In New Book, Penn Researcher Says Most Government Programs Don’t Work

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820October 27, 2011


PHILADELPHIA — A University of Pennsylvania researcher says most government social programs don’t work, a claim he is certain will not endear him to liberals.  But he also says conservatives will not like hearing that there are programs that do work.

In a new book, The Third Lie: Why Government Programs Don’t Work and a Blueprint for Change, Richard J. Gelles also says the current economic situation has destroyed the middle class.

Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice at Penn, maintains that government policies and programs designed to cure social ills are ineffective, saying they often survive because of bureaucratic territoriality. He cites examples like Hawaii’s spending for special education and also programs such as Head Start, which he believes lack proof of effectiveness.

But, he also highlights successful government programs, including the G.I. Bill, Social Security and Medicare. 

These programs provide for a specific population without a “means test,” they have a minimum eligibility test, such as turning a certain age or serving in the military, and they require relatively small bureaucracies to support them, Gelles says.

The book, which took seven years to write, illustrates how successful elements of these programs can be incorporated into future social policies and programs. 

Gelles also provides suggestions for change, such as the creation of a “children’s futures account” designed to invest in programs that would benefit children from all economic groups. 

This would enable 18-year-olds to access an account worth approximately $54,000 to use toward higher education, trade training or as a down payment on a home.

Gelles also contends that the current economic situation has destroyed the middle class. 

“I believe that the key to success for any government effort is the support of a vital, vibrant middle class.  The current economic crisis persists because what is left of the middle class is afraid to spend, afraid to invest and afraid they are a step away from poverty.  To succeed, government policy must address this reality, “ Gelles said.

The book was published by Left Coast Press Inc.