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Archive for the ‘Food Stamps’ Category

I believe in free markets and small government, and I’m also against Washington corruption.

Which is why I want to abolish the Department of Agriculture.

And I suspect all sensible people will agree after reading excerpts from these three articles.

We’ll start with Damon Cline, who produced a searing indictment of farm welfare for the Augusta Chronicle.

Alexis de Tocqueville posited in the 19th century that America’s undoing would occur once “politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” That’s exactly what the Farm Bill allows politicians to do – loot the treasury on behalf of the lobbyists, special interest groups and voting blocs who keep them fat and happy in Washington Wonderland. …The bill continues a legacy of waste that started 60 years ago when campaign contribution-sniffing politicians realized they could make the Great Depression’s temporary, emergency measures permanent. At $956 billion – a figure which outporks the infamous 2009 “stimulus” package by $200 billion – the Farm Bill is four-fifths food stamps and one-fifth agribusiness subsidies. It’s a swindle easily marketed to the masses. …Republicans from conservative farm districts forged an unholy alliance with and Democrats from liberal-leaning urban ones to funnel goodies to their core constituencies with minimal bickering. …American agriculture is dominated by sophisticated family corporate enterprises and Fortune 500 companies such as Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson Foods and Pilgrims Pride Corp. …Net profits were $131 billion last year, and the average farmer’s household income ($104,525 last year) far exceeds the U.S. average. …[A farmer] can earn up to $900,000 per year and still qualify for benefits that guarantee his revenues never fall below 86 percent of his previous years’ peak earnings. On top of that, taxpayers pay 62 percent of his business-insurance premiums. …The most heavily subsidized crops – corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and rice – have their own lobby groups, as do many non-subsidized commodities, whose producers hope to get rolled into future farm bills (as U.S. catfish and maple syrup producers managed to do this year).

Ugh. What a disgusting scam.

Now let’s look at two different examples of how federal intervention produces awful results.

The first is from Daniel Payne’s column in The Federalist. He writes about how a discrimination case became an excuse to loot taxpayers.

The USDA is blessed with an ample amount of time and a great deal of money, which means it must forever be inventing new ways to spend the billions and billions of dollars allocated to it every year… the department has a history of both vicious incompetence, remorseless fraud and sulky hostility… The incompetence and fraud are both well-documented; perhaps the greatest combination of the two can be found in the Pigford v. Glickman case. Pigford was a class action lawsuit leveled against the USDA by black farmers who claimed they had been discriminated against while seeking federal loans from the department; the lawsuit quickly ballooned to an enormous number of claimants seeking redress for racial discrimination, which, as the New York Times reported, resulted in USDA employees finding reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination.These are not “suspicious” claims but openly false and fraudulent ones, as any capable, mildly-intelligent adult can immediately discern. …The USDA responded to these grim revelations by cheerfully going along with the terms of the settlement: in one instance, they paid out nearly $100 million to sixteen zip codes in which “the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race;” in one town in North Carolina, “the number of people paid was nearly four times the total number of farms.” Was there no sensible, principled person within the entire Department willing to put an end to such absurdity? Was there anybody sitting around that might have mounted some kind of aggressive campaign to combat such naked deceit? Don’t count on it. This is the same bureaucracy, after all, that has paid out tens of millions of dollars to dead farmers. Last year alone the department’s whiz kids made over $6 billion in improper payments. Nearly 66% of improper food stamp payments were “agency-caused.”

And here’s Jim Bovard, writing in the Wall Street Journal about America’s Soviet-style central planning rules for raisins.

Under current law, the 1930s-era federally authorized Raisin Administrative Committee can commandeer up to half of a farmer’s harvest as a “reserve”—to purportedly stabilize markets and prevent gluts. …The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 authorized the secretary of Agriculture to appoint farmer-dominated committees to control production. The subsequent crop marketing orders were based on the New Deal philosophy of “managed abundance”—prosperity through “universal monopoly and universal scarcity.” …But the parity index was concocted by government agricultural economists in the 1920s to justify federal aid to farmers. “Parity” was based on a set ratio of farm prices to nonfarm prices, in correlation with the ratio that prevailed in 1910-14, a boom time for farmers. Because production costs for both farm and nonfarm goods radically changed, it never made any economic sense to rely on “parity” but it was a popular political ploy. …the raisin committee’s sweeping powers have failed to prevent vast swings in prices farmers receive. Many California farmers have shifted their land to other crops; the acreage devoted to raisin production has plunged since 2000. …economic illiteracy can vest boundless power in bureaucracies.

In his column, Jim also discusses a legal challenge to this insane system, so maybe there’s a glimmer of hope that this corrupt and inefficient system could be eliminated, or at least curtailed.

For what it’s worth, I still think the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be the first big bureaucracy in DC to be eliminated. But I sure won’t cry if the Department of Agriculture winds up on the chopping block first.

As P.J. O’Rourke famously advised, “Drag the thing behind the barn and kill it with an ax.”

P.S. I’ve shared many examples of anti-libertarian humor (several links available here), in part because I appreciate clever jokes and in part because I think libertarians should be self-confident about the ideas of liberty.

That being said, I definitely like to share examples of pro-libertarian humor, such as Libertarian Jesus.

