Why is the Federal Poverty Line So Far Off? (via Moyers & Company)

John Light

Census data released this week show that after yet another year of anemic “recovery,” the number of Americans living in poverty last year remained stubbornly unchanged.

But what is “poverty” as measured by the federal government? Experts argue that the official measure is outdated, and doesn’t take important economic realities into account. Are those with incomes slightly above thepoverty threshhold not “poor people,” as most of us would understand it?

In 1999, a single mother struggling with this question sent an email to the Health and Human Services employee whose job it was to calculate the federal poverty line. She wrote:

I am a single Mother and work two jobs which equal about $18,000 per year. We barely afford rent, electric, cable, phone, water, food, taxes and vehicle expenses. [But] the federal poverty level is $11,060. My daughter and I have zero, no, zilch money left after paying the bills for medical or clothing. How on earth does the Federal Government expect us to pay for cars….There just is NOT enough money left at the end of the month for a car payment….Please tell me…how they expect people to live on under $20,000 per year.

The poverty line in the email, $11,060, was the federal poverty guideline in 1999 for a family of two. Today, that figure is $15,510 — still less than what the woman was struggling to get by at the time.

That raises a crucial question: why is the federal poverty cutoff so far off?

Origins of the poverty measure

From the early 1980s until last September, the Health and Human Services employee responsible for responding to that frustrated mother and others like her was Gordon M. Fisher. Fisher worked in the Office of the AssistantSecretary for Planning and Evaluation, where his job was to calculate the poverty guidelines — commonly referred to as the “poverty line,” used to determine benefit program eligibility — and to answer questions from the public.

“I was a civil servant, not a policymaker. I had to describe the policy — the level of the poverty line — that existed,” Fisher told Moyers & Company. “Although the people wanted that policy changed, I, as a civil servant, did not have authority to change it. At the same time, since they were members of the public, and I was a public servant, I wanted to respond to them with respect. There was not necessarily a good answer to their questions.”

When people called or — later in his career — emailed Fisher saying they were earning wages equal to the poverty line, or more, and still couldn’t get by, he “dealt with it very carefully,” he says. “When something like that becomes official policy, it can become difficult to change. When the people said, ‘I’m making more than that and I still can’t make ends meet,’ sometimes the only thing that I could say was ‘I can’t disagree with you, sir.’ or ‘I can’t disagree with you, ma’am.’”

Looking to more fully answer the questions put to him, Fisher went back to take a look at where the guidelines came from to begin with. “I found that there wasn’t a single good, detailed source on how the poverty thresholds were developed,” he says. So he took it upon himself to document it. “I made that sort of my second job in addition to my day job of putting out the poverty guidelines,” he said. Fisher became known by colleagues as the “unofficial” historian of America’s poverty measures.

The answer took him back to the mid-1960s, when Mollie Orshansky, a civil servant working for the Social Security Administration, needed to devise a way of measuring child poverty.

Orshansky herself had grown up poor, one of seven daughters born to a family of Jewish immigrants living in the South Bronx. She remembered waiting in food lines with her mother and how her family would decide to forgo important purchases in order to make the rent. In 1970, she told theNew York Post, “If I write about the poor, I don’t need a good imagination — I have a good memory.”

Orshansky worked as a government clerk and civil servant most of her life, starting at New York City’s Department of Health. By 1963, Orshansky was working for the Social Security Administration — the agency that oversees many social safety net programs — and was assigned to report on “poverty as it affects children.” But her team had no good measure of what constituted poverty — so Orshansky decided to develop her own.

She used a 1955 Department of Agriculture report which found that families of three or more spent about one third of their after-tax income on food. So, to calculate a poverty line Orshanksy decided to multiply a low-income household’s food budget by three, figuring that if a family was tightening its belt, it would cut all expenses by about the same amount, proportionately.

