Richard Nixon on Welfare & Poverty

President of the U.S., 1968-1974


Build foundation under the income of every needy family

Today, people tend to associate universal basic income with technology utopians. But a form of UBI almost became law in the United States in 1970 and 1971, passing the House of Representatives twice before stalling the Senate. Versions of the idea have been championed by robust thinkers of every political persuasion for decades, including some of the most admired figures in American life. Here's a sampling:
Source: The War on Normal People, by Andrew Yang, p.166-8 , Apr 2, 2019

1969: build foundation under income of every family

Today, people tend to associate universal basic income with technology utopians. But a form of UBI almost became law in the United States in 1970 and 1971, passing the House of Representatives twice before stalling the Senate. Versions of the idea have been championed by robust thinkers of every political persuasion for decades, including some of the most admired figures in American life. Here's a sampling:
Source: The War on Normal People, by Andrew Yang, p. p.166-8 , Apr 2, 2019

1970s Family Security Plan: national income guarantee

While the Family Security Plan was never passed by Congress and Nixon himself backed away from it, it put income guarantees on the national political agenda and led directly to our first national cash-income guarantee, Supplemental Security Income [and] dramatized the anti-work, anti-father, antifamily pressures of welfare policy.
Source: Ike and Dick, by Jeffrey Frank, p.342-3 , Nov 5, 2013

Founded Legal Services Corporation to assist poor

President carter had appointed me to the board of the Legal Services Corporation, a position for which I had to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Corporation was the nonprofit federal program created by Congress and President Nixon that funded legal assistance for the poor.
Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p. 83 , Nov 1, 2003

Entitlements are most ruinous concept of modern America

Today, we are witnessing the rise of that new despotism under the cover of "entitlements." We hear claims that by virtue of living in the US, a person is "entitled" not only to subsistence amounts of food, clothing, and health care, but to more and more of the amenities of life as well. It is not just the poor who seek these entitlements. Retirees who demand Social Security payments far exceeding their contributions into a system, students who claim a right to subsidized loans--if entitlements continue to proliferate, we risk the demise of the virtues of self-reliance and individual responsibility and the triumph of the new despotism about which Tocqueville warned.

It is healthy for all Americans to strive for the amenities of life, but dangerously destructive to foster the notion that they are entitled to them. Entitlement is one of the most ruinous concepts in the philosophical lexicon of the modern American liberal.

Source: Seize the Moment, by Richard Nixon, p.290 , Jan 15, 1992

Giving money to the poor is tragically misguided

For years, it has been popular in many quarters to say that the answer to poverty in America is to give the poor money. This approach is tragically misguided. There is a place for welfare payments and other purely financial aid, but only as a means of meeting temporary needs and only in conjunction with a structure of incentives--both positive and negative--designed to make the dependent independent. Dependency weakens the nation and destroys the individual, yet too much of our welfare system today merely institutionalizes dependency and perpetuates it from one generation to the next.

Unless a program motivates the recipients to change their behavior, it cannot be considered a success. By those standards, 90% of the current welfare system is an abject failure. It not only perpetuates the behavioral pathologies, but also actively encourages them by making the decision to work or go on welfare purely a pragmatic one of which pays better, with welfare often the winner.

Source: Seize the Moment, by Richard Nixon, p.295-296 , Jan 15, 1992

Welfare too high is dependency trap; too low is hardship

Capitalism's dilemma is the tension between economic security and liberty. Some believe the goal of government should be to provide total economic security for everyone. The critical question is how much security government should guarantee. Socialist countries promise total security and thereby undermine incentives for production. Instead of creating equality of wealth, socialist governments create equality in poverty. In the West, the non-socialist welfare state is committed to the proposition that the poor or unemployed will not become destitute. The difficulty comes in setting the level of support to the less fortunate. If set too low, it causes unnecessary hardship. If set too high, it creates disincentives to achieving self-sufficiency and fosters dependency. Our objective should therefore be a welfare system structured not to trap the poor in dependency but to enable them to escape poverty.
Source: In The Arena, by Richard Nixon, p.354 , Apr 1, 1991

Margaret Thatcher repealed British Socialism

Margaret Thatcher deserves the major share of credit for Britain's economic recovery. It is easy to forget how far the country had traveled down the socialist road--and how much damage this had caused to the British economy--before she came into office. Nationalized industries, socialized housing and medicine, burdensome government regulations, immensely powerful trade unions, irresponsible monetary policies, and enormous welfare state had brought economic progress to a virtual standstill. Layer by layer, she removed the obstacles to economic growth, despite strong opposition even within her own party. While President Reagan rightly receives great credit for slowing down the growth of government in the US, we should recognize that Margaret Thatcher's repeal of socialism in Britain represented a true revolution. We can only hope the Europe of 1992 will be modeled on Thatcher's Britain rather than on some of the bloated welfare states on the continent.
Source: In The Arena, by Richard Nixon, p. 54 , Nov 30, 1978

Place floor under the income of every family with children

I will call upon Congress to take action on more than 35 pieces of proposed legislation on which action was not completed last year. The most important is welfare reform.

The present welfare system has become a monstrous, consuming outrage--an outrage against the community, against the taxpayer, and particularly against the children it is supposed to help. We may honestly disagree, as we do, on what to do about it. But we can all agree that we must meet the challenge, not by pouring more money into a bad program, but by abolishing the present welfare system and adopting a new one.

So let us place a floor under the income of every family with children in America-and without those demeaning, soul-stifling affronts to human dignity that so blight the lives of welfare children today. But let us also establish an effective work incentive and an effective work requirement. Let us provide the means by which more can help themselves. This shall be our goal.

Source: Pres. Nixon's 1971 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 22, 1971

Kitchen Debate: Right to choose is the difference

A replica of a 6-room American ranch house on display in Moscow was an unlikely setting in 1959 for a debate:

NIXON: This house can be bought for $14,000, and [at that price] most Americans can buy a home.

KHRUSHCHEV: Your American houses are built to last only 20 years so builders could sell new houses at the end. We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren.

NIXON: After 20 years, many Americans want a new house or a new kitchen. Their kitchen is obsolete by that time.

KHRUSHCHEV: This theory does not hold water. Some things never get out of date--houses, for instance. In Russia, all you have to do to get a house is to be born in the Soviet Union. You are entitled to housing. In America, if you don't have a dollar you sleep on the pavement.

NIXON: Diversity, the right to choose, the fact that we have 1,000 builders building 1,000 different houses is the most important thing. We don't have one decision made by one government official. This is the difference.

Source: A Patriot's Handbook, by Caroline Kennedy, p.536-537 , Jul 2, 1959

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Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022