And here’s the latest item for my collection.

Maybe not as good as the libertarian version of a sex fantasy, but still quite amusing.

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Back in 2010, I put together a “Moocher Index” as a rough measure of which states had the highest levels of welfare dependency after adjusting for poverty rates.

My goal was to answer this question.

Is there a greater willingness to sign up for income redistribution programs, all other things being equal, from one state to another?

It turned out that there were huge differences among states. Nearly 18 percent of non-poor Vermont residents were utilizing one or more welfare programs, putting them at the top of the Moocher Index.

In Nevada, by contrast, less the 4 percent of non-poor residents had their snouts in the public trough.

Does this mean Nevada residents are more self-reliant and Vermont residents are culturally statist?

To be perfectly frank, I don’t know, in part because the Moocher Index was an indirect measure of attitudes about dependency.

So I was very interested when I came across some state-by-state numbers from the Department of Agriculture showing food stamp participation compared to food stamp eligibility.

Food Stamp Participation Rate

There are some clear similarities between these food stamp numbers and the Moocher Index. Maine and Vermont are in the top 3 of both lists, which doesn’t reflect well on people from that part of the country.

And Nevada and Colorado are in the bottom 10 of both lists.

But there’s no consistent pattern. Mississippi and Hawaii are in the top 10 of the Moocher Index but bottom 10 for food stamp utilization.

What really stands out, though, is that the people of California win the prize for self reliance, at least with regard to food stamps. Only 55 percent of eligible people from the Golden State have signed up for the program. Doesn’t make sense when you look at some of the crazy things that are approved by California voters, but I assume the numbers are accurate.

I’m also surprised that folks from New Jersey are relatively unlikely to utilize food stamps.

On the other hand, why are Tennessee residents so willing to use my wallet to buy food?

As you can see from the map, they not only have a very high participation/eligibility rate, but also have one of the highest overall levels of food stamp dependency.

Oregon, not surprisingly, always does poorly, whether we’re looking at a map or a list.

Let’s close with a few real-world examples of what we’re getting in exchange for the tens of billions of dollars that are being spent each year for food stamps.

With stories like this, I’m surprised my head didn’t explode during this debate I did on Larry Kudlow’s show.

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The food stamp program seems to be a breeding ground of waste, fraud, and abuse. Some of the horror stories I’ve shared include:

With stories like this, I’m surprised my head didn’t explode during this debate I did on Larry Kudlow’s show.

So exactly how bad is the food stamp program?

One way of measuring the cost of the program, both to taxpayers and to the people who get trapped in dependency, is to see what share of a state’s population is utilizing the program.

I just did a “Mirror, Mirror” post on states with the most education bureaucrats compared to teachers and got a lot of good feedback, so let’s do the same thing for food stamps.

Here’s a rather disturbing map from the Washington Post.

Food Stamp Map

A couple of things stand out. I can understand Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico being among the worst states because they have relatively low average incomes. And that’s sort of an excuse for Tennessee, though it’s worth noting that economically and demographically similar states such as Georgia and Alabama don’t fall into the same dependency trap.

Why such a significant handout culture?

But the state that stands out is Oregon. Based on the state’s income, there’s no reason for more than 20 percent of resident’s to be on the dole. The state does get a “high” ranking on the Moocher Index, so there’s some evidence of an entitlement mentality. And welfare handouts also are above average in the Beaver State as well.

It’s also disappointing to see that food stamp dependency has doubled since 2008 in Florida, Rhode Island, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. Though it’s a credit to the people of Utah that they’re still in the least-dependent category. But the trend obviously is very bad.

And it’s also depressing to look at the bar chart on the right and see that spending on the program has tripled in the past 10 years. Heck, food stamps were about 70 percent of the cost of a recent Senate “farm bill.”

P.S. A local state legislator asked an official in Richmond why Virginia got such a bad score in the ranking of teachers compared to education bureaucrats. The good news, so to speak, is that Virginia is not as bad as suggested by the official numbers. According to the response sent to this lawmaker, “VDOE has determined that the data it reported on school division personnel and assignments to NCES for 2005-2006 through 2009-2010 through the US Department of Education’s EdFacts Portal were inaccurate.”

The bad news, as you can see from this table, is that there are still more edu-crats than teachers, but the ratio apparently isn’t as bad with this updated data.

Virginia Bureaucrat-Teacher Numbers

As a Virginia taxpayer, I suppose I should be happy. But it’s hard to get overly excited when other states are taking positive steps to bring choice and competition to education, and the best thing I can say about the Old Dominion is that we’re not quite as infested with bureaucrats as we originally thought.

P.P.S. I guess I should give the left-wing Washington Post some credit for sharing the map on food stamp dependency. And, to be fair, the paper did reprint this remarkable chart showing how bad Obama’s record is on jobs compared to Reagan and Clinton. And the paper also printed this chart showing how the economy’s performance is way below average under Obama.

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Remember Julia, the mythical moocher created by the Obama campaign to show the joys of government dependency? As illustrated by this Ramirez cartoon, Julia symbolizes the entitlement mentality.

Unfortunately, there are many real-life Julias.

I wrote a couple of years ago about Olga, a Greek woman who petulantly believed that government was responsible for her empty life.