For the food budget itself, Orshansky used the Department of Agriculture’s “economy food plan.” It was the cheapest of four plans developed by the Department of Agriculture, and was designed to reflect what a family living for a short period of time on a severely constrained budget might need to get by. In 1962, it allotted $18.60 a week for a family of four with two school-aged children — or $143.47 in today’s dollars. It was even less costly than two other “low cost” plans the department had developed, and, as a 1962 report explained, “relie[d] heavily on the cereals, dry beans, peas, and nuts and potato groups, and on the selection of the less expensive items in each of the 11 food groups.” It was only for “emergency use,” and not intended to constitute a family’s diet over the long-term. In a 1965 article, Orshansky said her threshold, dependent on this budget, should be used to measure when a family had “inadequate” funds, not adequate funds.

Her new standard came at a fortuitous time. The Johnson administration had declared a “war on poverty,” and public agencies needed a way to measure the extent of the problem. In 1965, the Office of Economic Opportunity adopted Orshansky’s thresholds as their poverty cut-off, and in 1969, her thresholds were made the government’s official definition of poverty.

Also in 1969, a review committee made up of representatives from many government agencies decided the thresholds would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index, not to changes in the cost of food or the share of a family’s income spent on food. Since that time, the method for calculating the poverty thresholds has changed little.

The poverty measure today

America, however, has changed quite a bit since 1969 — and has changed even more since the mid-1950s, when the USDA budget Orshansky used for her thresholds was designed.

“The fact that other basic needs have increased in cost more rapidly than food is one reason why the old poverty line is out-of-date and, in fact, is too low: It hasn’t kept up with our new necessities, it hasn’t kept up with new ideas of what our basic needs are.”

“In some ways, the poverty measure such as it is today made a lot of sense in 1965, 1966, in the late ’60s. The problem is we haven’t really updated it in a meaningful way,” says Shawn Fremstad, a senior research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research. “We’ve updated it for inflation, but that just means you’re measuring what it means to be poor today in what are essentially early 1960s terms.”

The share of a family’s income spent on food has changed dramatically — some recent studies place the share of a family’s income spent on food as low as six or seven percent of total household expenditures. That would mean Americans today are spending roughly 1/14th of their income on food, compared with the one-third figure used to calculate the poverty guidelines.

“A lot has happened to society and to families needs,” says Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Fewer people needed to drive to work — you could walk to work. People didn’t need to save the same for childcare, or for college. People could get away without having a telephone and still have a successful job search. It was just a very different world.

“The rise in families with children where all parents are working for pay is driving up the importance of paid childcare. Spending a few thousand dollars on childcare is fairly typical now. Childcare costs have risen faster than inflation. Healthcare spending is a growing part of family budgets just like it’s a growing part of the national economy.

“The fact that other basic needs have increased in cost more rapidly than food is one reason why the old poverty line is out-of-date and, in fact, is too low: It hasn’t kept up with our new necessities, it hasn’t kept up with new ideas of what our basic needs are.”

And the line doesn’t just omit key expenses — because it looks at a family’s before-tax cash income, it also ignores important sources of non-cash income for poor people such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). If the poverty guidelines don’t incorporate income from benefits, it’s hard to measure if these benefits programs are doing their job and lifting people out of poverty.

“This is relevant right now because there are bills moving through Congressthat would cut SNAP by tens of billions of dollars over the coming decade,” says Sherman. “And if you don’t know that SNAP is helping people, you’re more likely to say it doesn’t work.”

Alternate measures

“One of the challenges is the official poverty measure is still there and it ends up dominating the debate and confusing people and getting in the way, and that’s really unfortunate.”

Organizations that address poverty day-to-day have developed several alternative methods of measuring the number of Americans living in poverty.

“I think there’s a lot of great work going on, often in nonprofits. I think one of the challenges is the official poverty measure is still there and it ends up dominating the debate and confusing people and getting in the way, and that’s really unfortunate,” says Fremstad.

Moyers and Company has recently used a different threshold for a reasonable standard of living, calculated by the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women. Their Basic Economic Security Tables, or BEST index, takes into account expenses that the federal poverty line doesn’t, including housing, utilities, child care, transportation, health care, household goods, emergency and retirement savings and taxes, and recognizes that each expense is different depending on the location in question. AcrossAmerica, the BEST index comes in at two to three times the poverty level — and in some cities, even more. The Economic Policy Institute has done similar research, and has a family budget calculator that you can use to find out how much it costs a family to live in every American city.

