John Klar: Universal free lunch — killing kids with kindness

The “social justice” left is at it again, proposing universal food provision by government for children. The issue is framed as one of starving versus non-starving children. But the deeper question is whether infinite unfunded social policies will do much more harm than good for those children, starving all of them at some future point when the bills for profligate spending come due.

John Klar

Who could possibly oppose supplying food to needy children? The answer is: anyone who thinks critically and cares for children. It is quite right to cast a critical eye on government spending, especially when every dollar being spent is borrowed from future labor.

Moreover, to ignore the wealth of data demonstrating various downsides of universal food dependency/provision would be child neglect.

There have been, and always will be, disadvantages that society seeks to redress, but government has an earned reputation for being inefficient, or worse, outside of narrow boundaries. As economist Thomas Sowell observed:

In its pursuit of justice for a segment of society, in disregard of the consequences for society as a whole, what is called “social justice” might more accurately be called anti-social justice, since what consistently gets ignored or dismissed are precisely the costs to society. The issue is not whether undeserved misfortunes shall be addressed. The issue is whether they will be addressed politically, rather than in the numerous other ways in which they have been, are being, and will be addressed, usually without the high costs, counterproductive results, and dangers to the whole fabric of society that the politicizing of such misfortunes has produced repeatedly in countries around the world.

School food is not the freshest, or healthiest, for children. Studies show children on school diets are more likely to develop obesity. Another study found efforts to control weight through increased parental involvement were more effective than either diet or exercise. Increased dependency on government for food is much like feeding bears at dumpsters (perhaps a comparison too frighteningly close to reality to get persnickety about).

If any people’s heritage encouraged independence and food awareness, it is Vermonters’. The modern alienation from farms and nature yield an ever-less-critical surrender to industrial means of control as well as production. There is a loss of gratitude, humility and awareness that accompanies the loss of land and community. But even greater loss, as yet invisible to the industrially-blinded eye, are the declines in human health, and the loss of human food security — not the government-provision, can-o-Spam variety, but the “local farms just down the road” kind. The vanishing kind. It is as if in trusting modern technology and industrialization for food production and distribution, this generation similarly trusts government as great corporate machine, to deliver not an Orwellian dystopia but an ever-improving utopia. There is neither precedent nor game-plan for this venture.

It is not just food, land and wealth redistribution that social justice soldiers champion, but also race, gun control, sexual orientation, climate change and as-yet-unearthed causes that will swell into an acronym somewhere. Wendell Berry is hardly a conservative, but he noted decades ago the dangers of allowing government to oversee social issues such as environmental protection:

A government that could do enough, assuming it had the will, would almost certainly be a government radically and unpleasantly different from the one prescribed by our Constitution. A government undertaking to protect all of nature that is now abused or threatened would have to take total control of the country. Police and bureaucrats — and opportunities for malfeasance — would be everywhere. To wish only for a public or political solution to the problem of conservation may be to wish for a solution as bad as the problem and still unable to solve it.” (from “Conservation is Good Work,” Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, p.38).

This sensible observation applies to the universal provision of food, despite proclamations that “provision of food is a human right” (along with housing, health care, land, etc.). The key distinction between universal rights that bar government from action (i.e., the Bill of Rights) and those that demand far-reaching government monitoring to secure universal “equity” of possessions and positions, is this: the former liberates and enriches society, and the latter enslaves many and enriches the few.

Thomas Sowell’s advice will serve Vermonters well in view of current progressive efforts to publicly fund every tab under the sun:

One of the crucial differences between political and non-political ways of dealing with undeserved misfortunes is that the non-political approaches do not acquire the fatal rigidities of law nor require either the vision or the reality of helplessness and dependency. Nor do they require the demonization of those who think otherwise or the polarization of society. … [T]he time is long overdue to recognize also that taxpayers through no fault of their own have been forced to subsidize the moral adventures which exalt self-anointed social philosophers.

Listening to Vermont’s legislators discuss doling out three meals daily to Vermont’s students, we see what these sage writers are criticizing. Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, justifies spending lots of money because the federal government is doling it out. He compares the expected $25 million price tag to the flood of federal dollars:

With this amount of money they ought to be able to feed the students without burdening anybody, really. The one that pay their children’s meals are usually the same ones that pay the most in taxes, and so the same people are going to pay the bill anyway whether you add three meals or not.

This is hardly a fiscal analysis. Further, every federal dollar is borrowed from our children’s future — every last penny. Perhaps Sen. Starr should compare that $25 million dollars with taxpayer burdens, because after the COVID money is pissed away, these new programs will merely be shifted onto Vermont taxpayers, who are “going to pay the bill anyway whether you add three meals or not.”

Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, was so enamored with this “free-money” logic that he proposed (with no objection) to expand the new meals plan to all schools — even private and parochial. Who could argue with that, right? (No need to argue — there is no discussion.) Aside from glaring constitutional problems, there remains that pestering problem that all of this is money borrowed from those children in whose name it is justified. What is the plan to pay it back? I guess that is the feds’, or the future children’s, problem: and therein we see a growing moral hazard to our children.

Sen. Starr reduces all fiscal, constitutional and ethical issues to government provision of industrial food:

If you think about all the things we do for our young people, our children, to try and make life better for ‘em as they get older, feedin’ um is pretty near to the top of the list. You know, make sure they grow up healthy and strong.

I do think about it, a lot. I believe Bobby’s words to be true — it’s just whether we should have him and a swollen bureaucracy feed the children food from who-knows-where (without regard to need), or maybe parents should retain a role in helping their children “grow up healthy and strong” — including financially and psychologically.

