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In the mid-1960s, a social scientist noted what came to be called “Moynihan’s Scissors”: Two lines on a graph crossed. The descending line charted the decline in the minority male unemployment rate. The ascending line charted the rise of new welfare cases.

The broken correlation of improvements in unemployment and decreased welfare dependency shattered confidence in social salvation through economic growth and reduced barriers to individual striving. Perhaps the decisive factors in combating poverty and enabling upward mobility were not economic but cultural — the habits, mores and dispositions that equip individuals to take advantage of opportunities.

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