Anti-poverty advocates have also praised the U.S. Census for recently implementing a second measure of poverty, called the supplemental poverty measure, which, Sherman explains, “makes several changes. It counts those missing tax credits and non-tax benefits as income. It subtracts necessary, work-related expenses, such as childcare, and out-of-pocket medical expenses from income. It counts boyfriends, girlfriends, unmarried partners as part of the family. It adjusts the poverty line for local variations in cost of living, particularly in housing costs. And it uses a poverty line that is in other ways slightly updated from the old poverty line.” The regular measures yielded 46.2 million people living in poverty in America in 2011, but the supplemental measures yielded 49.7 million, many of them elderly.

A new measure?

Right now, many of those who study poverty are not overly hopeful that the U.S. will implement a new poverty measure in the near future. It’s a difficult topic, especially in today’s fraught political environment. Conservatives argue that the measures cover too many people, including many who are lifted out of poverty by government programs like the EITC. Liberals argue that the poverty measures don’t take expenses into account realistically.

Those who work with the U.S. poverty line often look to the U.K.’s system of measurement as an alternative model the U.S. might follow. There, federal agencies use multiple measures of poverty to create policy.

“It would be good for both the left and the right to say, ‘There is no single best way.’ And maybe we could adopt sort of a suite of measures along the U.K. line,” says Fremstad. “And some of those could be more conservative, more absolute, and some of them could be more relative, more liberal. And then we could argue about which ones are the best. But at least we’d have a few — three or four measures that were all good, that Census and thefederal government put out and that narrowed the debate.”

Even before her long career researching American poverty ended with her retirement in 1982, Orshansky was unsettled to see her poverty measure become outdated, but remain as federal policy. In 1969 — the year the poverty measure was adopted nationwide and tied to inflation — she expressed skepticism about its implementation. “The best you can say for the measure is that at a time when it seemed useful, it was there,” she wrote.

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Storm – A film by Tim Minchin

In the confines of a London dinner party, comedian Tim Minchin argues with a hippy named Storm. While Storm herself may not be converted, audiences from London to LA have been won over by Tim’s wordplay and the timely message of the film in a society where science and reason are portrayed as the enemy of belief.

Written and performed by Tim Minchin @timminchin. Directed by DC Turner @dcturner. Produced by Tracy King @tkingdoll. http://www.stormmovie.net

Italian subtitles by http://www.comedysubs.org
English subtitles by Jason Livingston
Russian subtitles by Denis Olshin

Here is a video I watched today and fell out laughing.

Now the curious part of this story goes to the people in the comments on YouTube, who complain about how the writer treats the titular character, Storm, a hippie who basically discounts any aspect of knowledge being real, true, useful or even knowable. I personally disagreed with pretty much everything Storm said and found myself exactly in the same place as the author of this work and his viewpoint and mine are almost identical.

I have written about the human penchant for failing to accept reality and instead choosing a good fantasy to place on top of our world view (Freedom vs Society).  In my perspective this is always the wrong thing for us to do. Denying reality never improves it, it only gives us a false sense of what is important in the overall scheme of things.

One of the major complaints was the cruelty of the author in regard to his need to demean Storm while trying to make his point. Storm had no problem disseminating her perspective, which was that scientific endeavor was little more than an opinion.

I don’t feel Minchin is attacking Storm. We should remember much of what he says is an internal dialog that no one but he and the watcher are privy to. He is a bit of a chauvinist but he is tempered by his wife who makes an effort to keep the evening charitable and friendly. 

And even when he decides to go all out, he still does not attack her (as was suggested in the comments). I have no clear evidence of argumentum ad hominem being used. He does not dismiss her perspective but instead asks her to take a stand regarding her perspective.

A stand that required a commitment to learning things that may be uncomfortable for her, because her current perspective did just the opposite. It required no effort on her part. She heard a fact (as she understood it) and accepted it, without any further effort. Her desire to ignore her responsibility to learn new things is what the author is trying to upend.

But I think the real lesson we are to take away from this video is this: Talking to people, even when you are inclined to use logic, reason and well structured argument may not change their mind if their cognitive dissonance is stronger than anything that resembles reason you can bring to bear. There is a time when you simply have to walk away and agree to disagree, hopefully before you become disagreeable.

