“The ultimate objective of this strategy—to wipe out poverty by establishing a guaranteed annual income — will be questioned by some. Because the ideal of individual social and economic mobility has deep roots, even activists seem reluctant to call for national programs to eliminate poverty by the outright redistribution of income.” — Cloward and Piven
First proposed in 1966 and named after Columbia University sociologists Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, the Cloward-Piven Strategy seeks to hasten the fall of capitalism by overloading the government bureaucracy with a flood of impossible demands, thus pushing society into crisis and economic collapse.
Inspired by the August 1965 riots in the black district of Watts in Los Angeles (which erupted after police had used batons to subdue an African American man suspected of drunk driving), Cloward and Piven published an article titled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" in the May 2, 1966 issue of The Nation. Following its publication, The Nation sold an unprecedented 30,000 reprints. Activists were abuzz over the so-called "crisis strategy" or "Cloward-Piven Strategy," as it came to be called. Many were eager to put it into effect.
In their 1966 article, Cloward and Piven charged that the ruling classes used welfare to weaken the poor; that by providing a social safety net, the rich doused the fires of rebellion. Poor people can advance only when "the rest of society is afraid of them," Cloward told The New York Times on September 27, 1970. Rather than placating the poor with government hand-outs, wrote Cloward and Piven, activists should work to sabotage and destroy the welfare system; the collapse of the welfare state would ignite a political and financial crisis that would rock the nation; poor people would rise in revolt; only then would "the rest of society" accept their demands.
The key to sparking this rebellion would be to expose the inadequacy of the welfare state. Cloward-Piven's early promoters cited radical organizer Saul Alinsky as their inspiration. "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules," Alinsky wrote in his 1971 book Rules for Radicals. When pressed to honor every word of every law and statute, every Judeo-Christian moral tenet, and every implicit promise of the liberal social contract, human agencies inevitably fall short. The system's failure to "live up" to its rule book can then be used to discredit it altogether, and to replace the capitalist "rule book" with a socialist one.
The authors noted that the number of Americans subsisting on welfare — about 8 million, at the time — probably represented less than half the number who were technically eligible for full benefits. They proposed a "massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls." Cloward and Piven calculated that persuading even a fraction of potential welfare recipients to demand their entitlements would bankrupt the system. The result, they predicted, would be "a profound financial and political crisis" that would unleash "powerful forces for major economic reform at the national level."
Their article called for "cadres of aggressive organizers" to use "demonstrations to create a climate of militancy." Intimidated by threats of black violence, politicians would appeal to the federal government for help. Carefully orchestrated media campaigns, carried out by friendly, leftwing journalists, would float the idea of "a federal program of income redistribution," in the form of a guaranteed living income for all — working and non-working people alike. Local officials would clutch at this idea like drowning men to a lifeline. They would apply pressure on Washington to implement it. With every major city erupting into chaos, Washington would have to act. This was an example of what are commonly called Trojan Horse movements — mass movements whose outward purpose seems to be providing material help to the downtrodden, but whose real objective is to draft poor people into service as revolutionary foot soldiers; to mobilize poor people en masse to overwhelm government agencies with a flood of demands beyond the capacity of those agencies to meet. The flood of demands was calculated to break the budget, jam the bureaucratic gears into gridlock, and bring the system crashing down. Fear, turmoil, violence and economic collapse would accompany such a breakdown — providing perfect conditions for fostering radical change. That was the theory.
Cloward and Piven recruited a militant black organizer named George Wiley to lead their new movement. In the summer of 1967, Wiley founded the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). His tactics closely followed the recommendations set out in Cloward and Piven's article. His followers invaded welfare offices across the United States — often violently — bullying social workers and loudly demanding every penny to which the law "entitled" them. By 1969, NWRO claimed a dues-paying membership of 22,500 families, with 523 chapters across the nation.
Cloward and Piven recruited a militant black organizer named George Wiley to lead their new movement. In the summer of 1967, Wiley founded the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). His tactics closely followed the recommendations set out in Cloward and Piven's article. His followers invaded welfare offices across the United States -- often violently — bullying social workers and loudly demanding every penny to which the law "entitled" them. By 1969, NWRO claimed a dues-paying membership of 22,500 families, with 523 chapters across the nation.
