Obama Baits the Dependency Trap
The Obama administration is busy expanding the exact type of vicious, ungrateful underclass which recently exploded in London. An administration program will expand free school meal coverage to millions of young people who are not even supposed to be eligible.
A stated goal of the program is to eliminate the stigma of getting a free lunch. But that stigma is one of the only things separating dignified free people from wretched government dependants. There is a lot of gray in between, but the Obama program would take students from a young age and nudge them in the wrong direction.
Here's how the program works: if 40% of students at a school qualify for public assistance, then every student in the school will get free food. That's free breakfast, lunch, and a snack. If that sounds like arbitrary welfare waste, it is. Sixty percent of the student body could be above the poverty line, ineligible for welfare, or even upper-class -- it doesn't matter. Every student magically becomes entitled.
This welfare trap is named the Community Eligibility Option, part of President Obama's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Three states will be involved in a pilot program starting now, and more states will be phased in over time. By 2014-15, the option will be available in all states, if this law is kept on the books.
Any student at a school with 40% of the student body on welfare is going to get his free lunch, whether he needs it or not. That 40% can be made up of students already eligible for programs like Food Stamps or welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Interestingly, the category of eligibility also includes "migrant youth." So illegals can get in on the boondoggle as well. If 5% of students are "migrant youth, and an additional 35% of students are on some form of welfare, the remaining 60% are automatically entitled if their school opts in.
Entire school districts, like Detroit's, will receive free food for every single student in all grades, K-12. The policy is coming into effect right as we learn that Michigan, for instance, recently kicked thirty thousand college students off food stamps for abusing the system.
Some of you might be asking, If you are already eligible for food stamps, then why do you need free lunch as well? Of course, people can buy groceries with food stamps. People could be making lunch for their children to bring to school. But that would be asking too much. The brown bag is probably considered a mark of caste. We need to make everyone feel good by creating mass dependency.
This is a perverse and wasteful policy. Not only will it entrench the existing lower class, but it will pass a contagious sense of entitlement around the entire school. Students who had no need, and whose families had no desire, to receive this welfare will now receive it. They will be exposed to the corrupting influence of dependency.
But not to worry -- the policy is well-greased. If the free food option kicks in at a school, then there will be no need for parents to make individual applications anymore. You don't even have to think about asking; not one bit of reflection or hesitation to trouble you. Everyone will receive the food, like manna from the skies.
The rationale behind this policy is spectacularly foolish: "One of the primary goals of this program is to eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch, as opposed to paying cash," said a Detroit Public School official. "Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income. Now, all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay. Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals."
For fear of stigmatizing the few, we will enfeeble the many. But stigma exists for a very good reason. It directs behavior along morally desirable paths. People should have a sense of shame for taking handouts, even when they really need them. Stigma upholds a strong work ethic and self-sufficiency. These used to be our shared moral standards. But we don't have shared moral standards anymore -- just a desire to be nonjudgmental and "compassionate." Because we don't want some children to be stigmatized, we're going to make all children dependant.
This policy is defined by welfare-state paternalism, which breeds and nurtures immoral, undesirable people. This policy shows a reckless disregard for the consequences of dependency, which will be terrible. Everything we need to know about entitlements comes from the great English prison psychiatrist Anthony Daniels, who worked face-to-face with the most severe dependants in Western society. Daniels said that government entitlements create one of two attitudes towards society: either ingratitude or resentment. If you receive what you're entitled to, there is nothing to be grateful for because you're entitled to it. Or, if you haven't received an entitlement, then you're resentful because you haven't received what you feel you are entitled to. A few disgusting examples of this attitude can be seen in news interviews with government dependents in Clayton County, GA that have to be seen to be believed.
It's a mystery how anyone could honestly believe that strengthening the chains of dependency will produce self-sufficient citizens. Fourteen point four percent of Americans use food stamps. Of the households using food stamps, one in three is black, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Getting free food from Nanny State surely takes the sting away from fatherlessness -- and adds to the pressure for cradle-to-grave welfare.
We have no reason whatsoever to think that giving people food stamps will make them better. Free government meals are not going to create stakeholders in society. Instead, we will be taking a mass of young people, who up until now have not been deemed aid-worthy, and marking them as aid-worthy. Surely this is going to create an unhealthy adjustment in their own attitudes and expectations.
Conservatives will see in this policy the early stages of a dependency epidemic. Liberals, on the other hand, will emote about compassion. Everyone should be able to eat, they say, the assumption being that the government is the necessary provider. Liberals genuinely want society to produce healthy people. But didn't society produce healthy people in the past? If so, how did we do it without welfare?
The people in our society who are charged with making good judgments about social policy and group behavior are actually the most ideologically blinkered among us. The utopian are leading the ignorant.
With this policy, the Obama administration has taken a silent but significant step towards mass welfare dependence. Worst of all, it will push the welfare mentality on to more students and families, including those who are not truly disadvantaged. More people will suffer the devastating moral corruption that comes from dependence.
The result will be to rob more people of their work ethic, drive up the financial burden on government, and destroy even more of this nation's productive wealth. The human result will be an expanded pool of ungrateful and entitled people, ready to riot and destroy if their new handouts are ever jeopardized by fiscal reality. If we expand the ranks of dependents in this country, we will reap a whirlwind.
John Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, MAPSS '07) is a veteran, writer, and law student at Emory University living in Atlanta, GA.