Lyrics: Storm by Tim Minchin

Inner North London, top floor flat
All white walls, white carpet, white cat,
Rice Paper partitions
Modern art and ambition
The host’s a physician,
Lovely bloke, has his own practice
His girlfriend’s an actress
An old mate from home
And they’re always great fun.
So to dinner we’ve come.

The 5th guest is an unknown,
The hosts have just thrown
Us together for a favour
because this girl’s just arrived from Australia
And has moved to North London
And she’s the sister of someone
Or has some connection.

As we make introductions
I’m struck by her beauty
She’s irrefutably fair
With dark eyes and dark hair
But as she sits
I admit I’m a little bit wary
because I notice the tip of the wing of a fairy
Tattooed on that popular area
Just above the derrière
And when she says “I’m Sagittarien”
I confess a pigeonhole starts to form
And is immediately filled with pigeon
When she says her name is Storm.

Chatter is initially bright and light-hearted
But it’s not long before Storm gets started:
“You can’t know anything,
Knowledge is merely opinion”
She opines, over her Cabernet Sauvignon
Vis a vis
Some unhippily
Empirical comment by me

“Not a good start” I think
We’re only on pre-dinner drinks
And across the room, my wife
Widens her eyes
Silently begs me, Be Nice
A matrimonial warning
Not worth ignoring
So I resist the urge to ask Storm
Whether knowledge is so loose-weave
Of a morning
When deciding whether to leave
Her apartment by the front door
Or a window on the second floor.

The food is delicious and Storm,
Whilst avoiding all meat
Happily sits and eats
While the good doctor, slightly pissedly
Holds court on some anachronistic aspect of medical history
When Storm suddenly she insists
“But the human body is a mystery!
Science just falls in a hole
When it tries to explain the the nature of the soul.”

My hostess throws me a glance
She, like my wife, knows there’s a chance
That I’ll be off on one of my rants
But my lips are sealed.
I just want to enjoy my meal
And although Storm is starting to get my goat
I have no intention of rocking the boat,
Although it’s becoming a bit of a wrestle
Because – like her meteorological namesake –
Storm has no such concerns for our vessel:

“Pharmaceutical companies are the enemy
They promote drug dependency
At the cost of the natural remedies
That are all our bodies need
They are immoral and driven by greed.
Why take drugs
When herbs can solve it?
Why use chemicals
When homeopathic solvents
Can resolve it?
It’s time we all return-to-live
With natural medical alternatives.”

And try as hard as I like,
A small crack appears
In my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine”
That’s been proved to work?
Medicine.”

“So you don’t believe
In ANY Natural remedies?”

“On the contrary actually:
Before we came to tea,
I took a natural remedy
Derived from the bark of a willow tree
A painkiller that’s virtually side-effect free
It’s got a weird name,
Darling, what was it again?
Masprin?
Basprin?
Aspirin!
Which I paid about a buck for
Down at my local drugstore.

The debate briefly abates
As our hosts collects plates
but as they return with desserts
Storm pertly asserts,

“Shakespeare said it first:
There are more things in heaven and earth
Than exist in your philosophy…
Science is just how we’re trained to look at reality,
It can’t explain love or spirituality.
How does science explain psychics?
Auras; the afterlife; the power of prayer?”

I’m becoming aware
That I’m staring,
I’m like a rabbit suddenly trapped
In the blinding headlights of vacuous crap.
Maybe it’s the Hamlet she just misquoted
Or the eighth glass of wine I just quaffed
But my diplomacy dike groans
And the arsehole held back by its stones
Can be held back no more:

“Look , Storm, I don’t mean to bore you
But there’s no such thing as an aura!
Reading Auras is like reading minds
Or star-signs or tea-leaves or meridian lines
These people aren’t plying a skill,
They are either lying or mentally ill.
Same goes for those who claim to hear God’s demands
And Spiritual healers who think they have magic hands.

By the way,
Why is it OK
For people to pretend they can talk to the dead?
Is it not totally fucked in the head
Lying to some crying woman whose child has died
And telling her you’re in touch with the other side?
That’s just fundamentally sick
Do we need to clarify that there’s no such thing as a psychic?