But we don’t know any details about Olga other than her desire to mooch, so the best real-world examples of Julia may be from England. We have Natalija, a Lithuanian immigrant who has quickly learned bad habits of dependency, and Danny and Gina, two native-born scroungers.

Natalija, Danny, and Gina all decided to get a free ride from taxpayers, largely because overly generous handouts meant that they could enjoy higher living standards by staying at home and watching TV rather than living productive lives.

And if these info-graphics are any indication, there must be lots of people in the United Kingdom who make similar calculations.

No wonder English employers sometime have a hard time filling slots. Why climb the economic ladder when government is providing a comfy hammock?

Unfortunately, the same misguided policies exist in the United States. I shared a remarkable chart last year showing that a household would be better off with $29,000 of income rather than $69,000 of income because of the combined impact of both taxes and redistribution programs.

Now, courtesy of some first-rate journalism by a local television station, we have a powerful example exposing how the system operates. We learn the story of Kristina, who chooses to earn less money in order to keep the taxpayer-funded gravy train rolling.

We’ve all heard the line that America is becoming an entitlement society or welfare state, with half of U.S. households now receiving some type of government benefit. But a CBS 21 News investigation has taken that stat one step further to show you how much people are actually getting for free. A few years ago, reporter Chris Papst worked with a single mom who had two children. She turned down a raise because she said the extra money would decrease her government benefits. It was hard to understand why she did that, until Chris started working on this story. “You do what you have to do as a single mom,” explained Kristina Cogan. “And that’s what I did.” ……she admits living a life off the government can be comfortable. “If you’re going to get something for free, are you going to work for it?” Cogan explained. “It kind of like sucks you in.”

Here are some of the horrific details.

For this story, CBS 21 researched what government programs are available to a single mother of two making $19,000 a year. What we found was incredible. Our family would be eligible for $14,976 in free day care, another $13,400 for Head Start and Early Head Start, $7,148 in housing vouchers, $6,500 for weatherization projects, $400 to pay heating bills, $480 a year for a cell phone, with an extra $230 for a land line, and $182 in free legal advice. The family would get more than $6,028 in food assistance and another $6,045 in medical assistance. The mother is eligible for $5,500 in Pell Grants for school with an additional $12,000 for the Education Opportunity Grant; SMART Grant; and TEACH Grant. Our family would also get $6,800 in tax credits, and $1,900 in withholding would be returned. Add it up and this family can get $81,589 in free assistance.

There’s nothing in the story to suggest that Ms. Cogan is utilizing all these programs, but the plethora of available goodies certainly helps to explain why so many people decide it’s easier to be moochers rather than producers.

Which also explains why the welfare state is a recipe for ever-increasing dependency, as shown by this famous set of cartoons.

Which also causes a sluggish economy, as illustrated by this Chuck Asay cartoon.

No wonder the share of households taking something from the government has been increasing. And no wonder the poverty rate stopped falling once the government’s so-called War on Poverty began.

P.S. Most stories about welfare are pathetic, as we see from this dependency contest featuring the “Connecticut Kid” vs the “English Loafer.” But the welfare state also breeds more bizarre behaviors.

P.P.S. Are you subsidizing bad behavior? Click here to see a map revealing which states offer the most extravagant welfare benefits.

P.P.P.S. Share this video to help others understand the high cost of the welfare state.

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In their never-ending efforts to buy votes with other people’s money (see the first cartoon in this post), politicians have been expanding the welfare state and creating more dependency.

This is bad for the overall economy because it means a larger burden of government spending and it’s bad for poor people because it undermines their self reliance and self respect.

It also has very worrisome long-run effects on the stability and viability of a culture, as shown by these two cartoons.

A stark example can be seen in the food stamp program, which has morphed from a handout for the genuinely poor to a widespread entitlement for everyone from college students to the Octo-mom, and for products ranging from luxury coffee to lobster.

Here are some of the unpleasant details about the fiscal costs from Veronique de Rugy’s column in the Washington Examiner.

When the food stamp program was first expanded nationally in the 1970s, just 1 in 50 Americans participated. Today, 1 in 7 Americans receive $134 each month… With the bipartisan Farm Bill going through Congress right now, these high levels of dependency may become permanent. Some 70 percent of the nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill recently passed by the Senate will be spent on food stamps — that’s $770 billion over ten years. …An estimated 45 million Americans received food stamps in 2011, at a cost of $78 billion. That’s a twofold increase from just five years ago when 26 million people received benefits at a cost of $33 billion. …food stamp enrollment increased and spending doubled, even as unemployment and the poverty level dropped modestly between 2007 and 2011. The more important part of the story comes from the eligibility changes implemented by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The last sentence is the key. Eligibility has been expanded dramatically. Food stamps are slowly but surely becoming mainstream and that should worry all of us.

But food stamps are just one form of income redistribution. Welfare spending also is a problem.

Here are some excerpts from a New Hampshire story, featuring a store clerk who got fired because she didn’t think welfare cards should be used to buy cigarettes.

