A Tale of Two Projects:

• The Southern headquarters of the American Friends Service Committee is a small suite of rooms in one of Atlanta’s more notorious office buildings, an ugly old brown monster that Lester Maddox once denounced as a nest of Commies because it housed (and still does) such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Law Students Civil Rights Committee. The AFSC has never had the resources to become one of the South’s big-money operations, but during the 1960s it set up something called the “Family Aid Fund.” The money for the fund originally came from donations that poured in after James Reed, a white religious worker, was murdered in Selma, Alabama. The Service Committee decided that one good way to use the money might be to help families whose civil rights activities had landed them in trouble, and until very recently the fund did just that. A black family in Mississippi which sent its seven children to white schools under the “freedom of choice” plan found itself jobless and in danger of losing its home; the Family Aid Fund gave the family an emergency grant to hold off the lawyers and buy the groceries. A black girl in South Carolina integrated one of the white high schools and, instead of being at the top of her class, suddenly found herself doing so poorly that, although she was admitted to a college, she lost her chances for a scholarship. The Family Aid Fund sent her a small stipend so she could buy books. A black man in Alabama announced his candidacy for a local office and soon afterwards became tied up in obscure legal trouble with tax collectors and the state; the Family Aid Fund gave him some money too. The director of a black agricultural cooperative discovered that he could buy fertilizer at half-price if he bought it in the fall instead of the spring. The banks would not approve an early loan and the foundations couldn’t fit the mistimed request into their grant schedules, so the Family Aid Fund helped him put up the capital. In these cases and others, the Fund’s distinguishing traits were its flexibility and the humanity on a personal scale of its effect. It didn’t start the year with a tightly apportioned budget, so it was able to meet needs as they arose. As one of the Fund’s administrators explained to me, “If someone calls at 10 and needs money, we can have the check ready by 11.”

Much of the money for the Family Aid Fund came from the Ford Foundation, which until very recently had been providing $100,000 annually. Last summer, Ford announced that it would have only $25,000 for the Family Aid Fund; the people in Atlanta are still waiting to see even that amount. Because the Ford money has stopped, the AFSC has not made any grants from the Fund since last November.

• The Southern Regional Council works out of the same ugly brown building, but instead of occupying one office the SRC fills several floors.

In the midst of general hard times for foundation-sponsored projects in the South, the SRC has held its own somewhat more successfully than most. In the slightly less than two years since George Esser took over as executive director of the SRC, the organization’s staff has doubled (to about 60), and its budget has nearly quadrupled (to $2.2 million for 1973-74). The Ford Foundation, which was Esser’s employer immediately before he joined the SRC, has increased its support from $400,000 in the pre-Esser days to something like $1 million now. (While Ford is the largest single donor, most of the rest of the money also comes from foundations, including Carnegie and Rockefeller.)

The ascent of the SRC and the simultaneous withering of the AFSC and many other small groups is an important indicator of social change in the South. The Administration’s revenue-sharing policies have, at least for the time being, taken the federal government out of the business of financing political and economic change. (The categorical government programs of the 1960s, whatever their faults, were the major source of income redistribution, both from the rest of the nation to the South, and to the poorer people of the South.) Revenue sharing has, by the same process, dramatically enhanced the foundations’ significance, since they are now virtually the only non-commercial entities capable of investing in a region that has had an abundant supply of ideas for reform but few resources of its own to devote to the cause. Members of the South’s liberal community have, in at least one way, partaken of the region’s colonial status, for they have rarely been both able and willing to finance expensive social change. When that change has taken place, it has usually been paid for from the outside.

Several church groups, notably the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and various Presbyterian funds, have put money into Southern projects, but on the whole the funds are coming straight down from foundation headquarters in Manhattan. In their decision to make the SRC the outpost of foundation life in the South, the philanthropists have suggested how dear they hold appear ance, and performance, how cheap.

Any organization must live with its past, and in the case of the SRC that is a distinct disadvantage. The SRC is one of the oldest bi-racial civil rights groups in the region; it was set up in the closing months of World War II by several hundred white Southerners who joined with a group of blacks in declaring that “compulsory segregation” was wrong. Considering the time and the social surroundings, the early SRC was indisputably one of the more progressive and radical forces for racial justice in the South. During the 1950s it helped establish Councils on Human Rights in most of the Southern states; these groups were to serve as ombudsmen of racial issues and to pave the way for civil rights legislation during the 1960s.

