Debate: What To Do About Poverty

This Learn Liberty debate presents arguments for and against more government assistance to help the poor in the United States. Prof. Steven Horwitz argues that the government has created too many problems and that lifting government-imposed barriers to the poor will go a long way toward solving the problems of inequality in the United States. Prof. Jeffrey Reiman takes the view that government, while not perfect, will have a key role to play in creating better programs to help the poor. What do you think?



  1. Andrei-Claudiu Roibu

    Libertarianism and it’s approach to certain modern problems could seem far fetched, or even, anarchistic in some sort, but, if we are to think about it, what they are actually saying is: take power from the government and give it to the people, while keeping the government as a referee and protection provider. Starting from this, we can see that a lot of problems, including poverty, can be resolved simply taking a more libertarian approach. 

  2. mackenzietanquary

    This was interesting to watch!

  3. Shawn M

    I sympathize with the notion of a negative income tax and maybe that is the best was to encourage labor participation while preventing complete dependence. At it’s core it is kind of a modified Rawlsian distribution and many liberal folks would get on board with the more libertarian minded if we phrased it in those terms. The problem of poverty is indeed a lack of money.

  4. jgreene

    While a very interesting debate with valid points on both sides, I think the burden of provision and ultimate success should be upon the shoulders of the individual and not the government. Safety nets are designed for the purpose of catching one who might be falling and in unplanned distress rather than as a tool to be used for laying around in as a free and unchecked hammock.

  5. MelMurphy82

    What if a major illness or death causes a family income or structure to change? Are you suggesting that we let that play out and that the widow and children must essential “suck it up” and live on the streets? I agree that government is far to big and their hand is in far too much but until the stereotype of poverty is changed and people can not diminish what is uncomfortable then removing government completely will have no positive impact because the social consensus would be to just let everyone live on the streets and starve. I say make benefits more strict and rigorous to maintain. I say drug test, require financial and family planning courses and educate families to phase out of assistance. For those who have needs that will leave them to remain indigent then those cases will be for long term care but to just set people out to pasture to basically die cannot honestly be your solution.

  6. Doug Hall

    Good debate.  I fall on the side of Professor Horwitz.  Professor Reiman’s assertion that the acceptance of private charity by individuals, somehow “diminishes” them, while the acceptance of government aid gives the individual more “dignity”, is false.  If I forcibly take from a neighbor money to help a homeless person, I would be arrested for theft or robbery.  How is it right or moral that the government (thru taxes) does the same thing?  Also, private charity would give with an expectation that the individual would make every effort to get themselves back on their feet, or eventually  be cut off from aid.  Government has no such expectation, so there is no control on bad behavior.

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