Jackie R. Whiton of Antrim had been a six-year employee at the Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough until a single transaction sent her job up in smoke. The store clerk was fired after she refused to take a customer’s Electronic Balance Transfer card to pay for cigarettes. …Whiton said she did not think EBT cards could be used to purchase cigarettes and refused to sell to him. The two “had a little go-around” as the line got longer behind him, said Whiton. “I made the statement, ‘do you think myself, that lady and that gentlemen should pay for your cigarettes?’ and he responded ‘yes,’ ” Whiton said. …Charles E. Wilkins, the general manager of the C.N. Brown Co. that runs the stores, said the EBT cards in the cash phase could be used for any items, including alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Wilkins said the company gave Whiton the option of staying but she said she would not accept the cards anymore. “She didn’t think it was right and just wasn’t going to sell to people in that program anymore,” Wilkins said. Whiton said when she came to work the next day, her manager asked her how much notice she was giving. When she responded “a week,” she was told the home office had just called and fired her.

Ms. Whiton is now one of my personal heroes, joining Mr. Mothershead, another store clerk who had the right reaction when confronted by someone who tried to get something he didn’t earn (albeit using a different tactic).

Last but not least, here’s something that arrived in my inbox yesterday.

A bit harsh, but we have gotten to a strange point where the Obama Administration is bribing states to add more food stamp recipients and even running ads to lure more people into food stamp dependency.

So, yes, Billy Fleming (assuming he’s real) has a right to be upset.

P.S. Here’s some more welfare humor.

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In past posts, I’ve groused about food stamp abuse, including people using them to buy luxury coffee at Starbucks and to purchase steaks and lobster. I’ve complained about college kids scamming the program, the “Octo-Mom” mooching off the program, and the Obama Administration rewarding states that sign up more food stamp recipients.

Well, the Obama White House is doubling down on creating more dependency, spending tax dollars to increase the number of people on food stamps.

Here are some of disturbing details from a CNN report.

More than one in seven Americans are on food stamps, but the federal government wants even more people to sign up for the safety net program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been running radio ads for the past four months encouraging those eligible to enroll. …The department is spending between $2.5 million and $3 million on paid spots, and free public service announcements are also airing. The campaign can be heard in California, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and the New York metro area. …President Bush launched a recruitment campaign, which pushed average participation up by 63% during his eight years in office. The USDA began airing paid radio spots in 2004. President Obama’s stimulus act made it easier for childless, jobless adults to qualify for the program and increased the monthly benefit by about 15% through 2013.

Last year, I semi-defended Newt Gingrich when he was attacked for calling Obama the “Food Stamp” President. Citing this chart, I wrote that, “It certainly looks like America is becoming a food stamp nation.”

But my bigger point is that welfare is bad for both taxpayers and the people who get trapped into relying on big government.

The ideal approach, as explained in this video, is to get the federal government out of the business of redistributing income. We are far more likely to get better results if we let states experiment with different approaches.

House Republicans, to their credit, already want to do this with Medicaid. So why not block grant all social welfare programs?

The icing on the cake is that no longer would the federal government be running ads to lure people into dependency.

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I’ve complained about food stamp abuse on several occasions, including people using them to buy luxury coffee at Starbucks and to buy steaks and lobster. I’ve groused about college kids scamming the program and the Obama Administration rewarding states that sign up more food stamp recipients.

I’ve also been outraged by schemes to make it easier to use food stamps at fast food restaurants, and I’ve criticized New York City for giving food stamps to newly released prisoners and running foreign-language ads encouraging more people to sign up for the program.

But we now have a winner for the strangest story of food stamp abuse. Here are the distasteful details from a Fox News report.

Nadya “Octomom” Suleman is on food stamps. …California offers $2,000 a month food assistance to large families earning less than $119,000 a year. Suleman has 14 children after undergoing repeated in vitro fertilizations. She is famous for having octuplets after she already had six children.

I’m not sure what gets me most agitated about this story.

  • Should I be upset that the state of California pays $24,000 per year to help subsidize people who have children they can’t afford?
  • Should I be upset that the state of California is giving handouts to families that make more than $100,000 per year and can afford to feed themselves?
  • Should I be upset that I probably helped pay for the expensive fertilization procedures this single mother utilized (I’m just guessing, but I would be shocked if taxpayers didn’t pick up the tab)?

I would conclude by saying this woman is in desperate need of counseling, but I’m sure taxpayers would get stuck with the bill for that as well.

This is one of the reasons why I support the federalist approach to welfare reform. If we shift all redistribution programs back to the states, we’ll generally get better policy.

And when leftist states such as California continue to finance bad behavior, at least I’ll know that I’m not being coerced to subsidize foolishness.

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I’ve written a couple of times about the Food Stamp program, citing ridiculous examples of waste, fraud, and abuse. These include:

As a taxpayer, I get upset about these examples. But as a public policy economist, I’m much more worried about the fiscal and economic impact of the program.

As a human being, though, my primary concern is the way redistribution saps the spirit of self reliance and traps people into lives of dependency. That’s the very first point I make in this debate on CNBC.

By the way, my opponent in the debate is Jared Bernstein, who is infamous for being the co-author of the Obama Administration claim that enacting the s0-called stimulus would keep the unemployment rate from rising above 8 percent.

I’ve had lots of fun mocking that claim. Every couple of months I post Jared’s predictions and compare them to the real-world results.

