"Paul wants people to dream again. You don't dream when you've got food stamps."I know that it's only personal experience, and that personal experience is worthless in the face of the pure reason of objectivism. And yet, my experience has informed me that those who are on food stamps dream of a life where they can buy the types of food they can't afford on food stamps.
—Bishop Shirley Holloway, on Rep. Paul Ryan
It's a defining symbol of the contrast between the leaders of our two political parties and the values that they hold. While President Obama launched a salvo this week to stem the growing tide of economic inequality that threatens the stability of our economy, Paul Ryan and company are busy advocating to take away what little comforts the less fortunate do enjoy. Not satisfied with gutting nutrition assistance for America's poorest, Republicans are also busy blocking any extension of long-term unemployment benefits as part of the very conservative Ryan-Murray budget agreement being considered at the time of this writing.
Even though the Right's rabid base would have no problem starving the poor on the grounds that they are the useless, drug-addicted parasites of objectivist fame, the movement's intellectual leaders know that hurting the poor merely for its own sake is not a popular end to itself, politically speaking. They couch their actions in far different terms.
Please see below the fold for more.
For this more cerebral and articulate wing of conservatism, dependency is the watchword of choice. Far from wanting to hurt the poor, they say, the effort to take away food stamps and unemployment benefits from those who are most down on their luck is for the ultimate good of the disadvantaged. Government programs, the theory goes, lessen the urgency to ameliorate one's own situation and provide artificial comfort. Users of these programs will then come to rely on them, and to paraphase Bishop Holloway above, cease to dream about a better life. In this logical line, the only solution that will allow the poor to become more than they would otherwise is to take away their food stamps to force former beneficiaries to basically find income somehow or watch their children starve.
Otherwise known as dreaming.
There's certainly room to debate the morality of forcing children to go hungry just to instill some fear into their parents about finding low-wage jobs that are already impossible to get. But surely the Republicans are onto something here, right? A few hundred thousand starving kids might surely be worth the price of ending dependency on the government for food among America's poor, right? Republicans could make that horrific argument if it were true. But the truth is, food stamps don't create dependence, they lessen it instead:
... access to food stamps in utero and in early childhood leads to significant reductions in metabolic syndrome conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes) in adulthood and, for women, increases in economic self-sufficiency (increases in educational attainment, earnings, income, and decreases in welfare participation).Stop the presses here. It turns out that a child who actually has access to healthy food will be healthier as an adult and more able to achieve a long and fulfilling career! Food stamps are in fact a strategic investment in reducing how much future generations will depend on the government for both financial support and medical care. But if food stamps are not just a moral thing to do, but also help the economy, increase social mobility, decrease welfare participation and keep future generations from chronic illnesses that cost taxpayer dollars, how could the conservative movement be so vehemently opposed to them?
It makes perfect sense for those whose actual priority isn't the elevation of the economy or the uplifting of the less fortunate. It makes perfect sense as a strategy for reducing social mobility while maximizing the wealth of the investor class. It makes perfect sense as a weapon to get the shrinking and squeezed middle class to resent the impoverished and blame them for their own condition. It makes perfect sense as yet another tool to guarantee that the supremacy of the wealthy remains unchallenged by those not yet desperate enough to work for scraps in a service economy dedicated to providing for the needs of the affluent.
In other words, it makes sense for those who wish to create a permanent underclass whose opportunities in life are dictated far more by circumstances of birth than by ambition, intellect or desire for achievement. It just doesn't make sense for those interested in a functional democracy. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his 1936 acceptance speech:
An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living—a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.Food stamps and unemployment benefits provide the opportunity to make a living, and give their recipients something to live for. There is no argument left standing that eliminating them will ultimately increase the general welfare. At this point, the push to do so is one small part of the relentless drive toward inequality and plutocracy.