Regarding Wiley's tactics, The New York Times commented on September 27, 1970, "There have been sit-ins in legislative chambers, including a United States Senate committee hearing, mass demonstrations of several thousand welfare recipients, school boycotts, picket lines, mounted police, tear gas, arrests and, on occasion, rock-throwing, smashed glass doors, overturned desks, scattered papers and ripped-out phones." These methods proved effective. "The flooding succeeded beyond Wiley's wildest dreams," writes Sol Stern in the City Journal. "From 1965 to 1974, the number of single-parent households on welfare soared from 4.3 million to 10.8 million, despite mostly flush economic times. By the early 1970s, one person was on the welfare rolls in New York City for every two working in the city's private economy." As a direct result of its massive welfare spending, New York City was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1975. The entire state of New York nearly went down with it. The Cloward-Piven strategy had proved its effectiveness.
The Cloward-Piven strategy depended on surprise. Once society recovered from the initial shock, the backlash began. New York's welfare crisis horrified America, giving rise to a reform movement which culminated in "the end of welfare as we know it" — the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which imposed time limits on federal welfare, along with strict eligibility and work requirements. Both Cloward and Piven attended the White House signing of the bill as guests of President Clinton.
Most Americans to this day have never heard of Cloward and Piven. But New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attempted to expose them in the late 1990s. As his drive for welfare reform gained momentum, Giuliani accused the militant scholars by name, citing their 1966 manifesto as evidence that they had engaged in deliberate economic sabotage. "This wasn't an accident," Giuliani charged in a 1997 speech. "It wasn't an atmospheric thing, it wasn't supernatural. This is the result of policies and programs designed to have the maximum number of people get on welfare."
Cloward and Piven never again revealed their intentions as candidly as they had in their 1966 article. Even so, their activism in subsequent years continued to rely on the tactic of overloading the system. When the public caught on to their welfare scheme, Cloward and Piven simply moved on, applying pressure to other sectors of the bureaucracy, wherever they detected weakness.
In 1982, partisans of the Cloward-Piven strategy founded a new "voting rights movement," which purported to take up the unfinished work of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Like ACORN, the organization that spear-headed this campaign, the new "voting rights" movement was led by veterans of George Wiley's welfare rights crusade. Its flagship organizations were Project Vote and Human SERVE, both founded in 1982. Project Vote is an ACORN front group, launched by former NWRO organizer and ACORN co-founder Zach Polett. Human SERVE was founded by Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, along with a former NWRO organizer named Hulbert James.
All three of these organizations — ACORN, Project Vote and Human SERVE — set to work lobbying energetically for the so-called Motor-Voter law, which Bill Clinton ultimately signed in 1993. The Motor-Voter bill is largely responsible for swamping the voter rolls with "dead wood" — invalid registrations signed in the name of deceased, ineligible or non-existent people — thus opening the door to the unprecedented levels of voter fraud and "voter disenfranchisement" claims that followed in subsequent elections. At this time Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago deeply committed to the aims and goals of ACORN and an advocate of the Cloward and Piven Strategy and the tactics of his mentor Saul Alinsky. While Obama’s Acorn connection has not gone entirely unreported, its depth, extent, and significance have been poorly understood. Typically, media background pieces note that, on behalf of Acorn, Obama and a team of Chicago attorneys won a 1995 suit forcing the state of Illinois to implement the federal “motor-voter” bill.
The new "voting rights" coalition combines mass voter registration drives — typically featuring high levels of fraud — with systematic intimidation of election officials in the form of frivolous lawsuits, unfounded charges of "racism" and "disenfranchisement," and "direct action" (street protests, violent or otherwise). Just as they swamped America's welfare offices in the 1960s, Cloward-Piven devotees now seek to overwhelm the nation's understaffed and poorly policed electoral system. Their tactics set the stage for the Florida recount crisis of 2000, and have introduced a level of fear, tension and foreboding to U.S. elections heretofore encountered mainly in Third World countries.
