Whose Policy is it Anyway? Interest Groups and the War on Poverty

Cameron Gordon

london Johnson launched the Great Society programme in 1964. In the end, the ‘War on Poverty’ failed to live up to all of its promises. To explain these shortcomings this article will firstly analyse the choice of policy instruments; secondly, there will be some discussion of the political and intellectual context of the program; finally, it will look at who gained and who lost from the Great Society. The contention here will be that the Great Society arose out of a variety of factors. In part, it was the creation of experts in a decade when expertise in general was highly esteemed. The programme was also typical of Johnson’s political agenda of personal aggrandizement. But the War on Poverty can perhaps be best explained by focusing on the dynamics of various interest groups in society. For although the Great Society was nominally directed at the poor, it was not primarily the poor that benefited. The changing political coalitions and the battle for power between policy-makers at different levels had a great impact on the programme, and explains the limits of its effectiveness.


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