The food stamps program

by on September 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

In an ideal policy world, would food stamps exist as a program separate from cash transfers?  Probably not.  But as it stands today, they are still one of the more efficient programs of the welfare state and the means-testing seems to work relatively well.  And giving people food stamps — since almost everyone buys food — is almost as flexible as giving them cash.  It doesn’t make sense to go after food stamps, and you can read the recent GOP push here as a sign of weakness, namely that they, beyond upholding the sequester, are unwilling to tackle the more important and more wasteful targets, including Medicare and also defense spending, not to mention farm subsidies.  Here are a few basic numbers on when food stamps have grown and what has driven that growth.  It has not become a “problem program” in the way that say disability has.

Larry Rothfield September 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Right you are. Now the question is whether eminent libertarian economists have any sway whatsoever with libertarian politicians such as Rand “food stamps are just like slavery” Paul.

dearieme September 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I’m mildly surprised that I’ve not read anything about food fascists using food stamps to try to control the diet of the poor. You could ban their use for pizzas or sodas for instance, or whatever else it has become fashionable to tar as the devil’s food. (Mind you, such fascists might be right about sodas: I suspect that the poor would be better drinking small beer than brown sugar water.)

Marie September 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm

With you entirely on the food fascists.
At the same time, one reason the food stamp thing makes me nuts is that the program is obviously a huge, huge buffer for the food industry. It’s not food stamp users that are lobbying to make sure Nabisco stays on the list of approved SNAP products. The families using SNAP are the last ones with any power in this scenario.

Mark Thorson September 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Pizzas and sodas have a lobby. Broccoli and carrots don’t. More likely to ban the latter than the former.

Andrew Huber September 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm

DC 101 – EVERYONE has a lobby.

http://www.unitedfresh.org/

Bob Knaus September 22, 2013 at 8:42 am

Already been done. This link will take you to the lists of approved foods, which vary by state and by Indian tribe: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/Contacts/stateagencyfoodlists.htm

Marie September 22, 2013 at 8:52 am

That’s a really interesting list. I think WIC is much more nanny state that straight food stamps, because it’s largely about telling pregnant women how to eat. The income level at which you can receive it is substantially higher than that for straight food stamps. Still, I was amazed to click on some of that and see how invasive it was — gotta go listen to people tell you how to live and see their doctor and etc., looks like, to get money to buy milk.

Reminds me of when they make fun of how the old Depression soup kitchens would make the guys listen to preaching and praying before they could get their free food.

I think TANF may be the same way, but I’ve only heard second hand — people desperately looking for a job having to put their kids in some kind of care so they can go sit in on resume writing workshops and how to interview workshops — like, people who had held professional jobs for 20 years being told to wear clean clothes when they go interview sort of thing.

Sbard September 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I remember sitting in on one of those unemployment orientation things. The content was clearly intended for people who may not have had a high school education who would be looking for low-end retail jobs.

Flesj September 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

You can’t invest food stamps. Therefore, you’re locked into poverty in a capitalist world

sort_of_knowledgable September 21, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Welfare programs aren’t meant to provide large amounts of capital to invest. Anyway if the food stamp recipient somehow had another source of food like a plot of land to cultivate he could switch to possible higher value cash crops like flowers and thus invest that way.

mulp September 21, 2013 at 11:17 pm

You mean like back before 1900 when the masses were welcomed by businesses making money from immigrants who were given land taken from the wealth but not-white land holders – wealth redistribution on massive scale – on which they could grow food or other crops. Lots of businesses benefited from the ship companies, the railroads who were paid with pooled savings in Europe, to the farm implement and seed companies and stores that lent and sold to those secured by the land given without security by government.

Clearly the US needs to invade and annex some big land areas of arable land to return to the past that had “no welfare state”, just massive wealth redistribution by government.

purusha September 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

You are an asshole. People need calories to fucking survive you hideous pig.

Willitts September 24, 2013 at 12:20 am

Where do you get the idea that you have to invest in capital in order to not be poor?

The only requirement to not be poor is to earn enough to spend for your basic needs. This is how the “poverty line” has always been calculated in this country. If you want to add consumption security to the definition of “not poor,” that’s fine, but then your definition of “not poor” is arbitrary and capricious. There is no end to what you can add.

watermelonpunch September 24, 2013 at 1:49 am

This thread of comments is a hilariously grand display of how out of touch people are with their fellow humans.

I don’t generally venture this far into comments threads because it’s almost invariably like bounding out into the back yard of someone with 6 dogs and high grass.
In this case, it’s been like discovering one of the particularly large dogs has been eating inanimate objects from the toddler neighbor’s toy box.

Jim September 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Bullshit. If you are hungry and want food you should have to ask for it. As it stands, when someone comes on the train and couches his begging in an appeal to hunger, everyone knows or should know that he is full of it. Once when he was still young and naïve my brother gave such a person half of his sandwich—and caught him discarding it (not in a designated trash receptacle, mind you!) five seconds later. His would-be beneficiary cursed him for not giving him money instead. Not one person, not one, will starve for lack of food stamps.

tt September 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm

i dont see how that experience relates to food stamps.
your last sentence is not supported by anything you say.

Jan September 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Cool story, bro. You realize your anecdote has nothing to do with food stamps?

karl September 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm

As your brother goes, so goes the nation, eh?

somethingblue September 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Do you even know what food stamps are?

purusha September 22, 2013 at 11:31 am

Thank you for sharing that anecdote. Now I have a better understanding of what sort of nasty racist ignorant pigs comment on this website.

WJS September 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

“Not one person, not one, will starve for lack of food stamps.”

There are thousands of active duty military personnel who rely on food stamps in order to feed their families who would politely disagree with you.

mere mortal September 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Jim is right. I know a guy who has plenty of money, he doesn’t need food stamps at all, and never has gotten them. And why would he, he has a job and everything. That’s how messed up food stamps are.

Also, I know a fat guy who once told me he was hungry and was going to have a meal. I tried to tell him that it was not possible since he was fat, but he was so stupid that he wouldn’t believe me, so he had a sandwich. I don’t think it was Jim’s brother’s sandwich, but still.

ladderff September 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm

From The Devil’s Dictionary (1881-1906):

BENEFACTOR, n. One who makes heavy purchases of ingratitude, without,
however, materially affecting the price, which is still within the
means of all.

Willitts September 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm

First off, I would not vote to defund food stamps. But I disagree that it isn’t plagued with problems.

When they had actual stamps, there was a vibrant market trading stamps for cash. Debit cards have only slowed that down. Second, we all know that in kind transfers are inefficient, partially because cash has higher utility but also because the in kind transfer frees up income for purchases we would rather they not make.

Then there is the dynamic problem of food stamp and social welfare dependence. If we meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, then really they have nothing to live for except harmful lifestyles. They stay in this their entire lives and their kids stay too. Remove food stamps, and they might actually make good work choices.

Then there is the overactive sense of entitlement by recipients as well as the ever %rowing bureaucracy. The program is also used as a political bargaining chip.

Then there is obesity among the poor. Apparently caloric intake is not their problem.