The government that delivers industrial lunches to rich kids using school buses has no business exploiting child hunger to soak Vermont taxpayers to plunge future generations into ill-health, dependency, obesity, debt, high taxes and stupidity. If the Vermont progressives could just fund the pensions before they tag more obligations onto the taxpayer credit card, that too would “help the children.” After all, who do they think is going to pay all the state retirees the future benefits that were promised but not set aside?

Or, is it the plan for our children that the federal government will print more money for legislators to spend, and for their grandkids to figure out how to repay equitably?

John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

11 thoughts on “John Klar: Universal free lunch — killing kids with kindness

  1. Just got a letter in the mail from Burlington School District where my kid goes to middle school. They are sending out pre-paid cards to ALL families because of school being part time. This is supposedly to make up for missed school lunches. The waste of taxpayer money is astounding. Why would all families need this? I called and tried to opt out and was told I can’t. What a waste. The fact this isn’t targeted in any way is the worst part. Great article by Klar. And great quotes from Sowell. Thanks for bringing attention to this.

  2. I always appreciate John Klar’s fearless common sense observations. His wisdom amazes me over and over again.

    In 1976 Pat Dupree collected the money for my hot lunches. We always owed money. But we squared up every now and then and then you could feel good about seeing Pat. Those were the days when a new pair of sneakers or a new winter coat were a BIG deal. You strutted around pretty proud for quite a while. Other kids I knew were probably in the same boat. They weren’t getting to do the things some kids got to do. These kind of things grow a real sense of urgency to succeed in a kid. Sparks a little fear in you that you could fail. It’s a powerful motivator and you ought to see those boys I grew up with today. We get new sneakers whenever we want them.

    Free lunch sends the wrong message to parents and to the kids it hopes to raise up. It sets them up with weak resolve, the wrong idea about how the world really works and saddles them with a future bill that they will NEVER get out from under.

    Having kids is an expensive proposition. Prospective parents should be told that over and over again and given the opportunity to really stand up to the task once they’ve taken the step into parenthood.

    • I believe you are on the right track because of the “Free Lunch” program in our school how many kids picked whatever little snack they wanted off the tray then the bell rang and MOST of the perfectly good food was tossed in the garbage can !!! I remember being so shocked of the terrible waste of food …… those were not the poor hungry kids yet they qualified for assistance

  3. Thomas Sowell should be recommended reading for everyone, students and their parents.

    One of Sowell’s observations was with regard to income polarity and wage mobility. In a study he cited, 97% of the bottom quintile of wage earners moved up to higher wage brackets within an 8 year period. Curiously too, 3% of that group, as many as remained in the bottom cohort, moved all the way to the top 20% of wage earners in that 8 year time period. In other words, while there will always be a low income group of households, the people in that group are rarely the same individuals.

    The economic scam artists out there tell us, on the other hand, that top wage earners are morally obliged to subsidize low wage earners, when, in fact, those low wage earners are better at taking care of themselves than the government can do. The question is, why do those economic n’er-do-wells mislead everyone?

    Answer: Because they are crooks and scam artists who skim their livelihoods from the redistribution cash-flow. After all, if their programs actually worked, and life as we know it improved as a result of their phony wisdom, they’d be out of a job.

    This is why dysfunction in our dystopian culture, be it wage, race, gender and ethnic discrimination persists. The political fearmongers earn their livings lying to us.

    Caveat emptor.

  4. I’m sure there are some families who need help but free breakfast and lunch for all students regardless of income is way over the top. Be very aware of socialism, it creeps up on you.

  5. The school budget in my district passed with an added $200,000. for the taxpayers to give all the students (and probably teachers), free breakfast and lunch.

    Now, lets see…I paid for my two children to go to preschool. Now I have to pay, through my taxes, for everyone’s children to go to EEE.
    My parents were not wealthy, but I had a bowl of cereal in the morning for breakfast and was sent to school with lunch money or a bagged lunch. Now I have to pay for every students breakfast and lunch so they all feel equal. Well, we have to stop sheltering these children from reality. There are always going to be people that have more than us. Such is life. Let them get used to it while they’re young.

    Why do I have to take on the responsibilities of a parent? When can I spend my money on me, instead of helping to raise a stranger’s children, who make more than I do? This merger is a disgrace.

  6. Who are these parents that starve their children before sending them to school? They should be attended to by Child Protective Services!

    • What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

      Why should parents spend their money feeding their children when, like Pavlov’s dogs, their mouths water only when the school bell rings?

      As long as you feel obliged to buy their breakfast, they’ll take it, whether their handlers are parents or the State.

      • As Andrew Carnegie, one of America’s great philanthropists, pointed out more than a century ago: Those who would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our [human] race is indiscriminate [i.e. government] charity.

  7. I haven’t been a student in grade school for over half a century. I went to a Catholic school. The nuns, as kind and caring as they were, never gave us a meal. We ate breakfast at home and packed a lunch. All the kids had something. Some better than others. Our parents believed that they were responsible for their children. Today they are being told that they’re not. The government will take care of them.
    If any of us ate a breakfast at home and then had to wait around while others got the free school meal, we would definitely help ourselves, at least to the tastier (and probably less healthy) parts, resulting in the well documented waste. Is there any connection between this and childhood obesity? Are kids today that much more responsible than we were at that age?
    If this is the more compassionate way to go and we are concerned about our children’s health, I expect legislation forbidding parents from providing breakfast or packing a lunch for their kids.
    The lunches aren’t free. The kids are forced to say “put it on my tab”, which they will pay decades later when (and if) they’re working.

    • Anyone who proposes to provide two or three meals to school age children have never volunteered at their school serving a meal.
      It is possible that over 1/2 of the food served is dumped into the trash because the kids don’t like what is served in mandatory portions.
      School meals should be a choice. Parents know what their kids will eat and the choice of a meal should be self-determined.

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