In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon Johnson, published The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, which became one of the most controversial documents of the 20th century.
The Moynihan Report claimed that the welfare state’s gradual expansion harmed Black family structures and that the high proportion of families headed by single mothers made it difficult for them to achieve economic parity with the white majority. According to Moynihan, the rise of Black single-mother families is the result of a damaging “ghetto culture” rooted in slavery rather than structural poverty.
The civil rights community condemned The Moynihan Report for paternalism, racism, and blaming the victims rather than the system. After reading the report, conservatives believed that reversing cultural pathologies was more important than resolving systemic issues.
Libertarians, on the other hand, have used The Moynihan Report as evidence to eliminate the welfare state. According to libertarians, the welfare state fosters a culture of dependency rather than a community of self-reliance.
For the next four decades, Black libertarian and economist Walter E. Williams argued that the welfare state had caused an epidemic of fatherlessness in Black neighborhoods. Williams stated, “The undeniable truth is that neither slavery, Jim Crow, nor the harshest racism have decimated the Black family the way the welfare state has.”
Over the last decade, liberals have argued that the fatherlessness crisis is a myth.
Statistics on fatherlessness use marital and housing status as main indicators, resulting in exaggerated figures. Marriage and living arrangements should not be used to determine fatherhood. According to these liberals, whether Black fathers live in the same household or not, evidence shows that Black fathers are the most involved with their children when compared to other ethnic groups.
For decades, popular Black talk radio host Larry Elder, a self-described small-l libertarian, has echoed Williams’ points about the welfare state and fatherless households on the air.
Elder is currently running for the Republican presidential nomination.
On the campaign trail, Elder explained his position on welfare and poverty. He said, “We have to return to the bedrock constitutional principles of limited government and maximum personal responsibility. The Constitution is a contract that restrains the federal government, leaving everything else to the states and to the people. As for those who need help, it’s the moral responsibility of the people, not the federal government, to assist.”
Elder was recently a guest on The Breakfast Club when he was asked why he was running for president. Elder stated that he is running to address America’s number one social issue, the epidemic of fatherlessness. (Elder stressed that the issue is not isolated to Black America.) According to Elder, even former President Barack Obama referenced research indicating that children from fatherless homes are more likely to drop out of high school, commit suicide, have behavioral issues, join gangs, commit crimes, and end up in prison.
Elder went on to say that, with the best of intentions, President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty (social programs) in the mid-1960s and that ever since, women have been incentivized to marry the government and men have been incentivized to abandon their moral and financial responsibility. Elder then presented statistics demonstrating that Black men commit crimes at a disproportionately high rate. He claimed that fatherlessness, not poverty or systemic racism, was the primary source of this depravity.
The Breakfast Club hosts agreed with Elder on fatherlessness, but for the rest of the episode, they tried to persuade Elder that systemic racism in America was a bigger problem than fatherlessness. Unfortunately, The Breakfast Club hosts squandered a chance to seriously challenge Elder.
Following Elder’s description of fatherlessness as America’s number one social problem, the hosts should have asked Elder if he entered the presidential campaign solely to be a single-issue candidate. In other words, he’s just trying to get the frontrunners to talk about the fatherlessness crisis.
Of course, Elder would say no; he’s running to win the presidency.
“We know you’re a Republican,” the hosts should have stated at this point, “but you lean more libertarian than conservative, right?”
Elder would have agreed with that assessment.
Then the hosts should have followed up by asking Elder to elaborate on libertarianism. Following Elder’s discussion of constraining the federal government, the hosts could have questioned Elder, as a libertarian, what specifically would you do in the oval office to remedy the fatherlessness crisis other than eliminate welfare?
Nobody knows how Elder would have responded, but after answering questions about welfare, libertarians usually lose what little support they had.