What, are we fucking 2?
Do we actually think that Horton Heard a Who?
Do we still think that Santa brings us gifts?
That Michael Jackson hasn’t had face-lifts?
Are we still so stunned by circus tricks
That we think that the dead would
Wanna talk to pricks
Like John Edwards?

Storm to her credit despite my derision
Keeps firing off clichés with startling precision
Like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition

“You’re so sure of your position
But you’re just closed-minded
I think you’ll find
Your faith in Science and Tests
Is just as blind
As the faith of any fundamentalist”

“Hmm, that’s a good point, let me think for a bit
Oh wait, my mistake, it’s absolute bullshit.
Science adjusts it’s beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
If you show me
That, say, homeopathy works,
Then I will change my mind
I’ll spin on a fucking dime
I’ll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling
It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

You show me that it works and how it works
And when I’ve recovered from the shock
I will take a compass and carve Fancy That on the side of my cock.”

Everyones just staring at me now,
But I’m pretty pissed and I’ve dug this far down,
So I figure, in for penny, in for a pound:

“Life is full of mystery, yeah
But there are answers out there
And they won’t be found
By people sitting around
Looking serious
And saying isn’t life mysterious?
Let’s sit here and hope
Let’s call up the fucking Pope
Let’s go watch Oprah
Interview Deepak Chopra

If you’re going to watch tele, you should watch Scooby-Doo.
That show was so cool
because every time there’s a church with a ghoul
Or a ghost in a school
They looked beneath the mask and what was inside?
The fucking janitor or the dude who runs the water-slide.
Throughout history
Every mystery
Ever solved has turned out to be
Not Magic.

Does the idea that there might be truth
Frighten you?
Does the idea that one afternoon
On Wiki-fucking-pedia might enlighten you
Frighten you?
Does the notion that there may not be a supernatural
So blow your hippy noodle
That you would rather just stand in the fog
Of your inability to Google?

Isn’t this enough?

Just this world?

Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable, NATURAL world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish it with the invention
Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?
If you’re so into Shakespeare
Lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.
Or what about Satchmo?!
I see trees of Green,
Red roses too,
And fine, if you wish to
Glorify Krishna and Vishnu
In a post-colonial, condescending
Bottled-up and labeled kind of way
Then whatever, that’s ok.
But here’s what gives me a hard-on:
I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant lump of carbon.
I have one life, and it is short
And unimportant…
But thanks to recent scientific advances
I get to live twice as long
As my great great great great uncleses and auntses.
Twice as long to live this life of mine
Twice as long to love this wife of mine
Twice as many years of friends and wine
Of sharing curries and getting shitty
With good-looking hippies
With fairies on their spines
And butterflies on their titties.

And if perchance I have offended
Think but this and all is mended:
We’d as well be 10 minutes back in time,
For all the chance you’ll change your mind.

[ These are Storm Lyrics on http://www.lyricsmania.com/ ]

More lyrics: http://www.lyricsmania.com/storm_lyrics_tim_minchin.html
All about Tim Minchin: http://www.musictory.com/music/Tim+Minchin

The Chance for Peace Revisited

A PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH REVISITED

dwight_eisenhower

On this eve of another war (the potential involvement of our nation in a conflict with Syria) that after a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the people agree, even if our government does not, we do not need, nor want perpetual war to continue.

As a nation we can ill afford this war, paying for the last two has destabilized our economy and with the failure of the economy due to financial greed and corporate malfeasance left us reeling with economic sanctions against our poorest and neediest citizens in the guise of the sequester.

Meanwhile corporate America continues to boast record profits as they farm out their labor to foreign nations, reduce the local workforce to little more than temps and day workers in their own country and modernizing the workplace into a hostile environment relying on fewer workers to do more work in less time with fewer resources under worse but vastly overpaid management.

With the worst Congress in recorded history, literally uncivil servants who can agree on nothing, who make no effort to disguise their allegiance to their corporate masters and are willing to take the economic goodwill of our nation hostage against our best interests, is now going to decide if we go to war. Canny work on the face of it, the President has put them in the unenviable position of proving they are against the needs of the people, or defying their corporate masters who would love perpetual war to continue.