But it’s important to understand that I’m not blaming him for making bad predictions. After all, economists are lousy forecasters. I blame him for peddling the silly Keynesian theory that bigger government boosts economic performance.

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I’ve commented many times about wasteful government spending, including Social Security bureaucrats spending $700 thousand to party at a luxury resort, HUD bureaucrats giving huge subsidies for welfare recipients to live in upscale neighborhoods, rampant fraud in the unemployment insurance program, and tax dollars being used to subsidize a grown man wearing diapers and living as an “adult baby.”

Those are depressing examples, but here are three additional stories that may be even worse. They all show how entitlement programs squander other people’s money.

1. A local news outlet in Oregon revealed that recipients can use food stamps to buy luxury products:

Oregon Trail Cards — which are part of the state’s food stamp program — can be used to purchase luxury coffee concoctions at Starbucks counters inside grocery stores, investigators from Fox 12 in Oregon have discovered. …According to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines, people cannot buy foods that will be eaten in the store or hot foods. However, luxury items that are allowed include soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream, even bakery cakes and energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label.

2. Benjamin Domenech of the Heartland Institute reports that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on penis pumps:

According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare has spent more than $240 million of taxpayer money on penis pumps for elderly men over the past decade, and will surpass a quarter of a billion dollars this year for costs since 2001. The cost to taxpayers for the pumps more than quadrupled during that period… And these represent only the costs for external devices, technically classified as “Male Vacuum Erection Systems,” not implantable devices or oral drugs such as Viagra.”

3. A Seattle TV station has an expose about a woman receiving various forms of welfare even though she lives in a million-dollar home.

Search warrant documents unsealed Friday in federal court reveal that she received more than $1,200 a month in public housing vouchers, plus monthly cash from the federal and state government for a disability, as well as food stamps. Property records show the woman lives in a 2,500 square-foot home, with gardens and a boat dock, that is valued at $1.2 million. Records show she has received welfare benefits while living in the plush home since 2003. Records also show she truthfully provided her address when she applied for benefits.

These are the stories that I keep in mind every time I hear some politician whining that “spending has been cut to the bone” and higher taxes are needed.

P.S. I’m happy to report that American taxpayers were not victimized by the all-time record for the most absurd example of government waste, which took place when British taxpayers financed sex trips to Amsterdam for welfare recipients.

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I am automatically suspicious of the veracity of anything I see online, so I don’t necessarily believe this is a real receipt.

But it could be, and that’s what’s disturbing. There are very few restrictions on the use of food stamps, so there’s nothing to stop a recipient from buying porterhouse steaks and lobster.

So what should be done about this type of scam?

Well, I’ve already posted about the growing burden of food stamp dependency.

And I’ve posted about fast food restaurants trying to sign up for the program and the Obama Administration’s crazy policy of bribing states to create more food stamp dependency.

But what got me most upset was the story about college kids mooching off the program.

I remember selling my plasma twice a week while in college, and the $15 I received was enough to buy food for seven days. So I’m not exactly brimming with sympathy for kids who want “high-end organic food” and “roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon, and sweet potatoes.”

The right policy, though, is not to have the federal government tell people what they’re allowed to buy. The right policy is to end the federal government’s involvement in redistribution programs and let states decide who should receive subsidies and what form those handouts should take.

And, most important, let states be responsible for financing those programs.

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The Center for Freedom and Prosperity has released another “Economics 101″ video, and this one has a very powerful message about the federal government’s so-called War on Poverty.

As explained by Hadley Heath of the Independent Women’s Forum, the various income redistribution schemes being imposed by Washington are bad for taxpayers – and bad for poor people.

The video has a plethora of useful information, but the data on the poverty rate is particularly compelling. Prior to the War on Poverty, the United States was getting more prosperous with each passing year and there were dramatic reductions in the level of destitution.

But once the federal government got involved in the mid-1960s, the good news evaporated. Indeed, the poverty rate has basically stagnated for the past 40-plus years, usually hovering around 13 percent depending on economic conditions.

Another remarkable finding in the video is that poor people in America rarely suffer from material deprivation. Indeed, they have wide access to consumer goods that used to be considered luxuries – and they also have more housing space than the average European (and with Europe falling apart, the comparisons presumably will become even more noteworthy).

The most important message of the video, however, is that small government and economic freedom are the best answers for poverty. As Hadley explains, poor people can be liberated to live meaningful, self-reliant lives if we can reduce the heavy burden of the federal government.

Last but not least, the video doesn’t address every issue in great detail, and there are three additional points that should be added to any discussion of poverty.

1. The biggest beneficiaries of the current system are the army of bureaucrats that receive very comfortable salaries administering various programs.

2. The Obama Administration is looking to re-define poverty in a way that would expand the welfare state and increase the burden of redistribution programs.

3. The welfare reform legislation of the 1990s was a small step in the right direction because it eliminated a federal entitlement and shifted responsibility back to the state level. This success story should be replicated for programs such as Medicaid.

This last point is worth emphasizing because it is also one of the core messages of the video. The federal government has done a terrible job dealing with poverty. The time has come to get Washington out of the racket of income redistribution.

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Only the federal government could be this stupid.