While Acorn holds to NWRO’s radical economic framework and its confrontational 1960’s-style tactics, the targets and strategy have changed. Acorn prefers to fly under the national radar, organizing locally in liberal urban areas — where local legislators and reporters are often “slow to grasp how radical Acorn’s positions really are.” Acorn’s new goals are municipal “living wage” laws targeting “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart, rolling back welfare reform, and regulating banks — efforts styled as combating “predatory lending.” Unfortunately, instead of helping workers, Acorn’s living-wage campaigns drive businesses out of the very neighborhoods where jobs are needed most. Acorn’s opposition to welfare reform only threatens to worsen the self-reinforcing cycle of urban poverty and family breakdown. Perhaps most mischievously Acorn uses banking regulations to pressure financial institutions into massive “donations” that it uses to finance supposedly non-partisan voter turn-out drives.
Both the Living Wage and Voting Rights movements depend heavily on financial support from George Soros's Open Society Institute and his Shadow Party, through whose support the Cloward-Piven strategy continues to provide a blueprint for some of the Left's most ambitious campaigns.
The now-infamous Cloward-Piven Strategy is a clear roadmap to socialism: get so many people addicted to government entitlements that the economic system collapses, and in the resulting chaos the populace will demand and vote for a new economic system in which everyone is supported by the state.
Sounds logical (if nefarious), and President Obama seems hell-bent on bringing it to fruition in the United States. The problem for Obama’s inner socialist is that he’s also required for appearance’s sake to attempt a rescue of the American economy using Keynesian principles. This self-cancelling combo-strategy is the underlying cause of our economic stagnation.
Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that said that the labor force participation rate (LFPR) dropped to 63.6%, the lowest rate since Jimmy Carter was in office. Essentially that means that of the population of 16 year and older, 37.4% of them decided not to work or not to seek work. That’s 88.8 million people! To put that in perspective, when George Bush took office the LFPR was 67.2% and eight years later it was 1.5% lower at 65.7%. It has dropped 2.1% in Barack Obama’s first four years, the most precipitous drop in workforce participation since they started keeping records in 1948.
But percentages only tell you so much. Each of those percentage points represents approximately 2.5 million people. Since Barack Obama became president over 5 million people have simply stopped trying to find a job. If just half of those 5 million people were still looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would actually be 9.4% rather than the official 7.8%. Now some of those are students who chose to go to college because they couldn’t find a job and others are senior citizens who’ve retired from the workforce, but the overwhelming majority of those 5 million are people who have simply given up hope.
And that’s the point, and the problem. Not since the 1970’s have the American people felt so discouraged about the prospects for the nation in general and their individual economic circumstances in particular. For most of American history the notion of having a job, doing something productive for your family and your community was the norm. Barack Obama is seeking to rapidly change that, and he got a good head start during his first term. The President has doubled the number of people on food stamps and he gutted Bill Clinton’s welfare reform. That’s his version of Supply Side Economics, he supplies the benefits and people will be happy to give him four more years. Add to this the regulatory nightmare he has unleashed on businesses and four years of demagoguing those who drive American productivity and you have an ever increasing number of Americans who believe they either can’t or don’t have to find jobs.
For much of the 20th century the United States was looked at as the place to come to seek your fortune, to make or do something with your life, basically where anything was possible. Although Hollywood, Coke, and Levis brought the American Dream to the rest of the world, far more importantly, most Americans were pursuing it here at home, if not living it. Today something altogether different is occurring. As the Gallop poll demonstrated, much diminished is that “Can do” feeling that most Americans had for most of our history, the feeling that prosperity and success were just around the corner and anyone could achieve it if they worked hard enough. America has become a state of dependence, where half the population pays no income taxes and where 40% of the population suckles at the public tit, either in the form of government handouts or as employees of a bloated bureaucracy.
How long can a population survive when fewer and fewer people are supporting an ever increasing population of non-producers? As Cloward and Piven predicted in 1966 you could overload the welfare system in an effort to bring about a redistribution of wealth. If you read their manifesto, you can’t help but recognize their methods in Barack Obama’s policies.