I would want a more comprehensive solution rather than defunding, but the program is badly flawed.

Alexei Sadeski September 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm

No one’s saying it’s perfect, only that this program has fewer problems than other, larger programs.

Willitts September 24, 2013 at 12:09 am

Having fewer problems than other problems is not a reason to keep or fail to reform a program.

The lack of self-policing in government programs is cause enough to question all government programs.

dstraws September 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Every cliche about poor people in 5 paragraphs! Take the SNAP challenge then come back and tell us again what you think about people that don’t get enough to eat. Until then perhaps you should contemplate your lack of compassion.

dan1111 September 21, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Pointing out problems with the system does not equal lack of compassion. Nor does highlighting public choice problems. Compassion should motivate us to want a system that works as well as possible, and that means an honest appraisal of how it is working.

Alex Blaze September 22, 2013 at 11:25 am

No, but making up problems in order to stop helping others is at least a red flag for a lack of compassion.

If we want “honest appraisal,” then actually knowing something about the situation is required. dstraws was simply challenging willitts to learn a thing or two before spouting an opinion.

Willitts September 24, 2013 at 12:35 am

Spouting an opinion?

As a former Assistant State’s Attorney, I think I have more than enough experience in matters relating to poverty and crime to have an informed opinion. We received USDA support for local operations to identify and neutralize fraud. Many retailers were prosecuted under state law in addition to or instead of federal law.

Are you saying that obesity is not a problem for this nation’s poor? Where do you get your information?

No one is “making up” problems. We are all well aware of what those problems are. If you want stuff that’s “made up,” go to the USDA website to have your propaganda spoon-fed to you. The fraud we identify is only a small part of the problem.

rmart September 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

Remember the S in SNAP is for supplemental. This program ($4.50/day on average) is not supposed to represent 100% of the cost of food for an individual or family. That being said, one can still eat healthy on $4.50/day if you so choose.

Milk and generic cereal for breakfast
Turkey sandwich and prezels for lunch
Healthy choice meal (on sale often at $2 a pop) with a small desert item for dinner

This gets you very close to $4.50/day and is close to my average day… and I am a member of the upper middle class. No.. I do not survive on $4.50/day, because I made choices so I didn’t have to, but if I did, it can be done, which is not the goal of the program, again, it is met to be supplemental. I support the program but saying that the SNAP challenge is very difficult and cannot be done without eating terrible foods that cause obesity is a joke.

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:06 am

I’ve read recently that for something like 25% of SNAP recipients, it is their sole source of money for food.

Marie September 23, 2013 at 11:59 am

I’m sure you mean well, but this is exactly what I mean about the SNAP challenge. It’s not possible to reconcile your belief that this is a healthy diet for a growing child or a grown man working a physical labor job 9 hours a day with your position in the upper middle class of a meritocracy.

Albigensian September 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm

The SNAP challenge is dishonest because it is based on the average food stamp grant.

In most states, a recipient with income below $X receives enough SNAP benefit to cover 100% of food purchases; above $2X, one is not eligible. In between $X and $2X, the benefit decreases linearly as people in this income range are expected to be able to pay for some (but not all) of their food.

An honest “SNAP challenge” would use the grant one gets below $X, NOT the average.

BTW, I may be one of the few posters here who actually (briefly) received food stamps. I found the grant more than adequate; in fact, it was about 50% higher than what I had been spending for food- and I certainly had not been going hungry. Since the grant was so generous, and since one can only eat so much food, I simply bought more expensive foods.

Then again, if SNAP barely paid for enough to eat then presumably recipients would not waste the little they had on soda and chips- and there would be no debate as to whether SNAP should pay for these things.

Marie September 23, 2013 at 5:07 pm

We rested close to the poverty level, got $480 a month for a family of five, that’s about $1.10 per meal per person. You needed only half that? And ate well? Fed growing kids and they got enough nutrition to stay healthy? No other sources of food, like eating out or family inviting you to meals or meals through work or school? No sarcasm here, wondering if my perspective is really that off because that just doesn’t seem possible to me, not for long.

I guess that’s not so, if we ate beans and brown rice for every meal and supplemented with vegetables for vitamins and minerals it might work. . . maybe I should try it. . . . .my family might murder me, but that’s one less mouth to feed, eh? ;)

Willitts September 24, 2013 at 12:14 am

What you call “cliches” I call “observations.”

So funny you mention cliches. On this morning’s news (Chicago), they were interviewing a woman receiving food stamps on her opinion about the “cuts.” She was black, obese, had five children (the one they showed was obese), and she had a Bluetooth headset in her ear. Did the network seek her out just to support a cliche?

I took the SNAP challenge long before it was called SNAP. Back then it was called Columbia Law School.

Matt September 24, 2013 at 3:07 am

I can’t imagine a news network seeking out persons who typify their viewer’s stereotypical misunderstandings of other sections of the community in order to make a news story more compelling.

That seems like it would never happen. Nope! News program interviews are chosen by totally random selection.

Marie September 24, 2013 at 9:05 am

I’m going to take that as brilliant self-parody.

Marie September 24, 2013 at 9:06 am

Mr. Willits comment, of course, is what I mean.

JonF September 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Re: Then there is the dynamic problem of food stamp and social welfare dependence. If we meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, then really they have nothing to live for except harmful lifestyles.

This the most blinkered view of human nature I have ever read. Would you apply it to yourself? When your own physical needs are met do you then quit work and go home early? Do you turn down overtime because you don’t need the money for basic necessities? Are the poor some alternate species that has no desire for anything beyond the bare necessities? “Man does not live by bread alone” really does apply to everyone, period, full stop.

dan1111 September 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I wouldn’t phrase it quite the same way, but I do think that the idleness that comes from not having to work for a living can lead to harmful, self-destructive behavior. And I would apply that to myself first of all.

Marie September 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm

This would be true if folks who were on food stamps were generally idle.

Certainly some are.

But there are different populations, and different families, and different individuals.

The folks I know who have been on food stamps the most are about the least idle people I’ve ever met. Work very hard on their family, making ends meet with few resources, charity in the church, working at the school. They work a ton, they just don’t get paid for it.

I just don’t think most people making policy, on either side, really know what they are talking about. The food stamps challenge shouldn’t be playing the game of living off the designated amount each month (which, by the way, is jacked up too high — also, people get a sense of superiority at being able to beat the welfare queens by buying with coupons and don’t count in that hubby eats at the work cafeteria every day, or they stop at Taco Bell three times a week — it’s too easy to cheat when it’s not real and not even know you’re cheating). The food stamps challenge should be living with a family on food stamps for a week. Then another family, in another situation. Then another. Like health insurance, the people making policy really seem to have no idea how their programs are playing out in the real world. They make policy using their own press releases.

JonF September 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

A very good point. Large numbers of people on Food Stamps and other welfare programs– Medicaid, and Section 8 too– are working. Practically all EITC recipients are employed. They just don;t make enough money to support themselves. In one sense our welfare programs are a form of corporate welfare so employers can get away with paying workers less than a subsistence wage.

