Food Stamps and Fritos

From the Chicago Tribune:

Is there any human impulse stronger than the urge to tell others what not to eat?

Fast food, red meat, white bread, trans fats, sugary cereals, processed foods, salty snacks, fried anything, refined grains, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, sodium, Snickers bars … We’re surrounded by unhealthy choices, and by people who would like to legislate them away.

The latest victims of these well-intentioned busybodies are low-income Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, still known to most everyone as food stamps.

The problem here is that they are ignoring a very relevant boundary.

The purpose of the food stamp program is to give poor people resources for the (sole) purpose of preventing starvation. Not to redistribute wealth. Not to raise anyone’s quality of life, or make the world more fair for its underclass.

So it’s not entirely honest to act as if “busybodies” are trying to control what poor people are eating just out of malice or spite. There’s a lie of omission there.

This sort of deliberate misrepresentation used to confuse me, but now I see it as a form of corruption: an assault on the boundaries separating public from private – probably for the purpose of skewing the political process via “political largesse” (the practice of using entitlement or safety net programs for what amounts to bribery).

Everyone has the right to buy whatever they want if they also accept the responsibility that goes with that right (e.g. using their own money to pay for it).  Those receiving special assistance based on a special pleading (in this case, poverty and the ethical argument which states that a civilized nation does not let its people starve to death) have to obey different rules. Those rules exist for a reason.

Blurring these distinctions isn’t a harmless act. There’s no way for one person to have the rights without the responsibilities unless someone else gets stuck with the responsibilities but not the rights. The costs of violated integrity are not easy to see – not because they aren’t real, but because they are diffuse.

This sort of behavior kills the proverbial “goose that lays the golden egg”: how can we have faith in future social justice programs (or the very idea of social justice programs) if people are going to be attacked for pointing out that the goals of the program aren’t being addressed?

Intentional or not, the result is a “bait and switch” that undermines the entire system. How can there be social cohesion when programs meant as a safety net are redescribed into wealth redistribution schemes? How can people trust their government when they feel taken advantage of?

We need to tell politicians and their enablers to stop with the bribery and learn how to appeal to voters with better policies, not with misappropriated funds.