School Lunches Part 2 — Electric Boogaloo!

Some of you probably noticed all the nifty trackbacks on the post I made slamming the school lunch and breakfast program. While the opinions on that post were decidedly mixed, I’d like to talk about the people who disagreed with me. Here’s my impression — very generalized of course — of the entire debate….

JH: It’s ridiculous that every kid, no matter how rich gets free breakfast in NYC.

Response: You’re mean!

JH: What about welfare, food stamps, & private charities, don’t they already handle this?

Response: You’re mean, mean!

JH: These kids make it fine through dinner, the week-ends, & the summer without getting meals from school. Doesn’t that show that the program isn’t needed?

Response: You’re mean, mean, mean!

To be more accurate, I should have punctuated the “responses” with cries of “you don’t know what it’s like to be poor,” as if being poor in America is some sort of unique experience. Like many, many, other people who are against wasteful government programs, I’ve been poor before. In fact, my first three years after college were brutal. I could tell you about them, but I’m not into “poor, poor, pitiful me stories”. And just in case you were wondering, no, I’ve never taken welfare, food stamps, or even unemployment compensation. Luckily, my father who spent his childhood in the sort of grinding poverty that reminds me of modern day Afghanistan minus all the warlords and explosions, raised me to believe that it was morally wrong to take government hand-outs and it stuck.

Back to the original post. Unfortunately, when you say, “it’s for the children” a certain percentage of people, even conservatives, lose the capacity for rational thought and you might as well be speaking to them in Farsi. Politicians understand this and therefore won’t touch this issue with a 10 ft. poll. Even most pundits who agree with me aren’t going to step into this minefield because they know they’re going to take a beating.

But let me cut to the heart of the matter. I am of the opinion, that if we stopped the school lunch and breakfast program today (which isn’t going to happen by the way), terminated it, shot it deader than Uday Hussein, that five years from now we’d barely even notice it was gone. Don’t believe it?

Think about what would happen if schools started giving out free clothing vouchers to kids. Maybe you think that’s far out, but you could make just as good a case for giving kids free clothes as you could for giving them free food (it’s something they need & it’s possible their parents may not be able to afford it, etc,).

So what would happen — assuming these kids could get decent looking clothes with these vouchers? A lot of kids who were somehow, someway, being provided their own clothes before, would start using these vouchers. When you give them away for free, what else would you expect? Over time the program would expand. Currently, kids from families at 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free lunches and some families at 185% of the poverty level can qualify for reduced lunches. Give it a little more time and at some point, some city, like NYC, would just offer these clothing vouchers to all of the kids — just like they do free breakfast.

Then some conservative, like me, would come along and say the free clothes voucher program isn’t necessary and there would be howls of outrage!

“Do you want these poor children to go to school naked? Where’s the compassion? Why do you hate children? These poor people will never be able to afford to pay for clothes for their children! I was on the free clothing program when I was a kid and the only reason I didn’t have to wear a torn, size too small, power rangers t-shirt I found in the sewer to school every day was because of that program! Oh and I forgot…you’re mean!!!”

Yet, only a few years before, all these same people were clothing themselves.

The growth of the school lunch and breakfast program — in fact, the growth of government as a whole — happens in exactly the same way. It’s easy to get these programs started and they inevitably grow, but when you try to cut into them, the shrieks of outrage could burst a Frenchman’s eardrums.

Oh and last but not least, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back and talk about how compassionate you are for defending spending someone else’s money “on the children”. Think about that when one of the NY Yankee’s kids is eating a free waffle at the taxpayer’s expense in NYC because no one wants to be called “mean” for opposing free breakfasts.

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