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:07 am

A lot of people seem completely unaware of the working poor.

kent September 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm

So dan I assume you support a 100% inheritance tax on every estate over say $5 million. Any more than that and inheritors won’t have to work for a living.

Ferruccio Fortini September 22, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I like Buffett’s take on how much money to leave to children — ”enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing”.

Of course this would not in any way justify confiscatory tax levels on the grand total of the estate — only on the specific amount left to each single beneficiary beyond a certain threshold — and exemptions would be needed to avoid destroying family-run businesses just because of the passage of generations (if a heir is running the family business, they’re clearly _not_ `doing nothing`, anyway!).

But, one could still leave a very large estate (even beyond a family-run business) without expecting confiscatory taxation — as long as only a reasonable amount was left to each individual beneficiary; the rest, if any, could of course be left to charities, and that (like any other charitable donation) should IMHO remain tax free (as long of course as charities are properly vetted to avoid tax fraud).

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:07 am

this works as an argument in favor of a 100% inheritance tax, though.

Marie September 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm

There are a number of things that are good for people to do that must be voluntary. Forcing people out of wealth for their own good is morally wrong. I genuinely believe the rich have it very, very hard but they can’t be helped out of that through confiscation, they have to find their own way.

Marie September 21, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Yeah, these are kind of cliches and stereotypes. As such, they are not without a kernel of truth in there, but if you don’t go broader and deeper you’re not going to get anything but more rhetoric. It’s really easy to win elections talking about how fat poor people are. Easy for either party, you just attribute it to different causes.

How about this one — federal school lunch program? Almost every American with a kid who is or has been in school has received subsidized food on the federal dime from this. And they are expanding it. Many kids get free lunches, and they want to push free breakfast one everyone and get kids in at two years of age. Most everywhere, too, you can get lunches during the summer. Anyone complaining about the costs of food stamps sending their kids in with PB&J to save the taxpayer?

Every complaint against food stamps can be applied to school lunch programs. Have you seen what they feed kids? You want to talk about obesity, how fat have kids gotten as a whole in the years since we started feeding them in cafeterias? How about using the funds to buy other things, how many moms take the savings from not having to buy the kids lunch and use it to buy McDonald’s for dinner? Or that chardonnay to deal with having the kids home at night? Sense of entitlement? What screaming do you think would happen if we yanked lunches from every kid in school? Not from the kids, from the parents, of all income levels? When I started school, we brown bagged it — no one even thinks of that as a real thing these days.

Ferruccio Fortini September 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm

“Almost every American with a kid who is or has been in school has received subsidized food on the federal dime from this” — more like a quarter than a dime… Federal subsidies to schools for each full-price lunch (lunches served to children from families with income over 185% of Federal poverty levels) are $0.27, per http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NSLPFactSheet.pdf — so, with about 60 million children enrolled in K-12, and about 180 school days per year, that’s about 0.08% of the FY 2012 budget (even less as a proportion of the larger budgets in previous years — you do know the federal budget’s been slowly but steadily decreasing, right?).

“Many kids get free lunches” — only those from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level, i.e, a family income at or below about $30k for a family of four. Subsidies for those are $2.86. That’s about 10 million children enrolled in K12, for an impact of less than 0.15% of the FY 2012 budget.

Like `cost cutting` programs in badly run companies, focusing on such `essentials` as having employees bring their own pens and keeping old envelopes for note-taking (don’t laugh: as an accountant and auditor, I have witnessed plenty like this happening — and managers proudly pointing out to 0.08%-or-so cost reductions as a result…!), cost cutting by making children go hungry (or forego fresh vegetables and the nutritious quality of a hot meal) is a pretty much budget-irrelevant distraction from the really big-ticket items that matter: in decreasing order of size, that means (a) Social Security, (b) Defense and related items (such as Homeland Security), (c) Medicare+Medicaid. Just these three, plus interest on the national debt even at today’s depressed rates, make up about 75% of the Federal budget — focusing on line items worth 0.08% or 0.15% of said budget is pretty irresponsible by comparison.

Marie September 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Yes, working on the missing pens in a company with huge waste and fraud is definitely attacking the wrong end (although you have that NYC broken window thing that has some validity to it).

But I hope you see my point, that there are people that are all for cutting food stamps for those families at poverty level, but don’t make the connection that their kids in public school are getting federal welfare also, in the form of subsidized lunches, even if their household income is a quarter million a year.

Food stamps is an efficient — ish way to get poor kids food. School cafeterias are horrible ways to feed poor kids, because they lump in rich kids, too, and because the quality of the food is so poor.

Jan September 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Consider your criticisms in this context: about half of food stamp beneficiaries are kids, and the majority of adults receiving them have kids themselves.

Marie September 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Yes, that’s just right, almost everyone who gets food stamps gets them because kids are involved. It’s actually the best way we have to get poor kids fed. Single males with no children are actually rarely the recipients of welfare, they have to have a terribly bad situation, ordinarily. Disability, etc. being a different story.

This is why the school lunch thing torques my jaws, because we are subsidizing substandard feeding of the children of the poor, not so poor, lower middle class, middle class, and some upper middle class and wealthy through this program. It is poor nutrition, damaging to the kids, has created a huge bureaucracy with tentacles everywhere, and is self-expanding — the schools that get money from the feds to feed lunch are pushing to get lots of parents enrolling their kids in breakfast program (often of the generic Lucky Charms variety) so they can rake in money for that, too.

Try suggesting we save money by cancelling all school meals and just giving more food stamp money (cards so they can buy their own food, make their own choices) to the poor with children in school, and you’ll shock a nation. But it’s budget time so we’re going to act like food stamps is the issue and we need to cut waste there. . . . .

A.B Prosper September 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I have to agree with you. The best option I think for the future would be Social Credit. Just cut everyone (and I mean everyone) who is an adult a check for 20k or so and health care

Tax income at I dunno 1/3 to 1/2 over that of everything (100 shares of stock count as income too) and be done with it.

The two issues that would remain to be addressed (other than how to pay for it anyway) are immigration, its not compatible with social credit and family stability (a hard fix)

Another option would be to combine social insurance with anti-natalism, we pay poor people to not have kids at all.

Ignoring the 800 lb ethics gorilla for a second, there are technical reason this might not be good idea. Again immigration (not compatible) and also the fact that our economic system is predicated on growth. Its hard to maintain superpower status or even a 1st world status with high taxes a demography like a Floriad retirement community.

On the upside its liable to be pretty stable if you can control your borders and the US would be measurably nicer with a population say that of Canada.

Tachnlogy too would allow for an easier correction,land prices decline enough and people could bootstrap new resiliant communities. In some sense its an engineered apocalypse style reboot.

The risk of course is if people stay urban ,permament 1.5 tfr Iwill not lead anywhere good.

Philip Silktree September 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I see someone else came up with the idea of cutting every adult a check for ~$20K.

My personal pet idea was to impose a surtax (near-flat for simplicity) on all “net” income (all taxable income less capital losses) of around 40-50%, use 25 percentage points of GDP (about half of that) to give everyone a refundable tax credit (close to $20K), and the rest to build medical infrastructure and then to provide heavily subsidized or even free health care.

