I was reading a Fox News article this morning regarding how so many are receiving food stamps. Regardless of how one feels about Fox News, let's just start off with the fact that Obama recently expanded the food stamp program, and that now, 40 million people in this country are receiving food stamps. To make matters worse, according to a Cato study, food stamps make up two-thirds (p. 2 of budget report) of the USDA's budget, a budget that, as of 2010, is $134 billion.
The reason I am calling this trend disturbing is that back in 2000, only 22 million were on food stamps. Some might counter the with the fact that with population growth, one would expect that the number of recipients would grow. Interesting argument, but when the numbers are calculated, they tell a different story. When you divide 2010's estimated population (307,006,550) by that of 2000 (282,171,936), you tabulate that America's population has increased 8% in the past decade. On the other hand, the rate of food stamps recipients has increased 81%. Therefore, the population of food stamps recipients has grown at a rate of ten times higher than that of the normal population this past decade!
The case study of food stamps is important because it is a microcosmic symptom of the disease of Big Government. Food stamps are but one example of how Americans have become increasingly dependent on government to provide them a livelihood. As a result, we are able to distinguish between the haves and have-nots. I used to view America as exceptional in the fact that socio-economic class did not matter in terms of societal interaction with various individuals and institutions. The rate of governmental aggrandizement is diminishing that “American exceptionalism” to the point at which stratification of socio-economic classes and class warfare are all but inevitable.
Going back to the specific problem of hunger in America, I’m sure that one could counter with “how would you fight hunger if you didn’t have the government helping out?” First of all, government is not helping out—it merely perpetuates one’s poverty because the dependency that an individual has on government creates a disincentive to do things such as find a job and break free from the shackles of government.
The second issue I have is that institution of food stamps is nothing short of legalized theft. As George Bernard Shaw so eloquently put it, "A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul's vote." If an individual were to rob you at gunpoint to use that money to feed his family, would we consider that a morally righteous act? Of course not! If it were, we can infringe on peoples' rights all the time. When you are taking money from a working man's pocket to feed another man, I don't care what your intentions are. At that point, you have crossed the line between charity and thievery.
The final issue is that from a historical perspective, America has had a relatively short history of government-based entitlement programs. This “welfare mentality” of the government began with FDR’s installation of Social Security during the Great Depression, continued with the War on Poverty and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid with LBJ, and expands all the way to our current president. There was a time where we had these institutions called private charities. When private charities existed, they were able to adequately provide with the needs of the poor without having an increase in taxation or governmental interference. And to no shock to me, they had more success. The reason why this is so hard to believe is that we are so accustomed to government being the answer. Does anybody forget that the Founding Fathers thought of government as a necessary evil, and did so for a good reason? As Barry Goldwater put it, “Government should only do what it has to do.” The reason for this insight is that the markets (e.g., the invisible hand) sort everything else out. And because of this nanny state mentality, people have given less to charity. In all sincerity, why would people need to give if the government has it taken care of? Although the percentage of one’s income spent on food has dropped from 20% to 10% in the last half-century (you have to love technology for that advancement), it is amazing to see that the need for these government “services” is higher than ever. Man has dealt with poverty issues long before food stamps came into being, and based on the increase of providing these stamps, poverty clearly hasn’t gone away. The “War on Poverty” is continuing, poverty is kicking our you-know-what, and until we stop these entitlement programs that create government dependency and strife between the haves and have-nots, poverty will remain victorious.