In the light of these issues, I bring to you the words of the last man who was a general in the military and became president of these United States. His words have been taken from his speech and made into a number of memes on the internet but I feel we might want to consider the entire message as well. Memes are good but, in my mind, context is better.

His speech works on any number of levels and may have been the last time a president truly spoke his mind in a way that put the people of this great nation, first. He put the people before profit, before corporate opportunities, before deciding that war should become a way of life, not a least satisfying solution to an intractable problem in policy.


The Chance for Peace

by Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)

April 16, 1953, Washington, D.C.

President Bryan, distinguished guests of this Association, and ladies and gentlemen: I am happy to be here. I say this and I mean it very sincerely for a number of reasons. Not the least of these is the number of friends I am honored to count among you. Over the years we have seen, tanked, agreed, and argued with one another on a vast variety of subjects, under circumstances no less varied. We have met at home and in distant lands. We have been together at times when war seemed endless, at times when peace seemed near, at times when peace seemed to have eluded us again.

We have met in times of battle, both military and electoral, and all these occasions mean to me memories of enduring friendships.I am happy to be here for another reason. This occasion calls for my first formal address to the American people since assuming the office of the presidency just twelve weeks ago. It is fitting, I think, that I speak to you the editors of America. You are, in such a vital way, both representatives of and responsible to the people of our country. In great part upon you — upon your intelligence, your integrity, your devotion to the ideals of freedom and justice themselves — depend the understanding and the knowledge with which our people must meet the facts of twentieth-century life. Without such understanding and knowledge our people would be incapable of promoting justice; without them, they would be incapable of defending freedom.

Finally, I am happy to be here at this time before this audience because I must speak of that issue that comes first of all in the hearts and minds of all of us — that issue which most urgently challenges and summons the wisdom and the courage of our whole people. This issue is peace.

In this spring of 1953 the free world weighs one question above all others: the chances for a just peace for all peoples. To weigh this chance is to summon instantly to mind another recent moment of great decision. It came with that yet more hopeful spring of 1945, bright with the promise of victory and of freedom. The hopes of all just men in that moment too was a just and lasting peace.

The 8 years that have passed have seen that hope waver, grow dim, and almost die. And the shadow of fear again has darkly lengthened across the world. Today the hope of free men remains stubborn and brave, but it is sternly disciplined by experience. It shuns not only all crude counsel of despair but also the self-deceit of easy illusion. It weighs the chances for peace with sure, clear knowledge of what happened to the vain hopes of 1945.

In that spring of victory the soldiers of the Western Allies met the soldiers of Russia in the center of Europe. They were triumphant comrades in arms. Their peoples shared the joyous prospect of building, in honor of their dead, the only fitting monument — an age of just peace. All these war-weary peoples shared too this concrete, decent purpose: to guard vigilantly against the domination ever again of any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive power.

This common purpose lasted an instant and perished. The nations of the world divided to follow two distinct roads.

> The leaders of the Soviet Union chose another.

The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world affairs. First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be an enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.

Third: Every nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.

In the light of these principles the citizens of the United States defined the way they proposed to follow, through the aftermath of war, toward true peace.

This way was faithful to the spirit that inspired the United Nations: to prohibit strife, to relieve tensions, to banish fears. This way was to control and to reduce armaments. This way was to allow all nations to devote their energies and resources to the great and good tasks of healing the war’s wounds, of clothing and feeding and housing the needy, of perfecting a just political life, of enjoying the fruits of their own toil.

The Soviet government held a vastly different vision of the future. In the world of its design, security was to be found, not in mutual trust and mutual aid but in force: huge armies, subversion, rule of neighbor nations. The goal was power superiority at all cost. Security was to be sought by denying it to all others.

The result has been tragic for the world and, for the Soviet Union, it has also been ironic.

The amassing of Soviet power alerted free nations to a new danger of aggression. It compelled them in self-defense to spend unprecedented money and energy for armaments. It forced them to develop weapons of war now capable of inflicting instant and terrible punishment upon any aggressor.

It instilled in the free nations — and let none doubt this — the unshakable conviction that, as long as there persists a threat to freedom, they must, at any cost, remain armed, strong, and ready for the risk of war.