It would be a high tax on the overheated elite finance sectors and an ongoing stimulus of broad consumer demand. Not so much “permanent economic growth” (which I assume is impossible) but “shared growth” or “participatory capitalism.”

jerseycityjoan September 22, 2013 at 7:07 am

The biggest problem with Food Stamps is that so many Americans need them.

The second biggest problems is that for most, they do not get enough in food stamps to cover their food costs — yet they make so little that they really don’t have any money from their wage to pay for food.

Food Stamp recipients will all get benefits reduced in a few months due to the end of a temporary boost that was part of the 2009 stimulus. And yet think how much food has gone up since 2009, especially beef and some of the produce items.

That a few are doing so well does not erase the fact that so many others are doing very poorly. The disconnection between soaring Wall St. and stagnant and decreasing wages is simply astonishing to me. It goes on year after year.

Some Body September 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Wait a minute. I though you folks were against state paternalism… The “They’ll make better choices that way” argument sorta contradicts the rest of it, doesn’t it?

watermelonpunch September 24, 2013 at 2:01 am

“If we meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, then really they have nothing to live for except harmful lifestyles.”

Isn’t that kind of like saying that retirees, once retired, have nothing to live for except harmful lifestyles?
How about the born rich who need not work because they never have to worry about basic needs? Are they all living harmful lifestyles? After all, they didn’t make that money their parents & grandparents did. And they stay in that harmful lifestyle, generation after generation of laziness. Should we take that away from heirs so they don’t harm themselves?

Dismalist September 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Post is spot on. The food stamp program is likely one of the most efficient welfare programs the US has, precisely because it is cash like. We can talk about limits, phaseouts, conditions, and what have you. Any welfare program will have incentive problems, and they are least with food stamps.

Hope nothing untoward ever happens to those who are against welfare-as-insurance. Luck matters.

prior probability September 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Even if food stamps were a wasteful program, it is chump change compared to the other wasteful entitlements mentioned by Tyler

KenF September 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm

“you can read the recent GOP push here as a sign of weakness”

These aren’t rational actors. They don’t act in the best interests of the country, and they don’t even act in the best interest of themselves. They’ve conned a pitiful minority into adopting a delusional worldview, and they act in the vain hope of somehow meeting the expectations of this mass delusion. It’s pure psychopathy writ large.

yi September 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Spoken like a true liberal fascist.
I know your type well. And in the end we. the good people, will crush you. You are a rabid dog and a threat to good people everywhere.

stevelaudig September 24, 2013 at 4:55 am

“They’ve conned a pitiful minority into adopting a delusional worldview” I disagree. the Minority you describe is quite able to con itself. Whether it is pitiful or pitiable is of no particularly lasting importance [though the harm it does will remain just as “WC”s [W and Cheney] harmed the republic for a generation or more] because in less than a generation they will be either dust or dusty enough. Roughly 1/5 of all adults humans are mentally ‘shaky’ [that's a technical term look it up] the current iteration of the GOP is just fortunate enough to have captured the loyalty of all of them currently alive and voting in the US.

Brian Donohue September 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm

The program has tripled in cost since 2004 to $78 billion. The proposed cut is $4.5 billion. The knee-jerk moaning seen hear is lost on the American taxpayer.

Plus, it looks like maybe some kind of horse-trade with the Senate on the Ag bill is in the works, so who knows how this shakes out.

You’re right Tyler that agriculture and, overwhelmingly, defense are the lowest of the low hanging fruit for our strait-jacketed leaders, and the real meat is entitlements, which neither party has screwed up its courage on, but, on behalf of taxpayers, I humbly submit that the mooted cut is hardly outrageous.

Jon Rodney September 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm

The proposed cut may not be outrageous if you eliminate the context. But the context is important … it seems reasonable to consider:

a) we should expect the program to cost much more than it did in 2004 because the labor market is so much weaker and real wages are lower … the increased cost is not a bug, it is what should happen if the program is serving its purpose.
b) when you weigh the other options available for budget cuts that have been left untouched, cutting SNAP seems positively mean-spirited. Farm subsidies but no food stamps? Really?
c) as you point out, the real meat is in entitlements, specifically healthcare costs. cutting costs of efficient programs to make room for more inefficient healthcare spending is not just pointless, it is detrimental to our long term fiscal outlook to the extent that it takes pressure off of legislators to tackle our real long-term problems.

Brian Donohue September 22, 2013 at 9:25 am

Context:

http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/34snapmonthly.htm

Economic conditions have been improving, grudingly, for three years now. But between October 2010 and October 2013, the cost of the program has risen 25%. I understand the concept of ‘countercyclical stabilizers’. This is something else. The idea of a 10% cut in this context…ok.

Food stamps aren’t being singled out here. Just because entitlement reform is paralyzingly hard, it doesn’t mean we don’t keep moving on the other stuff. Summing up 2013: fiscal cliff tax increases on rich, medicare investment tax on the rich, ending payroll tax holiday, sequester (half defense.) Republicans are playing ball – at some point along the way, food stamps get a look. If a 10% cut here is a sacred cow, we’re not close to having the stomach for the real fights to come.

And if you really want context, we should wallpaper the joint with $17 trillion signs as a constant reminder of what’s going on here. These are the grim days once a generation where our leaders really earn their money, getting the economic ship of state in order to handle the oncoming baby boom entitlement tsunami. You can tell it’s working because NOBODY, I mean, NOBODY, is happy with Washington right now.

byomtov September 22, 2013 at 11:20 am

Economic conditions have been improving for those who never needed food stamps to begin with. For those who do, not so much.

Brian Donohue September 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Yes, clearly they have deteriorated 25% in the past three years. Gimme a break.

Alex Blaze September 22, 2013 at 11:36 am

yes, clearly the lack of satisfaction with Washington from people who disagree with your policy preferences is clear proof that your policy preferences must be realized.

/snark.

The reason this program is different is because we value its impact more. Taking away $134/month from someone in poverty is worse than taking away half of some billionaire weapons dealer’s cost-plus contract, even if the latter is a bigger dollar amount.

And whining about how terrible the rich have had it in the past few years isn’t a convincing argument. They have it pretty nice (by definition, actually) and they’ve been earning a larger portion of income in recent decades and paying far less in taxes than they used to. The poor, on the other hand, lost low-skill/high-pay jobs in the 80′s, pretty much all welfare in the 90′s, and the bargaining power that comes with full employment in the 2000′s. At some point, it only makes sense to stop squeezing this particular rock for blood.

Jay September 23, 2013 at 11:51 am

I believe Brian’s point about tripling in costs since 2004 was that it wasn’t squeezing a rock for blood, there’s plenty there to cut since the recession ended in 09. Are the poor worse off (in income and food purchasing power) in 2013 than in 2004, yes most definitely, but three times worse? These counter cyclical stability programs should not just get to grow in perpetuity like every other program.