In partial testimony to its effectiveness, the SRC came in for some rough treatment at Joe McCarthy’s hands and was even denounced by Herman Talmadge, who devoted part of his 1955 book, You and Segregation, to its activities. But it was only when the civil rights movement attained some kind of national following in the 1960s that the SRC enjoyed its finest moments. In those days the SRC received the same kind of national encomia as were given such Southern liberals as Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution.

By the end of the decade the movement had gone elsewhere and the SRC was nearly out of steam. The “thoughtful” and “well-documented” reports on Southern social conditions that had always been the SRC’s staple did keep appearing throughout the decade; even in 1968, the council produced Paul Good’s excellent study of the rural poor, Cycle of Poverty, and helped sponsor Hunger USA, a report that fits, with Michael Harrington’s The Other America, in the very small category of exposes that had a fairly clear and immediate effect on public policy.

For all the virtues of the reports, their approach began to seem anachronistic to many blacks who had been involved in the civil rights movement and who were, by 1968, moving past the point where they thought documentation of the basic problems would do them much good. I was working in Alabama at the time, reporting and trying to sell ads for the Southern Courier (a now-defunct weekly covering the civil rights beat in the Black Belt South), and in this brief immersion in the culture of the black poor I saw again and again that mention of the SRC would draw tired sighs from those involved in the day to day work of integration and economic reform. The SRC reports were handsomely printed but they seemed to mean more to grants officers in New York than to the people they described.

The late-sixties drift continued into the seventies, when the 100-member SRC board began looking for tactful ways to ease out the director, Paul Anthony (none but tactful ways would have suited the organization’s basic gentility; “this is,” one SRC member told me, “the kind of place where no one is ever fired.”). In the spring of 1971, the Council issued a manifesto calling for new directions in SRC policy. “At various times in its history, changing circumstances have confronted the Southern Regional Council with the need to reexamine its assumptions, structure, and functions in the light of new imperatives. This is such a time,” it read in part.

Even before Anthony was gone, the board was bitterly divided on the question of his successor. Anthony, like the previous SRC directors, was white; the black members of the board said en masse that enough was enough, the next director would have to be black. Some members of the board say that the position was offered, in turn, to Julian Bond and Andrew Young; both declined. Then the SRC turned to George Esser, a white man who though he was working for Ford and, as he puts it, “helping set priorities for programs in the National Affairs division,” was still living in North Carolina, as he had for 20 years. Esser knew, or quickly found lout, about the generalized discontent of the SRC board, and when he agreed to take the job he attached a condition: he would come only if the SRC hired a black as his associate. To fill this position the board found Harry Bowie, a black Episcopal minister who had come from New Jersey in 1964 to work with the Delta Ministry in Mississippi, had married a McComb, Mississippi girl, and had stayed there ever since. Bowie now spends most of a working week in Atlanta, but he still commutes “home” to McComb on the weekend (at the SRC’s expense; Esser explained in March that the arrangement was a temporary, though ongoing, courtesy. while Bowie decided whether he would keep his family in Mississippi or move them to Atlanta), to spend time with his family and to maintain “my turf, which is a concept that becomes important to anyone who has spent time in Mississippi politics.”

The Foundation Man

While Bond or Young would have brought a certain celebrity to the SRC and might have attracted a broader base of national support, Esser is in. many ways a purer expression of the organization’s purpose. His personal background is of fundamental importance, for in many ways George Esser is the South’s version of the Foundation Man.

After his graduation from Harvard Law School in the late forties, Esser, a native of Virginia, came back down South, to North Carolina and the Institute of Government at Chapel Hill. By virtue of its university and its “progressive” governors, North Carolina has established a reputation as the think-tank of the South; its Institute of Government was, especially during the 1950s, one of the more important elements of the state’s intellectual system. Another of the important elements was Terry Sanford, who as the state’s governor in the 1960s drew the Thinkers into public service and whose reputation for enlightened politics was such that instead of retiring to business or a law practice when his term was over, he has become a very active president of Duke University.

Under Sanford’s tutelage, Esser was executive director of the “North Carolina Fund” between 1963 and 1969. The Fund, mainly supported by a Ford grant, was one of Sanford’s bright-new-idea attempts to improve the state’s social condition by sponsoring creative forms of community action. Its performance under Esser was widely praised, and many of the projects it sponsored became models for parts of the federal anti-poverty effort. Esser came in for some hard knocks at the Fund, especially over the question of whether he was condoning violence by supporting certain activist groups. Esser did not back off an inch, and when he left the Fund in 1969 to become Ford’s roving man in the South, he left in relative glory.