We have two very big problems in our nation.

o First, we have a giant, bloated federal government that is spending too much money, putting us at serious risk of a Greek-style fiscal crisis at some point in the future.

o Second, the social capital of our society is eroding because dependency and sloth are slowly but surely replacing independence, self-reliance, and the work ethic.

So what do the morons in Washington do to address these problems?

They find a policy that simultaneously makes both problems worse. More specifically, they implement a policy that gives states more tax dollars as a reward for luring more people into the food stamp program – even though that policy will exacerbate the fiscal crisis and further weaken the nation’s social capital.

This is one of those this-can’t-possibly-be-true moments. But this is not a joke. Here’s an excerpt from a news release from Oregon’s Department of Human Services.

Oregon’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has again ranked among the best in the nation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week. The state earned one award for ensuring that people eligible for food benefits receive them and a second recognition for its swift processing of applications. The two awards combined bring a $5 million performance bonus to Oregon.

I actually wrote about something similar early last year, and groused that, “there apparently is a program that gives states ‘bonuses’ for putting more people on the dole.”

Much to my dismay (but not to my surprise), my fears were warranted.

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Welcome Instapundit readers. In response to some emails and comments, allow me to add two points. First, creating more beneficiaries (even if the budget doesn’t immediately increase) will increase the number of entities that have an incentive to lobby to preserve the program and/or make it bigger. Second, this development is part of the effort to de-stigmatize food stamps, thus making the destructive dependency lifestyle more attractive. Here’s the original post.

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Should food stamp recipients be able to buy taxpayer-financed meals at fast food restaurants?

That’s actually a trick question. Setting aside the controversy about Obama turning America into a “food stamp nation,” the federal government shouldn’t be involved in income redistribution, so the right answer is that the program shouldn’t exist.

But let’s relax our principles and ponder this story from USA Today. A group of fast-food restaurants wants to be eligible to accept food stamps as payment.

The number of businesses approved to accept food stamps grew by a third from 2005 to 2010, U.S. Department of Agriculture records show, as vendors from convenience and dollar discount stores to gas stations and pharmacies increasingly joined the growing entitlement program. Now, restaurants, which typically have not participated in the program, are lobbying for a piece of the action. Louisville-based Yum! Brands, whose restaurants include Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver’s and Pizza Hut, is trying to get restaurants more involved, federal lobbying records show.

Is this a good idea? The answer, of course, is no.

Indeed, this is downright reprehensible, perhaps even worse than the story about college students mooching off the program. Shame on Yum! Brands. This is another distasteful example of how big business is willing to rape taxpayers and/or consumers by using he coercive power of government.

For what it’s worth, I will now try to avoid eating at any the restaurants owned by Yum! Brands (which will be fairly easy since KFC is the only one I like).

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I have a confession to make: I have a hard time making up my mind. At times, I am overcome by indecision. To be more specific, I can’t figure out which department of the federal government should be shut down first.

In the past, I’ve written about the squalid waste and corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and argued that HUD should be shuttered.

But I’ve also written about the grotesque inefficiency and bloat at the Department of Transportation and urged that the building be razed to the ground.

Today, I can’t resist turning my attention to the Department of Agriculture. This is another part of the federal behemoth that specializes in taking money from productive taxpayers and dispensing it to well-connected agri-businesses to maintain a system of subsidies and central planning so Byzantine that it would probably make a North Korean Commissar shake his head with bemusement.

If you want to share my anger, read this column by Victor David Hanson. Here’s an excerpt to get your blood boiling.

The Department of Agriculture…is a vast, self-perpetuating postmodern bureaucracy with an amorphous budget of some $130 billion — a sum far greater than the nation’s net farm income this year. …This year it will give a record $20 billion in various crop “supports” to the nation’s wealthiest farmers — with the richest 10 percent receiving over 70 percent of all the redistributive payouts. …Then there is the more than $5 billion in ethanol subsidies that goes to the nation’s corn farmers to divert their acreage to produce transportation fuel. That program has somehow managed to cost the nation billions, to send worldwide corn prices sky-high, and to distort global trade in ethanol at the expense of far cheaper sugarcane. …About every 10 years or so, public outrage forces Congress to promise to curtail the subsidy programs. But when the deadline arrives, our elected officials always find a trendy excuse like “green energy” or “national security” to continue welfare to agribusiness. …In a brilliantly conceived devil’s bargain, the Department of Agriculture gives welfare to the wealthy on the one hand, while on the other sending more than $70 billion to the lower income brackets in food stamps. Originally, the food stamp program focused on the noble aim of supplementing the income of only the very poor and the disabled. But now eligibility is such that some members of the middle class find a way to manipulate such grants. In fact, 2011 could be another sort of record year for the Agriculture Department, as it may achieve an all-time high in subsidizing 47 million Americans on food stamps — nearly one-sixth of the country. …The multilayered Department of Agriculture has no real mission, much less a methodology other than to provide cash to congressional pet constituencies.

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I’ve beaten up on Newt Gingrich for his views on global warming and his attack on the Ryan budget plan, but I’m completely on his side in the faux controversy about whether it is racist to call Barack Obama the “food stamp president.”

This story from ABC News should worry everybody, regardless of whether the people getting trapped in government dependency are white, black, brown, yellow, or green with yellow polka dots.

