The Czar on Poverty
Branding is the art and science of articulating a unique message to a target market -- regardless of if the message is truthful or helpful. The key is this: if the people in that target market believe and feel the message, the branding effort succeeds -- until, of course, reality sets in, they awake, and it doesn't. The bogus War on Poverty is a perfect example of this branding principle.
Let's break it down. War on Poverty, a powerful group of words, sounds so noble, feels so good. What does it mean? Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, one of the most important of all military strategists, defined war as "an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." The definition of poverty is murky, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2013, set its level at $23,550 in annual income for a family of four.
Accept and Perpetuate
President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), in 1964, declared an unconditional war on poverty. Who or what is our opponent? Poverty? If so, we must compel poverty -- a condition, not an entity -- to fulfill our will. This is as ludicrous a goal as a war on terror (also a condition, not an entity). We can fight terror-ists, but not terror. Remember, though: if people believe and feel it, and are willing to fund it, they'll accept and perpetuate it.
What is this "will" that we want poverty, our opponent, to fulfill? Perhaps to vanish. The opposite of poverty is prosperity. If we have more people working, so they can lift themselves out of poverty, we'll generate prosperity -- without government. Any president on a genuine mission to end poverty would agree and execute this plan.
The corrective actions, then, are to shrink government, lower taxes, slash regulations, and increase personal liberty. Yet this was not LBJ's will. No, his will was to expand government and canonize himself. Calvin Coolidge shrank government, stimulating massive American prosperity in the 1920s; few remember him. Schools don't even mention him. Johnson, in contrast, exploded government; everybody remembers him. Schools worship him. Got it?
What has been the "act of violence" Clausewitz requires in war? Big Government has waged a long-fought war against the rich, against businesses -- but normally through excessive taxes and regulations and trash-talking in the media. When the feds raided Gibson Guitar Corp., a jobs creator, for using the "wrong" wood, however, they were acting violently.
Slave to Logic
Fifty years after LBJ declared his War on Poverty, have we accomplished our goal? Well, we've spent $20.7 trillion on entitlement programs; the poverty rate is still 15%. So, apparently not. But hold on, you slave to logic. The real goal, obvious to those with their eyes open, was to grow government, cultivate a class of dependency, and ensure fealty to big-spending politicians -- not to vanquish poverty. So, yes, mission accomplished.
On the other hand, Americans' support of the Iraqi and Afghani wars, which lasted over a decade and are estimated to cost $6 trillion, was short-lived. Why the long-term support for one "war" and little support for the other? It's simple: the bogus War on Poverty, despite being a failure, makes people feel good about themselves -- the key to successful branding.
The reality is, we've never had a War on Poverty -- just a Czar on Poverty. A czar, which is a word derived from Caesar, is a dictator -- one who presides over and controls his subjects. Without subjects, without a convincing theme, the czar becomes irrelevant. The czar on (over) poverty has been Big Government; every administration, legislature, and voter, from both parties, is responsible for its existence.
What is the solution to poverty? Employment. Is the Czar on Poverty focused on employment? Perhaps these employment facts answer the question: the U.S. has the lowest labor-force participation rate in 35 years, at 62.8%; 20% of households use foodstamps; in 2012, there were 6.6 people on disability for every 100 people working; fewer people have health insurance today than in 2009; the reigning poverty czar has embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose aim is to destroy job-creating businesses.
Gullible People on the Street
How has this bogus war continued for 50 years? There's a funny recurring skit on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, featuring Trevor Moore of Winnovations. Mr. Moore creates fake products and demonstrates them to gullible people on the street, while the camera rolls. Remember these folks when you hear "experts" claiming that global warming causes snow, that high taxes and debt beget wealth. When kids leave their schools with absolutely no knowledge of -- and often hatred toward -- science and capitalism, what should we expect?
Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC's The Jimmy Kimmel Show, often sends a camera crew to Hollywood Boulevard to interview passersby about events yet to happen. One would expect people to decline in such silly situations. Wrong. Hours before Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address, in January 2014, the would-be believers in the War on Poverty opined freely about this event they hadn't seen. Is it not clear why conniving politicians can sell these low-information voters almost anything?
Reality Has Set In
Now that Americans, even the most gullible, are feeling the pain of the poverty czar's anti-employment policies, they are angry, unsupportive, and awake. His popularity has sunk to the 40s. He has no clothes and has lost his branding mojo. Reality has set in; there's no there there. The bogus War on Poverty is now exposed.
Branding to the gullible is easy. To the wise and the awake, not so much.
Marc Rudov is a branding expert and author of the new book, Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO's Guide to Branding.