For all of Esser’s distinction, the fact remains that he has lived virtually his entire working life among the foundations and their satellite institutions. By now he even looks the part of the foundation executive, from his slicked-back grey hair to his dignified glasses and classy general deportment. He can sound the part, too, with his sober, deliberate speech, his virtual refusal to disagree with any opinion or shut himself off from any point of view (“I’m sensitive to that concern, I want you to know that I’m hearing you.”), his capacious view of the South’s future and the SRC’s. If an institution ever put on suits and gave speeches, the SRC would dress and sound like Esser.

Mid-Molt

It is typical of the values under which the SRC operates that now, as Esser and Bowie approach their second anniversary on the job, everyone at the Council still talks about things being in a “transition period” or a “start-up” phase. “We’re in midmolt,” Esser told me in February. “It’s not really fair to judge what we’ve done because we haven’t started to do a lot of it yet.” It is, though, fair to judge what the SRC is trying to do, for its goals are clearly stated. By the end of 1972, Esser and Bowie had produced a “Program for the Seventies,” outlining the new directions that would justify the SRC’s continued operation and, indeed, its expansion. There were six general “strategies,” which ranged from increasing the SRC’s influence on Southern politics (“a growing and creative involvement of Council members in policy decision-making”) and keeping in touch with the myriad local organizations that had grown up during the sixties (the SRC is only now putting such a list together), to sponsoring creative social projects, a la North Carolina Fund, and following up on the Council’s research and reports (“carefully selected research, monitoring, and information projects which have clear cut objectives”).

Like much else about the organization, the plan is admirable in concept but elusive in detail. When the SRC presented its annual budget request last fall, for example, it matched ambition with accomplishment via a chart which represents a mastery of the language of bureaucratic obfuscation. The first page (below) conveys the style.

The SRC is, to be sure, doing a number of useful and important things. It sponsors special programs like the Black Woman’s Education Project, which has placed more than 100 people in professional jobs. It funnels some money and a good deal of advice to local community groups, and two of its community workers, John Buffington and Leon Hall, are well respected throughout the region. Its recent reports on school finance and local taxation have attracted considerable attention. Its new “Monitoring Project” is attempting to assemble detailed evidence of what revenue sharing will mean to different groups in the South. The Council is also the region’s best storehouse of information on the South. But the unmistakable feel of the place is not of commitment but of self-preservation; it seems to be an organization determined to expand its influence and operations without any well-defined sense of the ends toward which it works. If it is supposed to be a center, for influential research on public policy, the conceptual timidity and general blandness of its reports subvert its political usefulness. If it can boast two fine community organizers, other Southern groups like the Delta Ministry support a staff with even more good organizers without all the officious paraphernalia.

On the day before I visited the SRC, The New York Times carried a two-inch item referring to one of the SRC’s reports. The Times’ readership in the South is minimal, but everyone I spoke to the next day mentioned the item; and although Esser said, “Of course, the days have passed when we would merely be content with a notice in The New York Times,” this certification of respectability seemed to have the same sort of self-sufficient finality a good review in the Times would hold for a young novelist, and it was difficult to see just what else the Council had in mind by way of follow-up. (Questions about follow-up in the SRC usually lead to lists of conferences and talk about “building coalitions.”)

This was merely one concise illustration of a more general impression—that the teeth had been stripped from an important gear in the SRC’s mental machinery. Among most of the reform groups which have had a longterm impact—not merely southern organizations like the American Friends or the Federation of Southern Cooperatives or the Delta Ministry, but also the whole national sector of which Ralph Nader is emblematic—observers can usually sense that the reformers have kept their eye on the ball. They remember why their group was set up in the first place; every day or at least every once in a while they step back to judge the quotidian activity against their original goal, whether it be the election of a local politician or the ground-breaking for a new kind of economic system. Too few people seem to remember at the SRC. Like many public institutions which judge their achievement not by their progress in the real world but by success at the game of grantsmanship and appropriation, the SRC has stopped looking outside and instead stares at its own programs and proposals. Great care is invested in the perfection of tomorrow’s projects and the dreaming of tomorrow’s dreams, but in the process no time is left for looking out the window at today.