It inspired them — and let none doubt this — to attain a unity of purpose and will beyond the power of propaganda or pressure to break, now or ever.

There remained, however, one thing essentially unchanged and unaffected by Soviet conduct. This unchanged thing was the readiness of the free world to welcome sincerely any genuine evidence of peaceful purpose enabling all peoples again to resume their common quest of just peace. And the free world still holds to that purpose.

The free nations, most solemnly and repeatedly, have assured the Soviet Union that their firm association has never had any aggressive purpose whatsoever. Soviet leaders, however, have seemed to persuade themselves, or tried to persuade their people, otherwise.

And so it has come to pass that the Soviet Union itself has shared and suffered the very fears it has fostered in the rest of the world.

This has been the way of life forged by 8 years of fear and force.

What can the world, or any nation in it, hope for if no turning is found on this dread road?

The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated.

The worst is atomic war.

The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace.

It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty.

It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world may live?

The world knows that an era ended with the death of Joseph Stalin. The extraordinary 30-year span of his rule saw the Soviet Empire expand to reach from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan, finally to dominate 800 million souls.

The Soviet system shaped by Stalin and his predecessors was born of one World War. It survived with stubborn and often amazing courage a second World War. It has lived to threaten a third.

Now a new leadership has assumed power in the Soviet Union. Its links to the past, however strong, cannot bind it completely. Its future is, in great part, its own to make.

This new leadership confronts a free world aroused, as rarely in its history, by the will to stay free.

The free world knows, out of the bitter wisdom of experience, that vigilance and sacrifice are the price of liberty.

It knows that the peace and defense of Western Europe imperatively demands the unity of purpose and action made possible by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, embracing a European Defense Community.

It knows that Western Germany deserves to be a free and equal partner in this community and that this, for Germany, is the only safe way to full, final unity.

It knows that aggression in Korea and in southeast Asia are threats to the whole free community to be met only through united action.

This is the kind of free world which the new Soviet leadership confronts. It is a world that demands and expects the fullest respect of its rights and interests. It is a world that will always accord the same respect to all others. So the new Soviet leadership now has a precious opportunity to awaken, with the rest of the world, to the point of peril reached and to help turn the tide of history.

Will it do this?

We do not yet know. Recent statements and gestures of Soviet leaders give some evidence that they may recognize this critical moment.

We welcome every honest act of peace.

We care nothing for mere rhetoric.

We care only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds. The opportunities for such deeds are many. The performance of a great number of them waits upon no complex protocol but only upon the simple will to do them. Even a few such clear and specific acts, such as Soviet Union’s signature upon an Austrian treaty or its release of thousands of prisoners still held from World War II, would be impressive signs of sincere intent. They would carry a power of persuasion not to be matched by any amount of oratory.

This we do know: a world that begins to witness the rebirth of trust among nations can find its way to a peace that is neither partial nor punitive.

With all who will work in good faith toward such a peace, we are ready, with renewed resolve, to strive to redeem the near-lost hopes of our day.

The first great step along this way must be the conclusion of an honorable armistice in Korea.

This means the immediate cessation of hostilities and the prompt initiation of political discussions leading to the holding of free elections in a united Korea.

It should mean, no less importantly, an end to the direct and indirect attacks upon the security of Indochina and Malaya. For any armistice in Korea that merely released aggressive armies to attack elsewhere would be a fraud. We seek, throughout Asia as throughout the world, a peace that is true and total.

Out of this can grow a still wider task — the achieving of just political settlements for the other serious and specific issues between the free world and the Soviet Union.

None of these issues, great or small, is insoluble — given only the will to respect the rights of all nations. Again we say: the United States is ready to assume its just part.

We have already done all within our power to speed conclusion of a treaty with Austria, which will free that country from economic exploitation and from occupation by foreign troops.

We are ready not only to press forward with the present plans for closer unity of the nations of Western Europe but also, upon that foundation, to strive to foster a broader European community, conducive to the free movement of persons, of trade, and of ideas.

This community would include a free and united Germany, with a government based upon free and secret ballot. This free community and the full independence of the East European nations could mean the end of the present unnatural division of Europe.