Congress is under pressure to cut the rapidly rising costs of the federal government’s food stamps program at a time when a record number of Americans are relying on it. The House Appropriations Committee today will review the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture that includes $71 billion for the agency’s “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” That’s $2 billion less than what President Obama requested but a 9 percent increase from 2011, which, critics say, is too large given the sizeable budget deficit. A record number of Americans — about 14 percent — now rely on the federal government’s food stamps program and its rapid expansion in recent years has become a politically explosive topic. More than 44.5 million Americans received SNAP benefits in March, an 11 percent increase from one year ago and nearly 61 percent higher than the same time four years ago.

Most people focus on the huge burden that the food stamp program imposes on taxpayers, which surely is significant, but there is another economic cost that is equally worrisome, and it applies to all income redistribution programs. Whenever the government gives people money simply because their incomes are below a certain level, that creates a poverty trap. More specifically, because people lose benefits for earning more income, they are penalized with very onerous implicit marginal tax rates for climbing the economic ladder.

This isn’t intuitive, so here’s a back-of-the-envelope hypothetical example. Let’s assume you are a low-income person who wants a better life and you have a chance to earn an additional $1,000. How much better off will you be, and will it be worth the costs you might incur (non-pecuniary costs such as the loss of leisure and pecuniary costs such as commuting and child care)?

To answer that question, let’s assume your official tax burden on that additional income is 10 percent for federal income tax, 15 percent for payroll tax, and 5 percent for state income tax. You may not even be aware of the employer portion of the payroll tax, so let’s drop that to 7.5 percent (actually 7.65 percent, but let’s keep this simple). And while state taxes are deductible, the vast majority of people with modest incomes don’t utilize itemized deductions. So the marginal tax rate on this additional income, depending on what assumptions you want to make, is between 20 percent and 25 percent.

So if you earn an additional $1,000, your disposable income only increases by about $750-$800. Is that worth it? Maybe, but maybe not, depending on the costs you incur to earn that income. In any event, the marginal tax rate is rather steep for a low-income person, you may be thinking.

But it gets worse. Let’s say that you lose $15 of government handouts for every $100 of additional income your earn. So when you earn $1,000 of income, you only keep $750-$800, but you also have to give up $150 of goodies from the government – meaning your effective disposable income only rises by $600-$650.

This means that your implicit marginal tax rate on earning more money is actually somewhere between 35 percent and 40 percent. In other words, your marginal tax rate is at least as high as the tax rate on rock stars and professional athletes.

Here’s a chart showing the number of food stamp recipients. It certainly looks like America is becoming a food stamp nation. But if you want to see an even more disturbing image, look at the second chart in this article from the Mises Institute. You’ll see that my hypothetical example dramatically understates the marginal tax rate on people trying to join the middle class. As a taxpayer, I don’t like the cost of the food stamp program. As an economist, I hate the high marginal tax rates caused by income redistribution programs.

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As indicated by my post on how to handle prisoners with AIDS, I periodically run into issues where I’m not sure about the right answer. Here’s another case. Politicians in New York have a proposal to prohibit people from using food stamps to buy sugary drinks. Part of me is irritated by paternalistic, nanny-state busybodies who want to tell other people how to live. On the other hand, maybe this proposal will make people less willing to mooch off taxpayers by accepting food stamps (though I suspect they’ll just bring two carts to the checkout line, one with things that can be purchased with food stamps, and the other filled with sodas, booze, and other items that would require cash). The ideal answer, of course, is to get rid of the federal food stamp program and let states and communities experiment with the best way of handling these issues. Here’s an excerpt from the AP report.
New Yorkers on food stamps would not be allowed to spend them on sugar-sweetened drinks under an obesity-fighting proposal being floated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson. …If approved, it would be the first time an item would be banned from the federal program based solely on nutritional value. The idea has been suggested previously, including in 2008 in Maine, where it drew criticism from advocates for the poor who argued it unfairly singled out low-income people and risked scaring off potential needy recipients. And in 2004 the USDA rejected Minnesota’s plan to ban junk food, including soda and candy, from food stamp purchases, saying it would violate the Food Stamp Act’s definition of what is food and could create “confusion and embarrassment” at the register. The food stamp system…does not currently restrict any other foods based on nutrition. Recipients can essentially buy any food for the household, although there are some limits on hot or prepared foods. Food stamps also cannot be used to buy alcohol, cigarettes or items such as pet food, vitamins or household goods. …There still are many unhealthful products New Yorkers could purchase with food stamps, including potato chips, ice cream and candy.

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The Census Bureau will be releasing new poverty-rate numbers on Thursday and the numbers are expected to show a big move in the wrong direction. Much of the coverage will be on how much the poverty rate increases, with 15 percent being a likely amount according to some estimate. There also will be lots of discussion about the political implications, as this Associated Press story illustrates.

The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty is on track for a record increase on President Barack Obama’s watch, with the ranks of working-age poor approaching 1960s levels that led to the national war on poverty. Census figures for 2009 — the recession-ravaged first year of the Democrat’s presidency — are to be released in the coming week, and demographers expect grim findings. It’s unfortunate timing for Obama and his party just seven weeks before important elections when control of Congress is at stake. The anticipated poverty rate increase — from 13.2 percent to about 15 percent — would be another blow to Democrats struggling to persuade voters to keep them in power.

