New approaches are needed

Published 12:35 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014

By Joseph Bass

We need effective action to overcome issues involving poverty, inequality, unemployment or underemployment, lack of educational achievement and so on.

For the last 50 years America has attempted to overcome these issues through welfare, public housing, food stamps and other government programs. Trillions have been spent on efforts known collectively as the War on Poverty. There have been important achievements, but little else has improved.


Email newsletter signup

The poverty rate was at 16 percent 50 years ago, and it is still at 16 percent. Many social situations are much worse, including number of single-parent families, number of people in prison and the murder rate among poor Americans. What can we do about this?

There is a human tendency to keep doing the same thing over and over, even when actions do not achieve desired results. That is where we are today in implementing War on Poverty approaches. We continue to repeat efforts that clearly have not achieved desired results.

About six years ago my wife, Barbara, and I formed ABetterSociety.Info, a nonprofit designed to introduce “out-of-the box” ideas for overcoming these issues in Suffolk. We believe War on Poverty approaches do not foster self reliance. They foster dependency and fail to motivate poor, uneducated and oppressed people to take responsibility for their lives and improve themselves. This is not because of who these people are but because the government programs are not structured properly.

We implemented three activities to interest people and civic organizations in our ideas. One effort involved taking people on a drive through Suffolk we call “Looking at Suffolk through Different Eyes.” Another involved attending community meetings and talking about projects designed to develop self reliance in Suffolk villages. A third effort involved attempting to interest people in public dialogues about these issues. We also attempted to raise funds to support our efforts.

In all of these activities, we made it clear we will participate only in effective actions.

Several things became apparent. Many people continue to be heavily invested in actions that have not worked. Some see protecting these efforts from criticism as their major role. It is extremely difficult to help people understand new ideas regarding these issues. And it is nearly impossible to raise funds to support efforts based on new thinking.

People are almost universally focused on addressing symptoms, instead of thinking about why these issues exist and how we can successfully address them. Plenty of charity money is available to support efforts such as hunger, homelessness, violent crime and more. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend millions on mosquito nets to reduce malaria frequency, but it will not spend a dime funding efforts addressing why people do not have the money to buy their own nets. The same is true in Suffolk.

We decided the best available approach would be to write columns for the Suffolk News-Herald, attempting to inform people about different ideas that could replace fruitless War on Poverty efforts. We hope these columns will catch the interest of people who would be willing to support and participate in effective efforts. We hope there will be a welling-up of dialogue and support so people in Suffolk can work together to implement effective approaches to overcome the most serious issues of our time.

If you are interested in our ideas, please make comments on the Suffolk News-Herald website or send letters to the editor. Let us work together to determine and implement effective actions.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at