Marie September 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I think this doesn’t take into account resource depletion, both tangible and intangible. Lots of people applying for welfare now that could have before but did not because they used all their assets up before going that route.

Also, it probably reflects the lack of hope in this population, which once believed this was a bad patch we would see the other side of soon and now believe it is the new normal. If think you can avoid welfare until you get a good job, you try. If you think there are no more good jobs, and you’ll have to go on welfare some time anyway, you might as well go now and save whatever assets you have left.

agorabum September 24, 2013 at 1:23 am

There is no argument that the people facing the cut actually don’t need the assistance. That’s why it’s so mean spirited.

lxm September 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

What I cannot understand is cutting food stamps and increasing farm subsidies. If you are for getting rid of unnecessary welfare, how in good conscience can you not also cut farm subsidies, at least to rich corporate farmers? And just for good measure why is there zero efforts to get rid of the ethanol programs?

Jan September 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Poor people and kids have terrible lobbyists. At least those farmers work, they deserve a little something from Uncle Sam.

byomtov September 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm

What’s not to understand? One of our major political parties is dedicated to making rich people richer.

Andrew' September 22, 2013 at 6:57 am

Really? Because farmers get paid like unionists or school admins? Democrats didn’t help institute farm subsidies? Nah I’m pretty sure its just cause farms are in red states.

byomtov September 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

A substantial percentage of the subsidies go to very well off individuals ro businesses – much richer than union workers or school administrators. Besides, it’s just plain free money.

So yes. Really. That’s what the Republicans do. Give rich people money.

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:15 am

Plenty of blue states have big agricultural industries, e.g. California and Illinois.

Let’s keep in mind that when we are talking about “farmers” here, we’re talking about ADM, Monsanto, Cargill, etc. Multibillion dollar corporations. So, no, they don’t get paid like union labor; they get paid much, much better.

Marie September 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

One?

Andrew' September 22, 2013 at 7:07 am

How much each program? Food stamps are a farm subsidy.

Jan September 22, 2013 at 10:50 am

Kinda. The poor people receive food. The farmers receive double subsidies, even if they are already hella rich.

Andrew' September 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

Where do you Think I think you
first found our about that problem? John cougar?

Jan September 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Where do you think I think you think I first found our about that problem?

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:14 am

It’s pure contempt for the non-wealthy. It’s class warfare.

AADL September 21, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Food stamps should be abolished and replaced by private provision of this sort of service. Voluntary provision for the poor has gradually been displaced by the criminal entity known as the State.

anarchy vs. crookery

Marie September 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm

O.k.

You go first!

I totally am behind privatizing charity. But we have cut the knees out of private institutions and set up a stratified and isolated society where rich people don’t know poor people and, worse, lower middle class people don’t know upper middle class people. We have a hard time helping each other these days.

It’s absolutely true that food stamps undermine private charity. People who don’t want to help figure they’ve done their part by paying taxes. People who do want to help are obstructed with nutty health code rules and the above attitude, and the incentive is lower since, hey, there’s always food stamps. It has hurt private charity a lot.

But until private charity ramps back up again, some way, if food stamps go away there will be a nutrition problem in this country. There’s also the problem that food stamps are a safety net. Safety nets aren’t there just for the people who have fallen, they are there for the far fewer folks who are walking the tightrope. The anxiety level in this country, should we pull nets out, will ramp up so high changes will have to happen. Again, I’m good with change, but I’m not sure that’s the way we want to get to it and I’m not sure what we’ll wind up with if we do.

AADL September 22, 2013 at 7:56 am

“We” did not do it. The State did. The State is not us. See Murray N. Rothbard, “The Anatomy of the State,” first paragraph.

A.B Prosper September 23, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Rothbard is simply wrong there, especailly in our at least nominal Republic.

Also State action does not happen in a vacuumn, there has to be demand for services and the actions of the private parties can and often do act as a catalyst for demands.

A.B Prosper September 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Spot on. Anyway had private charity worked so well , no one would have wanted these programs . Key fact is it didn’t. People good, people helped but they could only do so much and rich (or connected) dimwits telling hungry people to just “wait till the rot is out of the system” clearly needed a clue by four. People can’t wit for the basics and they can’t live off savings.

Stuff like Food stamps came about so the US would have a stronger healthier work force and quietly so that hungry people didn’t decide that some other system was better.

No Food Stamps and there was a good chance we’d all be singing Horst Wessel Lied or the Interntional.

And yes I suppose this techno surviellencde edifice can stop or slow people from deciding to “rotate the elites” for a time, maybe as Mosby said

“Technology is a product of human ingenuity. If one man can imagine something, I guarantee you that another man, somewhere, can imagine a way to **** it up.”

And we aren’t immune to history.

jerseycityjoan September 22, 2013 at 7:16 am

Have you asked any of the charities if they want to take on such a role?

I do not think it could be done. Replacing tens of billions of dollars, a 50-state paid staff and a card with private charity would be a nightmare.

But I could be wrong.

Somebody had better ask the charities already involved in food distribution what they think.

Marie September 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

They could not do it with the situation as is. Not by a long, long shot.

Our local food bank is incredible and does a great deal to feed local families. I mean, a ton. Like, you can go to several community events and see people eating plums one week and you know that the food bank got a large donation of plums.

But right now they are in the position where they make it possible for people on food stamps to have better nutrition (augments the food so that the food stamps they have can be used to buy food like produce instead of generic mac and cheese) and allows some folks to avoid food stamps when they are on the edge (the number of people who could be on food stamps but who aren’t somehow never gets tallied, does it?).

But if you tried to foist it all on them right now, no, not a chance, they’d be so overburdened they’d go under water.

I agree with all the above, food stamps is a farm subsidy; the problem with food stamps is that so many people need them. Food stamps don’t subsidize poor families, they subsidize our entire economy. And it’s a rotten way to run an economy, but if you try to change it by yanking food stamps first you’re putting the cart way before the horse.

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:17 am

Private charity systems will always be heavily patchwork and not nearly sufficient to guarantee food access in the way that programs like SNAP do.

Wade September 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Mr. Cowen’s working model of GOP motives is defective, because it clearly doesn’t predict their actual behavior. What does he mean by saying their failure to “tackle more important and wasteful targets” is a sign of weakness? He doesn’t explain, and I can’t guess.
He should instead try assuming that the GOP believes that bashing the “undeserving poor” (a group the GOP describes as them, not us) will resonate with their base and will get them re-elected, which is all they really care about anyway.
If you begin with the assumptions that the GOP will do absolutely anything to get re-elected, that they are extremely tribal, and are living in an unchangeable world that has resources which, by God-given right, belong to the most powerful, then almost everything they do makes sense.
These assumptions are inappropriate for the modern world, but they do predict the GOP’s behavior. Fixing “wasteful” spending, if it does not help their powerful patrons, is not on their to-do list, and expecting them to operate otherwise is like expecting elephants to repair jet engines.
I hope Mr. Cowen’s economic models are better informed than his political ones.

kent September 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Agree 100%. This is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of the GOP’s values. They are attacking food stamps because they want to do so. It’s completely in character with everything else they do.