But the real story should be the degree to which the federal government’s War on Poverty has been a complete failure. Taxpayers have poured trillions of dollars into means-tested programs, yet the data show no positive results. Indeed, it’s quite likely that the programs have backfired. As shown in the chart, Census Bureau data reveal that the poverty rate was steadily falling in the 1950s and early 1960s, but then stagnated once the War on Poverty began. It’s possible that there are alternative and/or additional explanations for this shocking development, but government intervention may be encouraging poverty by making indolence more attractive than work.

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This story from the Daily Caller about colleges helping kids sign up for food stamps, got me completely depressed. It’s not so much that this is indicative of a bloated, out-of-control government, though it is. It’s more that this symbolizes how the social capital of the nation is being eroded by the moocher mentality. Welfare should have social stigma, it should not be overly generous, and it should not be part of the federal government. As you can see from this excerpt, I’m batting 0-3:

About 20,000 people sign up for food stamps every day, and college students across the country are the newest demographic being encouraged to enlist. Portland State University devotes a page on its Web site to explaining the ease with which students can receive benefits, along with instructions on how to apply. The school says food stamps are not charity but rather a benefit all honest taxpaying citizens can afford. …Traditionally food stamps are for the working poor and single parents, but colleges are trying to make it as easy as possible for students to obtain federal assistance, no matter their socio-economic background. Oregon has a state-wide non-profit which includes a special focus on food stamps for students… The Grand Views, a college newspaper from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, featured a story on students who apply for food stamps because they claim they don’t have time to hold down a job between classes and basketball practices. …Adam Sylvain, a sophomore at Virginia’s George Mason University, recounted a recent conversation with friends in his dorm room. “My roommate told me he applied for food stamps, and they told him he qualified for $200 a month in benefits,” Sylvain said. “He’s here on scholarship and he saves over $5,000 each summer in cash.” “A few of our other friends who were in the room also said if there were able to, they would get food stamps … They think that if they’re eligible it’s the government’s fault, so they might as well,” Sylvain said. …President Obama’s latest budget included $72.5 billion for food stamps — nearly double the amount from 2008. Approximately 38 million people, or 13 percent of the U.S. population is on food stamps. It’s a trend that seems on the rise — Salon recently reported on young, broke hipsters using federal assistance to buy high-end organic food. “I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,” one young man said, fondly remembering a recent meal he’d prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. “I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it’s great that you can get anything.”

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If you want to get depressed or angry, the New York Times has an article celebrating the effort by politicians at all levels of government to lure more people into the food stamp program. New York City is running ads in foreign languagues asking people to stick their snouts in the public trough. The City is even signing up prisoners when they get out of jail. The state of New York, meanwhile, actually set up quotas for enrolling new recipients. And on the federal level, there apparently is a program that gives states “bonuses” for putting more people on the dole. No wonder one out of every eight Americans is receiving food stamps. By the way, this is not just the fault of Democrats. The ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee is a big defender of the program, in part because of the sordid pact among urban and rural politicians to support each other’s handouts. And President George W. Bush’s food stamp administrator actually had the gall to assert “food stamps is not welfare.” No wonder the burden of federal spending skyrocketed during the reign of so-called compassionate conservatism. The correct policy, of course, is to get the federal government out of the welfare business. If Mayor Bloomberg thinks it is a “civic duty” to expand food stamps, he should see whether New York City voters agree with him – and want to foot the bill.

A decade ago, New York City officials were so reluctant to give out food stamps, they made people register one day and return the next just to get an application. The welfare commissioner said the program caused dependency and the poor were “better off” without it. Now the city urges the needy to seek aid (in languages from Albanian to Yiddish). Neighborhood groups recruit clients at churches and grocery stores, with materials that all but proclaim a civic duty to apply — to “help New York farmers, grocers, and businesses.” There is even a program on Rikers Island to enroll inmates leaving the jail. “Applying for food stamps is easier than ever,” city posters say. …These changes, combined with soaring unemployment, have pushed enrollment to record highs, with one in eight Americans now getting aid. “I’ve seen a remarkable shift,” said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican and prominent food stamp supporter. “People now see that it’s necessary to have a strong food stamp program.” …The program has commercial allies, in farmers and grocery stores, and it got an unexpected boost from President George W. Bush, whose food stamp administrator, Eric Bost, proved an ardent supporter. “I assure you, food stamps is not welfare,” Mr. Bost said in a recent interview. Still, some critics see it as welfare in disguise and advocate more restraints. …The federal government now gives bonuses to states that enroll the most eligible people. …In 2008, the program got an upbeat new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. …Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office eight years ago, the rolls have doubled, to 1.6 million people… Albany made a parallel push to enroll the working poor, setting an explicit goal for caseload growth. “This is all federal money — it drives dollars to local economies,” said Russell Sykes, a senior program official. But Mr. Turner, now a consultant in Milwaukee, warns that the aid encourages the poor to work less and therefore remain in need. “It’s going to be very difficult with large swaths of the lower middle class tasting the fruits of dependency to be weaned from this,” he said.

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