Sunday, June 25, 2017

Food Stamp Challenge?

What is the food stamp challenge and why is it bullshit?

The food stamp challenge is when people who are not on food stamps try to eat on a food stamp budget, using the maximum amount allocated for one person in their area.  Most report they can eat well on this budget, but regret not being able to go out to eat and socialize.  Yes, it sucks to be poor, it's suppose to, but more on that later.

This food stamp challenge, however, neglects one aspect of food stamps - it was not designed to replace the family food budget but rather supplement it.   That is why the amount you get for food stamps (SNAP) is based on income.   It isn't like people who make more money eat less but rather need less subsidy to buy food.

These sort of "challenges" illustrate how folks don't understand how the program works or why.   They take the "food stamp challenge" and then claim they "can't live on food stamps alone!" but of course, no one was ever expected to.

In order to get food stamps in most States, you first have to have a job.  So this presupposes you have other sources of income than food stamps.  So no one ever expected people to live on food stamps because they largely don't.

Compounding this are people who set out to prove something and that something being that the United States is a horrible place that lets people starve.   So instead of buying staple items with food stamps, they buy gourmet foods and then argue that "you can't live on this".   Gwyneth Paltrow, now a hack actress of a comic-book movie series - who also sells questionable body products and vitamins - apparently tried this "challenge" and came home with not enough food for a week, but some nice fresh limes for a gin-and-tonic.

The entire point of food stamps or indeed any government assistance isn't to live comfortably but to survive.    It is a base existence that sucks, and it should suck, because you should be motivated to do better in life.   Get a better job, get a raise, pay attention in school, spend your money wisely, don't take on onerous financial obligations - and so forth.

Granted, there will always be people who cannot rise above this base level of existence.  But if you read the stories about the folks who end up this way, you usually see, somewhere along the way, they made some shitty choices in life, usually starting out by denigrating their educational opportunities, teen pregnancy, delinquency, drug use, and so forth - all things our society are supposed to discourage.  If we make being poor comfortable, then there is little reason to not be poor, and in fact, a very good reason for the near-poor to simply give up and sink back into poverty, as quite frankly, it ends up being more comfortable and a lot less work.

And there is no incentive not to make poor choices in life.  Indeed, some argue that our present system encourages poor choices by rewarding bad behavior.   When Mark worked at Sheets and Things, one of his associates explained how ADC works.  "You want to have at least three kids," she said, "otherwise it doesn't really pay off!"   Basically, there was enough "overhead" in the money given to her to support her children, that if she skimmed a little off the top, she could live comfortably, provided she had a part-time job to qualify her for SNAP as well.

People really do make these sorts of calculations with government benefit programs and if you doubt me, go to The Villages and ask the retirees there the best way to collect on Social Security - they will have it down to a spread-sheet.  That's the crowd who invented "file and suspend" and ruined the party for the rest of us.  So optimizing government swag is a game people play at all income levels - it ain't just a poverty thing!

Again, a lot of folks collect "assistance" in many forms - subsidized housing, food stamps, TANF, ADC, subsidized bus fare, obamaphones, Obamcare, unemployment, and so forth, and then work at least one job part-time (to qualify for Food Stamps) at least part of the year, and maybe work other jobs under the table and thus end up making out better than some full-time employees.   And please don't tell me this doesn't happen, as I know people who play this game, personally.

What is odd about the food stamp challenge is that the people doing it are not people who are on food stamps, but celebrities and middle-to-upper class people who are of a liberal bent and usually are setting out to "prove" something, namely that our society is rotten to the core and the only solution is massive government intervention and redistribution of wealth.

And it is odd that people feel this way - people whose wealth will be the first to be redistributed, if such a takeover were to occur.   If you look at the history of communist countries, you see that this theory of government usually means a lower lifestyle for everyone, except for those at the very top of the pyramid.  The dictator and his cronies make a lot of money and live lavish lifestyles.  The very poor might be brought up a notch or two.  The middle-class is forced to pay for it all, of course.

It is odd, but revolutions are not started by the very poor - indeed they are not smart enough nor do they have the inclination or time (hence they are very poor).   Rather, it is the disaffected children of the middle-class who set out to "help those less fortunate them themselves" and in the process, perhaps, become the new commissar and end up running things.

The rest of the middle-class followers of such movements are little more than useful idiots who go along with the idea that their wealth should be taken away by the government and given to someone else, because likely they have a nagging feeling that they don't deserve such wealth, and in many cases, they likely don't.   And maybe this explains a lot of self-destructive financial behaviors by the middle-class - they squander their wealth because of low-self-esteem and other mental health issues.

The truth of the matter is that we have the world's wealthiest country and largest economy (or maybe second-largest at worst) not because of socialism, but in spite of it.   Capitalism - the incentive-based economy - is what drives people to succeed and drives them to wealth, as the Chinese discovered when they embraced capitalism themselves.

Countries that rely on dictators, single-commodity economies, or socialistic fantasies, often end up falling down the economic ladder.  And it is a shame to see this happen in the UK, which will find itself in dire straits before too long.  Once London is no longer the center of commercial activity in Europe (and "the city" moves to Paris or Brussels) all the Brits will be able to do is argue over which (hopefully) non-flammable "social housing" unit they want to live in.

Yes, incendiary public housing.   One reason why we've torn most of our public housing projects down over the years, even if they were made of brick.

You see, as bad as people want to make the United States out to be - as some sort of heartless workhouse for the poor, we actually have a very nice standard of living, better than 90% of the rest of the world, and even the very poor in our country are wealthier than at least half the planet.   We have a lot of social safety nets, which taken in combination, provide quite a lot of support for the "less fortunate" or even those making lousy lifestyle choices.

Picking apart one program that is only one component of this safety net, and arguing that by itself, it won't support a "family of four" is utter nonsense.