Dollars Over the Cliff

A great deal of this may be traced to George Esser’s view of the South, which is also the foundations’. I have no doubt that if Esser were governor of any southern state, that state would be a better place to live in than it is today. Esser is a man of genuine commitment to racial justice, and unlike many in the white-liberal community of the South, he realizes that the enemy is not just Wallace and the Klan, but includes some of the “New South” businessmen whose plan to keep the poor blacks from being forced off their farms and emigrating to Detroit and Chicago is to have them emigrate instead to Southern boom-towns like Atlanta and Jackson. There is a populist fervor to Esser’s words. He is, in fact, a visionary; when talking he will leap from his chair, lock his eye on a point in the distant sky, talking and pacing all the while, and then move to the large easel, which holds several charts and flip through them until he finds the ones showing how various political blocs will all be brought together in time for the 1976 election, or how the Council will increase its grass-roots support in the South. As he describes his dreams he makes you embarrassed to ask something as small-minded as what the SRC’s doing besides the conferences and the outreach seminars and the annual reports. It’s hard to break the flow of words, and it must be harder still to break the flow of ideas when you work inside the organization and allow yourself to believe that the dreams will all come true.

Esser’s formidable intelligence has been redirected, from present to future, from earth to sky, and it’s hard not to conclude that in this he partakes of the philosophy of those foundations where he has spent so much time. Dreams are the criterion for obtaining each new grant. For the potential grantee, there is often more emotional reality in the preparation of the request and in working for its final approval than in anything that’s later done to carry out the programs. This is a pattern familiar from government: the rest of the year people may leave early, but at appropriation time they’re putting in extra hours. Men live for the budget; it is the jury delivering the verdict, the teacher handing down the report card, the measure of accomplishment or defeat, above all more important than what will happen during the rest of the year when the budget is simply administered. It is the perfectly understandable, individual need to believe in tomorrow, to pass a milestone of success or failure, magnified to a scale on which it warps the performance of whole institutions.

Those dispensing the money are also part of the system. The foundation grant officers may find that their careers depend on the dreams, for the dreams are what they sell at the foundation board meetings, the dreams are the stuff of their accomplishments and their hopes for promotion. An old idea re-funded is just an old idea, but a new idea is a new horizon. By now Esser must understand instinctively that if he is to keep bringing in the grants, he must keep generating enthusiasm for some new idea that will make a difference in the South. “One time I mentioned that we should start at the southern border of one of our states and work our way up and try to fix everything in the state,” says Patricia Derien, a stylish young woman from Jackson, Mississippi, who is Democratic National Committeewoman for her state and also enfant terrible of the SRC executive board. “The reply was that the foundation would say, ‘You can’t just go to the edge of the cliff and throw a million dollars over.’ So here we are, lying at the edge of the cliff and dropping it over, one dollar at a time. Whether we’re able to keep throwing it will depend on George’s skill at making the foundations think each year that they’re being seduced anew, that it’s a fresh idea each time and that they’re never having the same experience twice.”

A Chamberlain’s Ambition

Esser’s great talent of knowing how to ask for what the foundations want to pay for grows from another factor: the password and secret handshake he learned during his years as a foundation apprentice. The old-boy network means, as Esser put it, that “one .of the advantages I may bring to this organization is a relation of confidence with many of the other organizations, including the foundations. Rightly or wrongly the foundations have confidence in me and Harry. McGeorge Bundy and Mitchell Sviridoff [director of Ford’s national affairs division] are depending on me to push things to the nth degree without toppling them down on our heads.” The steady supply of new dreams from Esser keeps them from having to look too closely at how the old dreams have actually turned out. It doesn’t really matter that the SRC has invested several million dollars in its two-year warm up, as long as the future is still bright. The money may have been well spent or squandered; the foundations can’t really be sure. Esser the trusted man says, “No foundation has come down to look at what we’re doing in an operational sense.”

At the end of all the dreams is a core-hollowness, because no one is sure where the projects and the grants should lead. When Esser does talk about ultimate aims, he often talks about bringing blocs together, about touching base with the various interest groups in the South. In one of our conversations he walked to the easel and flipped through to find one of the most important examples of this approach, the “Southern Growth Policies Board” (also supported by Ford). The “new breed” of southern politicians—the governors of the B u m pers-Aske w-Carter variety—has, like the foundations, invested its trust in the SRC. Recently the Southern governors created their growth policies board, a planning body which, from early indications, will take the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce as its philosophic lodestone. When one of the governors phoned Esser to ask him whether the SRC would prepare a “human resources” report for the board, Esser was reportedly transfixed by the possibilities. Other members of the organization say that he came to them and asked, “Do you realize what this means? Do you understand?” What it meant, in short, was that the SRC would be in position, on base, so close that, it hoped, the governors would consult it when they are ready to make a decision. The SRC has prepared little policy papers on education and manpower training and other “human resource” issues, but if it has any deeper understanding of what to make of this “fabulous” opportunity, I was unable to discern it.