You can always 100% predict the GOP’s attitude toward any economic program:

if it’s going to help people who don’t need help, they will be for it
if it’s going to help people who do need help, they will be against it

chuck martel September 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Wait a minute, isn’t the US supposedly some sort of democratic republic? Didn’t the detestable Republicans actually get enough voters to make an X by their name in free elections to then take office? Are these voters just as detestable as their Republican representatives? Ergo roughly half of the voting population must be uncompassionate, greedy jerks. Maybe best to expand the police state even more and get those evil folks in some kind of camps where they can’t withhold assistance from the poor. This democracy thing doesn’t seem to be working out.

bob September 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Well, most of the people that get hurt by this kind of stuff live in very blue districts, so it’s not as if they count for the GOP. We also have to remember that there are many issues, but people only get to make one vote. Thus, a politician can get away with doing many things that almost nobody likes, as long as they do just enough things that they really love. It’s collective action 101.

Thomas September 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

So institute a food program on the state level. Blue state rides to the rescue, panes provided, grateful voters keep the blues in power forever, problem solved.

Jg September 21, 2013 at 6:36 pm

KenF

And you are a socialist writ small.

Agree republicans are flailing and often incompetent. But they don’t know how to stop the statist monster you and yours are building. That is your fault not theirs little man.

KenF September 21, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Are you really naive enough to believe that the Republicans care in the slightest about the “statist monster”? Nothing they have ever done indicates a concern with that in the slightest.

john September 23, 2013 at 4:09 am

Good point. Repub talk isn’t the same as Repub actions. I see right wing dogma as good theory. Would like to see how it actually works someday though. There will always be winners and losers, just want a level playing field.

dave schutz September 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I looked quickly at the earlier comments and didn’t see anyone talking about – we are trying to see that children have enough to eat. We are doing this by giving something to their parents or guardians, who, if they have money, may buy vodka or marijuana with it. So we give them something which can ONLY be spent on food, and the kids eat. I’m for it.

Andrew' September 22, 2013 at 6:46 am

Another example of “it’s not a problem because we did x,y, and z to fix it.”

Skip Intro September 22, 2013 at 9:00 am

I think you may have mis-interpreted his comment.

Jimmy September 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm

I have a new blog and it is similar to this one so if you want to check it out go to http://langn102.wordpress.com/.

derek September 21, 2013 at 10:56 pm

If the choice was between generous welfare and income support programs, and a low unemployment rate, which would be better? I think that to be the choice.

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:20 am

If the wages are low enough, who’s to say many Americans won’t still need welfare and income support programs even when working? A majority of SNAP recipients are employed. Millions of people who receive one form of welfare or another are employed.

Steven September 22, 2013 at 4:00 am

Please consider the perspective that it is actually “the poor” and specifically “the working poor” that provided you the opportunity to go to college, by delivering tomatoes to your cafeteria lunch counter so you could spend time at your studies. And please consider the perspective that you are talking about thanking them for their work by considering what is the least they have earned for their children.

Andrew' September 22, 2013 at 6:48 am

I don’t think I’ve ever complained about food stamps but this marked me want to.

Greg September 22, 2013 at 8:24 am

This whole food stamps debate is a perfect example of all that is wrong with “modern” conservatives. Their desire to rid the world of free riders of any sort ends up spending trillions to save millions. How much money has been spent on think tanks and political operatives discussing the problem of poverty in this country while only concluding that the problem is some sort of character flaws in poor people? And how much money are we really going to save (and even that is false cuz it will just be spent elswhere)? Poor people receiving something for nothing is a very small financial problem is this country. Its less than 1% of GDP. If you increase it to looking at the rich people receiving something for nothing it doubles or triples but its still a small amount.

Spending inordinate money and time on the minor sin of sloth while failing to address the sin of greed is emblematic of modern conservatives.

john September 23, 2013 at 4:13 am

Greed is good.

john September 23, 2013 at 4:15 am

I mean from an economic standpoint.

Greg September 23, 2013 at 6:37 am

I disagree John

Self interest is good. Self interest is necessary for survival. If one had zero self interest we would not expect that person to be successful.
But greed is self interest taken to the extreme. Greed is saying ONLY my interests matter to me. Which is not a very healthy way of existing. No society could survive very long if THAT was the driving ethos. Interestingly enough though its pretty clear that cooperation not competition is the best strategy for enhancing self interest. Greed leads to hoarding which is an irrational desire to accumulate more than you can possibly need.

chuck martel September 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Greed isn’t actually illegal. It’s condemnation is, in fact, a part of Catholic theology and it’s one of the seven deadly sins. Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about greed. There doesn’t seem to be quite as much concern about the other six capital sins, sloth, for instance. Or lust. Or envy. Or pride. How come?

Greg September 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I dont remember claiming greed was illegal Chuck and if you think sloth or lust isnt talked about as much ….. you just arent listening. Open your ears.

PLW September 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

Tyler: This post raises several important points. Principle among them is that the current Congress seems unwilling to tackle [arguably] the most significant problem — financing long-term health costs. However, the inability to open any meaningful dialogue on this front seems as if it has more to do with the inability of both Ds and Rs to agree on a set of drivers of health spending (which is, in many ways related to third-party payment + growth in medical innovation without clear/transparent outcomes, and solved by the goring of many sacred cows). The Ds then revert back to defending Medicare (besides pushing a set of policies based in the idea that payment reforms will solve all our problems with FFS), while the new tactic of the Rs is to blame everything (from premium increases to the poor weather) on the ACA. The old tactic of Rs was to substitute a public third-party payer for a private third-party payer and hope for the same outcomes that the Ds were hoping for through top-down payment reform (i.e., a politically motivated minimum essential plan is part of both R and D health reform plans). The point here is that dealing with current/future health care costs is a problem that Congress, rather than one party in particular, is unwilling to confront.

Explaining the Rs food stamp focus is a little more complicated. First of all, labeling the House nutrition title of the Farm Bill as “going after” the program seems unfair. The House food stamp proposals include uncoupling categorical eligibility for food stamps with receipt of a trivial non-cash TANF benefit (a technique used by many states to waive all asset requirements for food stamps and raise the net income test to twice the poverty line), getting rid of a loophole (i.e., “LIHEAP loophole”) that a small number of states in the (primarily in the Northeast) use to artificially reduce the net income of food stamp beneficiaries in order to raise their level of benefits, and taking away the Secretary of USDA’s work requirement waiver authority for non-disabled adults without dependents.

Second (and this is where it gets complicated), many of the policies that the Rs are pushing in the context of the Farm Bill are going after policies that were put in place as direct result or an unintended consequence of other R policies. For instance, the coupling of categorical eligibility to non-TANF cash benefits is the result of the 1996 welfare reforms which ended AFDC (how one used to become categorically eligible for food stamps) in replace of a much less clear TANF benefit (rather than cash linked to AFDC, one might receive a service in the form of a 1-800 hotline for pregnancy prevention linked to TANF), but continued to bestow eligibility for food stamps to the recipients of AFDC’s successor. At the same time, the 2002 Farm Bill streamlined eligibility by creating a number of state options for food stamps with the intention of pacifying the states who were getting penalized for having high food stamp error rates (those same error rates the USDA now brags about) as the result of having more food stamp participants with earned income as the result of the 1996 welfare reforms (i.e., administratively, it’s more difficult to assign benefits to people with earned income rather than unearned income… especially if those low-income people are in and out of work through the course of a month).

