy’s Means, or the “Power or Resources Available”

  • These are the conditions, then, for an effective crisis strategy.
  • Hearings and court actions will require lawyers most cases will not require an expert knowledge of law, but only of welfare regulations. To aid workers in these centers, handbooks should be prepared describing welfare rights and the tactics to employ in claiming them.
  • Mass media should be used to advance arguments.
  • Cadres of aggressive organizers would have to come from the civil rights movement and the churches, from militant low-income organizations like those formed by the Industrial Areas Foundation (that is, by Saul Alinsky), and from other groups on the Left.
  • Public resources have always been the fuel for low-income urban political organization. If organizers can deliver millions of dollars in cash benefits to the ghetto masses, it seems reasonable to expect that the masses will deliver their loyalties to their benefactors.

In July, 2015: In honor ofThe Nations 150th anniversary, Frances Fox Piven…contributed a new introduction to the1966 piece she wrote with Richard Cloward.”

In that introduction Piven stated that Glenn Beck and others got it wrong. She and Cloward weren’t trying to bring down American capitalism, with the piece “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty”that was far too ambitious a goal.

She stated in the strategy that cities like NY are too financially strained to provide the welfare income that they call for.

  • In New York City, where the Mayor is now facing desperate revenue shortages, welfare expenditures are already second only to those for public education. An increase in the rolls of a mere 20 per cent would cost an already over burdened municipality some $100 million.

According to the CBO, in 1966, when their article was first published, the Federal Governments total national debt was only $263.7 Billion. How things have changed! It is now 72 times larger at over $19 Trillion, with America’s unfunded liabilities over $100 Trillion, and both are rapidly climbing. America’s credit rating under President Obama was downgraded by the S&P in 2011, for the first time in history dropping below AAA.

The national debt owes its origins to the very War on Poverty programs that Cloward and Piven strategized to expand, eclipsing $22 Trillion in payments so far.

Whether intentional or not, the Cloward and Piven Strategy’s impact is the same. Maximizing welfare recipients, and instituting an unconditional right to a perpetual salary would bankrupt the country all the same. America’s current debt path, according to the CBO, is unsustainable. Adding welfare costs instead of growing opportunity and rolling it back only accelerates America’s financial collapse.

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