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.
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.