Contrary to Krugman’s suggestions using food stamp spending as a percent of GDP, these changes to the food stamp program did increase enrollment and spending on the program (between 2003 and 2007, while nominal GDP grew by 5.8 percent per year, food stamp spending grew by more than 1 percentage point faster than GDP per year). At the same time, the percent of the population on food stamps over the long-run (i.e., when not in a recession) grew from 7 percent to 9 percent. According to CBO, the R policies in the Farm Bill would have about 9.4 percent of the population participating in Food Stamps in 2023.

One could argue that Rs should have taken up this fight with Bush when food stamps were reauthorized in 2008. However, here we are…

Marie September 22, 2013 at 11:32 am

Very useful info.

mcarson September 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I’m on foodstamps. My children are growing up on them, and without them they would be unhealthy. Because foodstamps are restricted to food, my electric can be cut off, and occasionally is, but the kids get meat, veg and milk every day. By being careful I can splurge on fresh fruit – giant $1 each peaches, or $3 for fresh strawberries. Given the same money in cash, my son would have shoes without holes right now, as it’s getting rainy. I do need to be forced to do the right thing for the long term, because how can a few peaches compare to shoes without duct tape? But the food is for the long-term best, and wet feet are uncomfortable, taped shoes are embarrasing, but all this goes away once they are old enough to earn some money.

I work, each day. So does their father. We work together in our spare time making stuff to sell on the internet. Our pay does not cover our living expenses. It’s hard to insure our 1988 toyota. We spend $60 a month on gas, rationing trips to make it last. That’s 75 miles a week. I dry clothes without using the drier, unless it’s an emergency, such as raining for 3 days and too damp for the clothes to dry over 2 days.

What you don’t understand is that a society has been made here, without regard to the poor. McDonalds, Target, Wallmart, all these places take home as profit an amount equal to the wages they pay their hourly employees. Your Target cashier makes $900 a month working 30 hours a week, nobody gets 40 hours any more, 30 hours is the new “full time” The corporation makes $900 a month profit off her labor. You chip in $250 a month in food stamps, $2,500 in EIC, $500-$1,000 month in medicaid/CHIPs coverage. Maybe a few hundred in heat subsidies. Nobody gets section 8 anymore, in most localities the waiting list is years long. Fully disabled people stay poor over a 3 – 5 year period, so they never loose their place in line. The rest of us get a spare job over Christmas, and end up $100 over limit for section 8. You could double low wage workers pay and increase the price of your $100 Wallmart cart to $102. For that $2, maybe $20 a month, you would put me off food stamps, EITC, heating oil discounts. I’d probably pay $100 – $200 monthly for my still-subsidised health insurance.

You can gain $6,000 or more yearly in not subsidising me for making everyone pay $20 – $30 a month more at the big-box stores, and you won’t do it because of FREEDOM – CAPITALISIM – SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. Enjoy complaining. Give the republicans my best.

No matter how well you educate and motivate and correct the poor, somebody has to work at McDonalds. Somebody has to ring things up at Target for you, or package things at Amazon, or monitor your kids on the playground, or work the yard service crew, pruning and mowing. If you’re not going to let us starve, be brave enought to take the risk of making a better place for us to live. The kids growing up in our families will be the ones taking care of your Mom once she can’t live at home. Don’t you want healthy, stable people doing that? Your Mom isn’t worth $30 a month to you?

Marie September 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Excellent commentary.

We really need to teach our kids to go into life coaching so they can climb out of poverty, though.

John Smith September 23, 2013 at 8:06 am

Anecdotes are unhelpful. I have very little comment on your personal situation other than to sincerely wish you the best of luck.

The issue is not that “someone has to work at Target”. It’s that the wrong type of people are working at Target. Cashier jobs and lawn care should not be expected to support an adult and their family’s financial needs. Those are entry-level jobs for young people to gain work experience and increase their human capital. By making those jobs palatable to grown adults, we’re destroying opportunities for our youngest to improve themselves.

Marie September 23, 2013 at 9:49 am

As a good, middle class mom I expect my kids to grow up and join a profession. As such, they certainly won’t be training to be an attorney, a CEO, a mechanical engineer, or a pediatrician by running a cash register at Target. If my kid is going to be an RN, she won’t be “entering” the field by being a CNA at a nursing home.

Should these jobs go away? I’m inclined to be on Tolstoy’s side and say the first step in reform is for people to do their own work. We can already check ourselves out at Target. Should we be mowing our own lawns and taking care of our own grandmothers? If we do that, then we will have fewer hours to be the clerk at the DMV, and the gal working the register at Target can get hired on to fill that gap, making a ton more money since it’s a government job with nice security and benefits. How about that, want to give up half of your hours at your non-entry level job and watch your own preschool children, paint your own house, cook all your own meals? Of course, if you’re curing cancer then the Target cashier probably can’t step into the gap if you drop some hours, she can’t do that work. Is your value that high? Or are you, like most people making salaries five times above that of food stamp recipients, in an occupation that takes training and education but can be done by most people who get that education, at least as well or better than you’re doing it? Law? Advertising and Marketing? High school principal? Motivational speaking?

We have set up an economy where there is a large population that works in jobs that are paid below market value. No one could afford to be a CNA or a Target cashier without government welfare programs, people would starve, leave, or revolt if the government programs weren’t there. We’ve perverted the market, and it’s not so that these people can have their dream jobs at Target, it’s so that middle class consumers can have their lawns mown and their children babysat cheaply. Welfare supports the poor but it subsidizes the middle class. The point is that if you don’t like welfare programs (none of us do), work to change the economy to a proper free market economy.

Brandon September 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

“Those are entry-level jobs for young people to gain work experience and increase their human capital.”

Maybe they were, at one point. They haven’t been for a long, long time. These are the types of jobs our economy offers nowadays. If you’re lucky enough to be employed.

Philip Silktree September 24, 2013 at 4:08 pm

“Palatable”?

If working people are paid better, they can support more stay-at-home parents, as well as support more lower-income jobs for youth, the less abled, and those who voluntarily work at jobs with low demand (volunteers, artists, etc.).

Since when is retail not a respectable career for a grown person anyway?

ottovbvs September 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Apparently Tyler hasn’t figured out the Republican party is more or less rudderless at the moment. I know I’m mixing my metaphors here but it’s more like a blind angry beast striking out at anything it perceives to be evil or contrary to conservative ideology. Witness the current nonsense over de-funding Obamacare. Even leading Republicans recognize it’s totally fatuous but that hasn’t halted them for one moment.

Dawson September 23, 2013 at 1:00 am

It seems that this sort of demand-side subsidy entices ag investment (or, at least, absorbs extra supply) without starving unmonied people. Food production that exceeds the amount invited by a given day’s wallet seems useful, given the disparate totals of people and monied people.