While it’s impossible to know what the future holds, it’s not difficult to wonder what the situation of the country might be in 4 years if the same policies that brought us to where we are today were implemented during the president’s second term.
If Food Stamp growth were to decline to 25% (vs. 50% over the President’s first term) there will still be 60 million Americans on the program. If Social Security Disability (which is at its highest level on record) increases by another 25% as it did in the last four years, a total of 13 million Americans will be on disability. (What’s most heart breaking about this programs is that the rampant fraud and bureaucratic incompetence are keeping benefits out of the hands of the truly needy.) Those measures alone would bring the total of people receiving government checks (i.e. money taken from taxpayers or borrowed that will have to be paid back by taxpayers) from 18% of our population today to almost 23%. Add in the 8 million or so people receiving unemployment benefits and the 4.4 million on welfare and you have over a quarter of the population on the receiving end of some wealth redistribution program. On the workforce side, if the LFPR declines another two percent it will sit at 61.6%, a level not seen since 1977. With a LFPR of 61.6% and an unemployment rate that stayed at today’s 7.9%, we would have only 141 million workers supporting a population of 323 million people verses today’s 144 million supporting a population of 313. That’s 3 million fewer workers supporting a population that would have grown by 10 million! Inverted pyramids like that don’t last for long.
At the end of the day, one has to wonder what exactly were those 65 million voters hoping for when they voted for Barack Obama? If it was more of the same they just might be in luck at least in the short run. It appears that the President plans on doubling down on his policies. He appears to be executing the socialist Cloward Piven Strategy perfectly. While his devotees may be happy with his rhetoric today, they will likely not be happy when his grand strategy succeeds tomorrow. The problem with socialism in America is that it assumes a static nature of the citizenry, i.e. that government can impose whatever requirements on workers and producers and they will have no choice but to comply. Nothing could be farther from the truth. With countries from Australia to Canada to Singapore to Estonia to Denmark offering greater levels of economic freedom, those who fund what the government redistributes have many options available to them. Money, like water, flows to the areas of least resistance and the resistance is increasing in the United States. Eduardo Saverin (of Facebook fame), Tina Turner and a record number of other American citizens are making it clear that do indeed have options. Lots of companies do too. When all of the producers have finally left the country, all that will be left of Barack Obama’s redistributive state will be those who no longer know how to fend for themselves. Somehow I can’t imagine that being the Nirvana that Obama voters were thinking of.
But the economy, while the main focus point of the Cloward and Piven Strategy, it is not the only thing happening in the Obama administration. Their other factor is chaos. Right now the Obama masterminds are overloading the Congress, press, and people with numerous issues that are dulling the senses of the voters. Immigration, gun control, sequesters gay marriage, health care, regulations, crony capitalism, government bail-outs, North Korea, Afghanistan and an overblown and ridiculous budget — a budget that will only reduce the increase in spending, the deficit, and the national debt. All of these factors are creating chaos and diverting the efforts of those in opposition to Obama’s plans.
The Democratic controlled Senate is rushing immigration and gun control bills through the Congress with little or no debate or hearings. The “path to citizenship” proposed in the various proposed immigration bills will add somewhere between 10-20 million new welfare recipients to the mix along with dramatically increasing the cost of health care and bankrupting the states through their Medicare payments thus further overloading the system.
The proposed gun control legislation, while not adding much to the deficit or debt, will increase government control over the citizenry by watering down the Bill of Rights. These measures are only a part of the chaos being fostered by Obama and his minions with little or no oversight from Congress.
While Richard Andrew Cloward is dead Frances Fox Piven is still pushing their strategy of redistribution towards the socialist state. This is a far cry from those men of the Gilded Age who built the greatest economic power in the world and our Founders who gave us the most unrestricted and freest government in the history of the world where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were the paramount factors in their thinking. Today the Cloward Piven Strategy seems to be working and our lawmakers are marching in lockstep while the voters are lining up to have their rice bowls filled by Uncle Sam.