Roland McLean: Forgetting economic history |

Roland McLean: Forgetting economic history

Roland McLean

Too often we forget the lessons of history. The collapse of communism and socialism in the Soviet Empire, Greece’s economic mess and the collapse of Venezuela are ignored or forgotten.

Working in Venezuela, since 1978 I saw a once-prosperous nation with a strong middle class decline into poverty and hopelessness. Successive liberal regimes promised wealth redistribution and only delivered chaos. Historically Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world. I saw it descend into economic misery. At the same time, Chile followed Milton Friedman’s theories of free market capitalism to prosperity.

I was in Africa when Bono admitted that free market capitalism was what Africa needed. Africans often compare themselves to South Korea since both became independent at approximately the same time. While most of Africa has declined with experiments in communism or socialism, South Korea has flourished.

In Africa for decades, NGOs have given billions of dollars in charity with little result. Paul Theroux in “Dark Safari” describes perhaps well-intentioned but naïve aid workers taking the best housing, driving expensive Land Cruisers and sitting in coffee shops talking about their projects in Africa. I personally witnessed that in Ethiopia. Almost half the business pages of the phone book in Addis Abba are filled with NGOs but the country still wallows in poverty. Often these aid workers try to force European solutions on Africa, resulting in a new seemingly benevolent but patronizing colonization.

Steven Lyazi of Uganda writes: “environmental activists, Western powers and UN agencies dictate what issues are important – and use them to keep us poor and deprived: manmade climate change, no GMO foods, no DDT to prevent malaria, using wind and solar power and never building coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants. This is a criminal trick that denies us our basic rights to affordable energy, jobs and modern living standards.”

In the U.S., we have seen black communities devastated by the actions of government. Former African-American Congressman Allen West has stated that Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was truly designed to keep blacks in America economically dependent on government and voting Democrat.

Whether intentional or not, the effect of the War on Poverty on black families was devastating. Black women received welfare payments based on how many children they had if a male were not present in the home. Illegitimate birth rates for blacks jumped from 14 percent before the program to 75 percent today. Why is this important? According to, “While 23 percent of all black families live below the poverty level, only 8 percent of black married couple families live in poverty, which is considerably lower than the 37 percent of black families headed by single black women.”

President Johnson did state that his intention was to reduce the causes of poverty. Still, according to the Heritage Foundation, “In the 50 years since that time, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs … Yet progress against poverty, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau, has been minimal, and in terms of President Johnson’s main goal of the reducing the causes of poverty, the War on Poverty has failed completely.”

Our country needs new solutions to the problem of poverty in the inner cities. The starting point must be law and order. Attracting industry and improving education has little chance of success without peace in the neighborhoods.

We need new ideas for education, including skill training. The overall economy must improve in order to bring good jobs. Reduce corporate taxes and give tax incentives in order to attract industry to the inner city. We should not allow unskilled immigrants into the country as long as the African-American unemployment rate remains high.

A liberal friend of mine suggested that solving the law and order problem and skill training at the same time could possibly be accomplished by reinstituting a form of the draft. Six months of national service would be required. Everyone at age 18, regardless of race, gender or immigration status would be required to go to some type of boot camp. After the boot camp, draftees could choose service in the military or other areas of the government: Forest Service, national parks, EPA, etc. Draftees would be paid comparably to the military, wear uniforms and be housed in barracks.

Hard cases such as gang members would be sent to special boot camps where I have no doubt that Marine drill Instructors would have a good chance of converting them to productive citizens.

For this to work, there could be no exceptions. Physically handicapped would need special boot camps. College students could be allowed to serve their six months of service in segments between terms.

We need to find creative solutions and not keep trying the same policy of throwing money at the problem. We have little to show for the $22 trillion spent so far.

Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at

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