Its ambitions are a chamberlain’s ambitions, not a reformer’s. This is of a piece with Esser’s secret hope that the SRC’s position papers will provide the fodder for a new generation of liberal candidates in the 1976 elections. In revealing this plan to me Esser was sharing one of his private dreams, trusting my judgment not to mention the plan that obviously neither the foundations nor the IRS could officially countenance. If there seemed the slightest chance that the dream would be taken seriously outside Esser’s office, I would have been his willing accomplice. But every detail of the setting, from the visionary chart to the postponed judgment (“until 1976 we won’t really know whether we’ve succeeded or failed”) prevented me from believing in it as deeply as I would have liked.

So eager has it been to take a seat close by the politicians, that the SRC has forgotten what it wanted to say. Nowhere is the lack of fundamental purpose more evident than among the SRC’s employees themselves. Although this formula is crude, there is a way to separate reformer groups into two categories. One contains the groups that are still in business to accomplish something specific. They are often short of money, and because they can’t afford to pay market rates for the talented manpower they would like to have, they do what they can to go outside the market. Some take advantage of young people during the few years when they can ignore the lack of security: this was the trick of VISTA and the Peace Corps, of the Nader operations and many other publicinterest groups. Others hope to find a hard core of zealots who will live on subsistence wages: many of the civil rights groups still operating in the South sustain themselves through this kind of dedication. Other groups may borrow people from industry, offer them glamour and prestige, compete on non-monetary terms because they can’t compete with money.

In the second category, which includes the foundations, a good man’s work is worth a good man’s pay. While no one is there to profiteer, there is no automatic virtue attached to working for a monk’s wages. This is the world of the SRC. As was pointed out to me several times during my visit, men like Esser and Bowie could earn more than their present $30-40,000 in other jobs, and some of the program officers might get more than the $15-25,000 (which, in Atlanta, goes further than it would in Washington or New York) they are now being paid. This sense of personal sacrifice, together with the SRC’s established position as a leading light of Southern liberalism, understandably deters those involved from close questioning of their impact and importance.

In fairness to Esser and Bowie, they began with a tremendous deficit to overcome. On arrival they found a staff which had mainly been around since the 1950s; by the time of their arrival, the SRC had won a reputation as a rest-home for tired white liberals. “For better or worse we made a decision that if there were people who didn’t fit our new ideas, we would try to make them fit,” Esser has said. “When people are 45, 50 years old you don’t just throw them out on the street. There are people here who have given their lives to the organization, and you just can’t cut them off.” You have to admire the humanity of Esser’s decision, but unfortunately that does not change the fact that the place is full of people whose loyalty is confined to putting in ,an eight-hour day and working toward their pensions. Apart from Esser’s and Bowie’s, the offices are virtually deserted at 5:05 each afternoon. One need not make a religion of work to recognize that most groups that make a difference in the world don’t cut off their efforts by the clock.

Apart from anything else, the SRC’s fat, slack appearance distorts its work in the South, in the same way that UN advisers are handicapped from the start when they arrive at an African work site in an air-conditioned Mercedes. These tensions are most evident in a man like Harry Bowie, who in his years with Delta Ministry shared that organization’s dirt-poor intimacy with the people of the region. Bowie’s efforts to maintain his Mississippi connections have been suffering, according to one of his associates in the Ministry, because “people perceive him as an Atlantan now, which means big-city money here. He had to make a serious adjustment to fit into a $30,000-a-year bullshit job, and when you’ve adjusted out of the community into the bureaucratized life you can’t fit back in.” Unlike some black hustlers who rationalize their own ascent into superfly-like profiteering by considering it revenge for what the white man has been doing all along, Bowie is all too conscious of the forces at each side ripping him apart. On the one hand, the SRC brings Bowie in touch with forces the Delta Ministry will never see; it is respected, respectable, rich. But even as he makes his weekly return to Mississippi, Bowie must see the roots drying up and realize he’s cut himself off from his old world.

