"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Joe Biden’s Program To End Hunger–Free Meal Tickets To McDonald's

You have to hand it to the President.  Amidst the threat of recession, a dangerous nuclear option in Ukraine, chaos at the Mexican border, and dwindling gas reserves, he decides to end hunger and not surprisingly has designated $8 billion taxpayer dollars to do it.  He has offered the electorate, soon to vote in November, free meal tickets to McDonald's.

Image result for images mcdonald's arches

Biden’s program will do what, exactly? ask most economists.  The term ‘food insecurity’ which has become the catch-all for everyone from those who might be settling for less than a nutritious meal to those few remaining families in the hollers of Kentucky who rely on corn pone and fatback, raises the ante for bad eating habits.  There is something systemically wrong with the nation’s food delivery system, something institutional, something corrupt and nasty within the capitalist system.  

Not only that the pernicious systemic racism that has infected the country has exacerbated the problem.  Black people who might otherwise risen out of poverty to make a living wage, have been prevented from doing so because of white privilege.  Those who are food insecure , therefore, are blameless, victims of a predatory system badly in need of reform.

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Of course this is hyperbole, political exaggeration, and fol-de-rol to prove a point.  Decades of Food Stamps, generous welfare benefits, Aid to Dependent Children, and school lunches – government largesse with no strings attached – have done little to improve the nutrition of the poor.  Welfare mothers with market baskets filled with Oreos and chips are not uncommon, and despite calls to end a program which is an inefficient giveaway and replace it with more logical cash transfers, the old program is still in place. 

The proposed cash transfer program would get rid of an onerous bureaucracy, keep government out of individuals’ lives, force consumers to make their own economic choices, and most importantly to limit the time anyone can be on the dole; and yet the old, failed system remains in place.  Congress, for all its liberal caterwauling, simply cannot imagine writing a check to the poor and giving up all the favors dispensed by the food industry to influence the welfare market basket.

And time limits?  Racist, unconscionable, and dehumanizing.  Poor people should forever be cared for by the State, always embraced by its generosity and compassion.

What is lost in the debate – as in all debates about progressive programs – is the idea of individual responsibility.  Everyone now and again falls into temporary ‘food insecurity’ because of loss of a job, illness, or family circumstances; but the most savvy and understanding of the American economic system will have anticipated such temporary shortfalls.  Those families with scant savings will have adjusted their diets to compensate for restricted disposable income – coupons, less expensive food alternatives, sales, and bargains.  

European immigrants to the United States in the early Twentieth Century did exactly that -  economized, increased jobs and work hours, and made do.  Without a doubt they were not eating the most nutritious, wholesome food, but they soon would be.  Immigrants knew that the land of milk and honey was nothing more than a myth, a fantasy of stupendous proportions.  Work, family, reserve, and parsimony were the principles of the day.

Image result for images immigrant italian family new york early twentieth century food stalls

So gigantic giveaway schemes like the President’s Program to End Hunger, are economic depressors, disincentives to manage, to navigate and negotiate the difficult waters of the free market, and to rise above poverty. 

What are the first steps designated for such a program? A conference, the overall goal of which was to "end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and disparities”. The conference outlined ‘new actions’ that business, civic, academic and philanthropic leaders will take to try to improve food access and affordability, help consumers make healthy dietary choices, support physical activity and enhance nutrition and food security research.  Conferences are notorious revenue-suckers, feel-good, happy talk events to create community, solidarity, and purpose but which end in papers, proclamations, policy statements, and little more.

The conference goals also highlighted the characteristic progressive tendency for inclusivity – i.e. nothing related to food or nutrition can be left out – a policy which results in diffuse thinking, the creation of competing interest groups, and the lack of focus on purpose and outcomes.  What exactly is the goal of Biden’s program?  Only tautology: The goal of the program to end hunger is to end hunger. 

At least $2.5 billion of the $8 billion in new commitments will go to startup companies focused on finding solutions to hunger and food insecurity. More than $4 billion will go to philanthropy efforts to improve access to nutritious food, promote healthy choices and increase physical activity.  This has been tried over and over again with little success.  The changes in dietary behavior are less due to government hammering about doing the right thing, than a gradual shift in marketing priorities that reflect the populace’s concern with better nutrition.  

Of course the private sector has taken advantage of consumers by distorting information on dietary requirements.  Serving size is pitifully small and hardly worth eating, so the actual food eaten is loaded with salt and fats.  Claims for ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ foods have been challenged in courts under truth in advertising laws, yet the private sector has always found ways to exploit consumer trends and profit from them.  Not only that, ignorant consumers have compensated in unhealthy ways – eating far more ‘low-calorie’ food than necessary; substituting extra carbohydrates for fats to achieve caloric satisfaction. Shifting to 'whole grain' cereals loaded with added sugars. 

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Not surprisingly obesity is a major cause of health distress in the United States.  Worse is the current move to de-stigmatize overweight.  It’s OK to be fat say politicians, celebrities, talk show hosts.

The bad news is that nothing has done the trick for reducing obesity, a pathology so linked with income, culture, consumerism, psychology, and social patterns that it is one of the most resistant to change.

"In America, no child, no child should go to bed hungry or parent," Biden said. "No parent should die of a disease that can be prevented”, a comment which expands the scope of the program even more widely and runs into decades of past efforts to reduce the amount of salt and fat in adult diets.   Efforts of the American Heart Association and other institutions have warned for decades about the pernicious American diet with little success.  Pour one level teaspoon of salt on a plate and see how little, unsatisfying, and unacceptable it is.  Most Americans eat three times that recommended daily limit.

Increasing school lunches?  Attempts to provide more nutritious meals have ended up in enormous plate waste the economic cost of which is  nationally  over $600 million per year.   Kids don’t want carrot sticks and salt free, bland, yucky foods.

So, Biden panders to the American electorate just prior to the midterm elections which his party is in danger of losing badly.  The Biden Administration has already been a free-for-all giveaway, with trillions in social welfare and bridge-to-nowhere infrastructure programs, billions in student loan debt forgiveness, and much more.  This is only the latest ill-conceived, politically-motivated, senseless proposal to get votes in November.

The good news is that much of the electorate sees through this faux-largesse, and these economically dangerous, free-wheeling, spend like a drunken sailor giveaways.  To most Americans who want to see more jobs available, economic opportunities increase, and sane immigration and energy policies to promote economic growth and national economic security instituted, these Biden absurdities do not go unnoticed.

Image result for images drunken sailors

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