As progress in all these areas strengthens world trust, we could proceed concurrently with the next great work — the reduction of the burden of armaments now weighing upon the world. To this end we would welcome and enter into the most solemn agreements. These could properly include:

1. The limitation, by absolute numbers or by an agreed international ratio, of the sizes of the military and security forces of all nations.

2. A commitment by all nations to set an agreed limit upon that proportion of total production of certain strategic materials to be devoted to military purposes.

3. International control of atomic energy to promote its use for peaceful purposes only and to insure the prohibition of atomic weapons.

4. A limitation or prohibition of other categories of weapons of great destructiveness.

5. The enforcement of all these agreed limitations and prohibitions by adequate safeguards, including a practical system of inspection under the United Nations.

The details of such disarmament programs are manifestly critical and complex.

Neither the United States nor any other nation can properly claim to possess a perfect, immutable formula. But the formula matters less than the faith — the good faith without which no formula can work justly and effectively.

The fruit of success in all these tasks would present the world with the greatest task, and the greatest opportunity, of all. It is this: the dedication of the energies, the resources, and the imaginations of all peaceful nations to a new kind of war. This would be a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need.

The peace we seek, founded upon decent trust and cooperative effort among nations, can be fortified, not by weapons of war but by wheat and by cotton, by milk and by wool, by meat and timber and rice. These are words that translate into every language on earth. These are the needs that challenge this world in arms.

This idea of a just and peaceful world is not new or strange to us. It inspired the people of the United States to initiate the European Recovery Program in 1947. That program was prepared to treat, with equal concern, the needs of Eastern and Western Europe.

We are prepared to reaffirm, with the most concrete evidence, our readiness to help build a world in which all peoples can be productive and prosperous.

This Government is ready to ask its people to join with all nations in devoting a substantial percentage of any savings achieved by real disarmament to a fund for world aid and reconstruction. The purposes of this great work would be to help other peoples to develop the undeveloped areas of the world, to stimulate profitable and fair world trade, to assist all peoples to know the blessings of productive freedom.

The monuments to this new war would be roads and schools, hospitals and homes, food and health.

We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world.

I know of nothing I can add to make plainer the sincere purposes of the United States.

I know of no course, other than that marked by these and similar actions, that can be called the highway of peace.

I know of only one question upon which progress waits. It is this: What is the Soviet Union ready to do?

Whatever the answer is, let it be plainly spoken.

Again we say: the hunger for peace is too great, the hour in history too late, for any government to mock men’s hopes with mere words and promises and gestures.

Is the new leadership of the Soviet Union prepared to use its decisive influence in the Communist world, including control of the flow of arms, to bring not merely an expedient truce in Korea but genuine peace in Asia?

Is it prepared to allow other nations, including those in Eastern Europe, the free choice of their own form of government?

Is it prepared to act in concert with others upon serious disarmament proposals?

If not, where then is the concrete evidence of the Soviet Union’s concern for peace?

There is, before all peoples, a precarious chance to turn the black tide of events.

If we failed to strive to seize this chance, the judgment of future ages will be harsh and just.

If we strive but fail and the world remains armed against itself, it at least would need be divided no longer in its clear knowledge of who has condemned humankind to this fate.

The purpose of the United States, in stating these proposals, is simple. These proposals spring, without ulterior motive or political passion, from our calm conviction that the hunger for peace is in the hearts of all people — those of Russia and of China no less than of our own country.

They conform to our firm faith that God created man to enjoy, not destroy, the fruits of the earth and of their own toil.

They aspire to this: the lifting, from the backs and from the hearts of men, of their burden of arms and of fears, so that they may find before them a golden age of freedom and of peace.

Thank you.

Other Reference Articles:

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants are Getting Crushed – Propublica.com

Eisenhower’s Chilling Analysis Of Defense Spending – Business Insider

Worst Congress Ever! – Daily Kos

The Permanent Militarization of America – The New York Times, OpEd

How Perpetual War Became US Ideology – The Atlantic

Social Justice Speeches: Source for Eisenhower’s Chance for Peace speech

Kerry, Hagel lay out military objectives during Senate hearing on Syria strike – The Washington Post

The Disastrous Consequences of a U.S. Military Attack on Syria – AlterNet.com