“They Don’t Want You to Succeed”

Voices from the world Bowie has left behind: Ed Cole is a Mississippi black man, who often works in a second-story office in an aging white frame house a few hundred yards from the Capitol in Jackson. Cole works for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, an umbrella organization that, in its prime, was providing loans from a revolving fund and technical assistance to more than 100 agricultural and manufacturing. cooperatives throughout the South. The Federation’s prime ended in 1972 when both its main sponsors-0E0 and Ford—dropped out. The 0E0 left after the Federation, for reasons not fully explained, refused to submit to an evaluation of its programs (the consultant’s fee for the evaluation would, reportedly, have been larger than the grant), and Ford turned off its $450,000 annual support because it wanted to concentrate its efforts on a handful of co-ops instead of trying to deal with all of them.

The Ford-OEO retreat pitched the Federation into a more desperate search for funds, but now Cole says that it may all have been for the best. “We are trying to borrow money from banks now, and we have found that it is terribly hard for a co-op that’s been working on grant money to make the change and start operating as a business, on loans. With a grant, you have to operate at above what you need, so you can keep getting the money. With a loan, it’s the opposite. We find that it takes a year and a half, at least, to make the transition from foundation money to self-sufficiency. Two of the co-ops have done it now, they went from minus $15,000 each year to breaking even.” Cole, a thoughtful young man with enormous pure black eyes, looked up and said: “It’s almost worse taking money from the foundations than from the government. I don’t think they really want you to succeed.”

I think Cole’s indictment is slightly off: Bryant George and George Esser would like nothing better than to see all their dreams come true, but I am sure that their expectations are far more realistic. Amid all the daze of proposals and seminars and new coalitions, there is precious little concern for costs and benefits in the foundation world. What concrete goals the foundations have are usually confined to one-shot projects: the studies and conferences which can be planned, held, and duly noted in the next annual report. As for the dreams, I would be surprised if anyone in New York thinks much will come of the SRC’s glorious visions.

A Lesson from McNamara

The significance of this way of life is that it is not restricted to the foundations. The government is all too similar in its willingness to be seduced by sexy-looking plans and its readiness to fix its attention on proposals rather than results. Nearly every public agency was, in the beginning, created to deal with a certain defined problem. The only agency in this stage of life today is the Federal Energy Office, whose employees are forced to concentrate, every day, on what their memos and policy statements are doing about such real-world problems as gas lines and factory lay-offs. The FEO, like other agencies, will eventually set up routinized programs; and because the programs have been set up in order to solve the problem, it is entirely understandable that after a while people start equating a successfully executed program with a worthwhile assault on the problem. Since the former is much easier to measure than the latter, it may eventually become the agency’s only goal. By now it is almost a cliche to point out that the two are not the same: this is what Pat Moynihan said about the social workers and poverty, and what several recent studies have shown about veterans and the Veterans Administration. The difficulty is finding some way to thwart this seemingly inevitable process of evolution and keep the officials from developing tunnel vision.

Although he has suffered in the revised history of Camelot, Robert McNamara deserves considerable respect as one of the administrators who tried hardest to raise his employees’ eyes above the memos. His PPBS system in the Pentagon at least had the goal of making officials measure themselves by benchmarks set apart from the normal standards of appropriations and inter-office competition. Of course, everyone in the Defense Department soon figured out the trick to the system: McNamara was a sucker for numbers, and anything that could be quantified could be dumped in as “performance evaluation.” McNamara’s peculiar blind spot, while it need not apply to other evaluation systems, does suggest the enormous difficulty of getting a reasonable feel for what programs are doing out in the real world. Someone else may avoid the number-addiction only to fall prey to the appearance of administrative order, or program officers who speak well, or other quite partial measures of success.

It is no easy thing to get governments, or foundations, to judge more realistically what they are doing in the field, but of all our social needs at the moment this may be one of the more urgent. Consider, apart from everything else, the political importance. A great deal of the fuel for President Nixon’s indiscriminate junking of federal programs, and of George Wallace’s debunking of the pointy-heads, has been the public’s true perception that an enormous amount of public effort has not done much good. If the country is to begin, in 1976 or some other time, re-addressing itself to the unsolved problems of hunger and poor health and denied opportunity, it needs a far clearer idea of which of our previous efforts have succeeded and which have failed.

James Fallows

James Fallows began his magazine career at the Washington Monthly in the 1970s, later serving as editor of U.S. News & World Report and as a White House speechwriter. He has written 12 books, the most recent being Our Towns, coauthored with his wife, Deborah Fallows, which was a national best-seller and the basis of a 2021 HBO documentary.