The Truth According to Glenn Beck
Cloward and Piven were sociologists who came up with a strategy in the 1960s to increase government spending on welfare to the point of destabilizing government. At that point, the government would change to socialist or communist. Cloward and Piven executed a lot of their strategy in New York City, but there have been setbacks, such as welfare reform. Nonetheless, their strategy is still underpinning Democratic policies, such as the stimulus, ACA, Dodd-Frank, and any Democratic voting laws.
Strangely, Beck doesn't evaluate how well or poorly the strategy is going. He gives no current numbers on how many people are dependent on government or how soon that burden will topple us. I guess a reality check isn't Beck's thing when he's on a roll. Instead, he announces "case closed."
The Truth According to Wikipedia
This is where I learned the shocking truth that Glenn Beck wasn't totally full of shit. Cloward and Piven did indeed want to create a fiscal crisis, which they write frequently about here (a transcription of their original article). They advocated signing up as many poor people as possible for welfare and other programs, and making sure that they receive the maximum legal benefits. The reason was primarily to put huge strains on the government, but also to get more money into the hands of the poor, to rally the support among the poor for political change, and to provide a stronger, more reliable electoral base for the Democratic Party.
Contra Glenn Beck, the stated goal wasn't total annihilation of the government, but instead direct payment from the federal government to every person. This wasn't a well thought-out goal. There was no math in their proposal--how much the payments would be to each person, how that would affect the economy, how the money would be raised.
Cloward and Piven admit some problems with their plan:
"A welfare crisis would, of course, produce dramatic local political crisis, disrupting and exposing rifts among urban groups... Group conflict, spelling political crisis for the local party apparatus, would thus become acute as welfare rolls mounted and the strains on local budgets became more severe. In New York City, where the Mayor is now facing desperate revenue shortages, welfare expenditures are already second only to those for public education.
...welfare costs are generally shared by local, state and federal governments, so that the crisis in the cities would intensify the struggle over revenue... If the past is any predictor of the future, cities will fail to procure relief from this crisis... for state legislatures have been notoriously unsympathetic to the revenue needs of the city (especially where public welfare and minority groups are concerned).
If this strategy for crisis would intensify group cleavages, a federal income solution would not further exacerbate them... legislative measures to provide direct income to the poor would permit national Democratic leaders to cultivate ghetto constituencies without unduly antagonizing other urban groups, as is the case when the battle lines are drawn over schools, housing or jobs. Furthermore, a federal income program would ... permanently relieve them of the financially and politically onerous burdens of public welfare*--a function which generates support from none and hostility from many, not least of all welfare recipients.
... it should also be noted that there would be gains even in defeat."Cloward and Piven were enamored with crisis as a vehicle for political change. They observed that the Great Depression and the black protests and riots were very effective in spurring legislation. However, they were quite wrong about the how the welfare burden crisis would play out. The federal government never came close to giving direct payments to every person. The closest was a short-lived proposal in 1972 by presidential candidate George McGovern, who was defeated in a landslide. Instead, welfare more and more became a target for derision as failed social engineering. Welfare reformers from the conservative side haven't been wonderfully successful in changing welfare dependency either.
Cloward and Piven moved on, and were leaders in the push for the Motor-Voter law. If not for Glenn Beck, we probably wouldn't know about this earlier plan of theirs.
The Truth According to the Daily Kos
An author at the Daily Kos points out that had Obama wanted to follow the Cloward-Piven strategy, he would have tried to torpedo TARP, causing even more disruption in employment. That would have provided an even bigger crisis, which would have allowed for nationalization of a bunch of industries, even larger increases in aid programs like food stamps and unemployment payments. The author also doubts that there was a Cloward-Piven strategy, but instead it was only one article.
From my experience, I'm inclined to think that Cloward and Piven did have a plan, but that plan wasn't fully implemented and didn't work as mapped out. There were crises from welfare demands, but the solution didn't take the form of direct checks to the poor. I doubt that Cloward and Piven's vision was particularly influential. It's not was though welfare or community organizing didn't exist until Cloward and Piven created them. Welfare most likely would have developed just as it did, regardless of these two.
That's a big problem. These two saw welfare as a way to alleviate poverty and build a political base, but they didn't see welfare as a subsistence trap. They didn't discuss the perils of living off of guaranteed low-level income such as losing the drive to improve and losing the skills and habits of working. That consideration didn't seem to enter their consciousness at all.
Richard Cloward died in 2001, but Piven has continued their work. She still supports direct payment from the federal government to all citizens and residents. The payments should be substantial enough for people to live in dignity. This means that employers will have to pay even more since their competition is a substantial handout.
Piven doesn't see any difficulty with this idea. She doesn't question how tasks will get done if everyone could be paid for not working, or the effect of a surge in wages on living costs. She also states that the US is a fabulously rich country, rich enough to afford wars all over the globe. Piven clearly lives in a self-made fantasy world. She is incredibly clueless when it comes to economics. Sad that she's been a professor for decades now, so she's been teaching these economically ignorant ideas to a couple generations already.
I suppose the good news is that I don't hear many other people repeating those ideas. The vast majority of people want jobs, not payouts for just hanging around. Cloward and Piven never got the welfare system they wanted, the direct federal payment system they wanted, or the more socially equal society they wanted. Most people wised up and realized that world vision was an impossibility. That's good progress there.
Protest in Boston, 1966
P.S. Direct connection between Barack Obama and Cloward-Piven: none except in Glenn Beck's mind.