I don’t like the word “fascist” and don’t think it appropriate to my preference that food stamps coerce beneficiaries to buy celery and other good stuff, rather than stuff whose sweet taste value flees the scene of crime against health. I want people to be sexier. I want more sexy people

John Smith September 23, 2013 at 8:28 am

In no way am I defending Republican priorities, but I don’t think the picture for the SNAP program is rosy.

Tyler’s affection for the program largely stems from it’s efficiency to accomplish what it sets out to do. I don’t believe anybody here is for making impoverished people starve, even the most ignorant and cruel of us, to quote Krugman.

The marginal effects of SNAP are what are of concerned. Coupled with other “benefits” to living in poverty, there is certainly a disincentive for people at the margin to lift themselves out of it.

Do I think this disincentive would be strong enough to curb my desire to improve my situation and get over that hurdle? Probably not. But I haven’t been raised with a victim-mentality – that the world has been conspiring to work against me since before my conception.

Talking about SNAP in aggregate is absurd, there are way too many participants that absolutely need it where it falls woefully short, and way too many participants that use it improperly.

A small tweak I would like to make to the program… Have a large, glass, apple-store staircase shoot up from the middle of all grocers that accept food stamps. Anyone on food stamps should walk those stairs to redeem their credits. Between the stairs, and the public view, this should help filter those willing who are truly in need and those that are merely maximizing their take.

We need to inject a level of personal accountability back into the program.

Marie September 23, 2013 at 9:25 am

You see, this is why people try to interject personal anecdotes.

You clearly have a very specific idea of what people on food stamps are like, how they behave, what they believe, how they are motivated, and what they will do in this or that situation. Particularly, you have an idea that they are people very, very unlike yourself.

Given that, I would guess your point of view is based not on data but on your personal experiences — either you know no one that has been on food stamps or you know individuals who have used them improperly.

I would suggest you widen your perspective with broader personal experience.

A.B Prosper September 23, 2013 at 2:25 pm

We need to interject a sense of group responsiblity into the ownership class. A chunk of Henry Fordism or 80′s style Japan if it could be managed would create enough jobs to make SNAP rare.

A comprensive solution requires only one thing, a heavy demand for labor. Lots of need for workers at all skill levels combined with a social system that means ” work means good living.” and it will self correct.

However technology makes this impossible in the long run. In not that many years almost everything all but the most skilled people can do
will be able to do be done by a machine, after afew more after that the machines will be cheaper too. This means that business will have to readjust to some combinatins of doing most business with the state, having a much smaller profit margin and customer base and much higher security costs.

The broad assumption that people have a right to security, a right to private property or a right to do business with little interference is going to come into question. Heck it already is . All that free social capital generated by civic and religious institutions is fast shriniking as family structures decay (White famliies are socially now where Black families were in the early 1960′s) and that means a much less safe society with less opportunity. In esssence, businesses ate their own seedcorn by putting pressure on wages and by encouraging rampant indivudualism.

We need strong families, strong civic groups and for the faithful strong churches in order to generate the social capital that makes capitalism work,. And yes its expensive and not maximally efficient in terms of production costs. Nothing however is free and one way or another, all costs social and otherwise must be paid.

This will happen at pace sometime after the Boomers die off and the US becomes demographically Latin American BTW, so there are a few years, 2 decades at most.

Rob in CT September 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

What could possibly be confusing about this? Have you simply not been paying attention to GOP ideology?

Albigensian September 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Government has programs to help the poor buy food, to pay the rent, to pay for medical treatment and supplies, to pay for heat, to pay for higher education, even to pay for phone service.

And the question is: why not replace all of these programs with a cash grant? After all, cash will always have more value than a restricted grant.

The reason presumably is because citizens want some assurance that the money will be spent as they want it spent (and not, for example, gambled away at a casino). And they understand that if the poor were just given cash grants then at least some would spend so unwisely that taxpayers would be called upon to bail them out, to keep these poor (but unwise) people from starving or freezing to death.

The alternative would be to take a very hard line indeed: “We gave you enough money to survive, but you blew it. So, deal with the consequences- you’re not getting any more!” Hardcore libertarians may be willing to do this, but they surely are a small minority.

And how would we handle financial aid for higher ed? After all, we expect this to be limited to a few years, and much of it (even though subsidized) must be paid back. Would it be more fair to offer this as a one-time cash grant to everyone, even if they didn’t use it to pay for school? And would we allow do-overs (i.e., I blew the money but I still want help to go to school)?

Philip Silktree September 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Well, tuition pricing is in a bubble driven by the fear of poverty. Give people hope that they can make a decent living and have a retirement without that credential, and the price of university might become more manageable as demand dropped.

Also note that primary and secondary education are still provided free for most Americans. It’s a small thing to fund universities directly by the state as a way of training physicians, engineers etc., for the use of society, rather than treating students as cash cows.

theod September 23, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Cutting Foodstamps is an issue that allows Republicans to (1) look fiscally tough and be against the moocher class (carefully defined, of course, to exclude various farmers and corporations, etc); (2) play defense against even loonier right-wing primary challengers; (3) distract from the other legislative machinations going on (defunding ACA; immigration reform; debt limits); and (4) pass legislation against a class of voters that wasn’t likely to vote for them anyway. If you are of the Republican mind, what’s not to like?

Philip Silktree September 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm

The sad thing is that much of the right wing claim to be about small businesses, and to believe in “hands up” over “handouts,” but in practice their policies are just cheap for cheapness’s sake.

To the extent food stamps (and housing credits, and energy assistance, and Medicaid) are bad for poor people, it’s because they’re really just coupons to pay someone else money to offer a service to the poor shlemazel, not actually money the poor can use as money. It would be helpful to have money I can use to reglaze my broken windows, or repair my furnace, or buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle, or buy food, or whatever.

Poor people aren’t really idiots who can’t manage money (although those people exist in all classes) so much as they’re unpropertied proles without much market for their labor. Labor is a commodity like any other, but poverty in the land is a vicious cycle: the more of the populace lack discretionary income, the lower consumer demand is, the lower spending is, the lower compensation is and the fewer people make enough money to spend–and feedback!

I tend to agree with Milton Friedman that a straight negative income tax, if large enough, would be both more libertarian and more of a “hand up.” And I think it’s better for the economy than “growth” that only a few benefit from. Putting money in more hands can drive consumer demand and actually create productivity.

edwardseco September 25, 2013 at 12:06 am

Surprised that the issue of means testing got missed by Tyler as well as the ranters. In the last few years the states have been giving it away to anyone on some related programs without means testing. From a Keynesian model its good for the state economies to have that infusion of fed money given that nobody is watching the till. This is one of the cited objections.

mike September 29, 2013 at 4:52 am

I am single disabled and get 100 dollars a month in food stamps. who can live on that not me. you can all complain bitch, untill the day comes when YOU will be hungry and need help. But maybe very soon the government will shut down and every one will need food? Give it a few days we will see what happens.

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