The Farm Bill, Food Stamps and Freakonomics

One of the best reads I’ve found in the past several years (non-fiction) has to be the collaborative genius of Steven D. Levitt (economist) and Stephen J. Dubner (author) who made readers think about things from very different perspectives. If you haven’t read Freakonomics and the sequel, Superfreakonomics and you consider yourself a member of the thinking class, chop-chop! Get to your local library or bookstore and get with it! It’s worth mentioning that both are available as audio books so you could make your morning commute more interesting if you haven’t got time to read.

This week, Farm Bill appropriations were debated in the House and one of the news stories to emerge was the GOP’s support for slashing $16.5 billion from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “food stamps”) over the next 10 years which is expected to remove between 2 and 3 million people from the SNAP beneficiary rolls, including close to 300,000 children who, in addition to food challenges at home, will no longer qualify for the free school lunch program.

If you haven’t read Freakonomics, you may be doing that funny imitation of someone with an attention problem, and saying “squirrel!” but if you’ve read Dunbar and Levitt, you are probably following my train of thinking just fine. By this I mean that in their unique (but methodologically-sound) research, they found that a decrease in violent crime in this country tracked with the Roe v. Wade decision which made access to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy legal. They suggest that this brought fewer children into the world who were unwanted – a most sad circumstance for any child, we would all have to agree, regardless of our position on abortion. They suggest that this decrease in unwanted chldren resulted in a statistically significant decrease in violent crime in this country, 16 – 18 years from the legalization of abortion, which represents the time frame in which those unwanted children would have been at an age where they were likely to move from petty crimes to more violent crimes (rape, murder, assault, arson, etc.) .

Now let’s circle back to the Farm Bill and think about 2 to 3 million people without food security in combination with the increasing restrictions that the GOP is placing on accessing birth control (you know – preventing more mouths to feed), and terminating pregnancies (legal, safe abortion).

If we saw violent crime begin to drop approximately 18 years post-Roe v. Wade, we might reasonably expect to see violent crime begin to rise in time as women have LESS access to birth control and more barriers to abortion. And let’s not forget that those of us with means and money will continue to have access to these options, so it will be the less educated, lower economic strata who will struggle to find birth control, or pay for it (don’t forget these same GOP jackasses want to defund Planned Parenthood), and therefore will more often experience the birth of unplanned/unwanted children.

Add the hunger factor to this scenario and it’s not hard to imagine the high school drop out rate rising quickly, whether due to hungry kids being unsuccessful in school –OR– the fact that families need every able body working a low level job just to survive. This is not the prescription for a nation that wants to be a world leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In other posts I have suggested that hungry people will only go hungry so long. I have suggested that the flippant comments about people “getting a job” are simpleton statements that do little to solve the issues at hand, especially when food stamps are distributed in a large proportion to people who ARE working, but cannot survive on minimum wage due to the cost of living in this country.

I am also suggesting that ‘more people in the lower economic /less educated classes bringing more children into the world (including more unwanted children)’ + ‘cutting support for something as basic as a nominal amount of food’ = seeds of anarchy.

How long would you go hungry before you did something drastic? How many nights would you let your children cry themselves to sleep because the ketchup soup they ate 3 nights ago wasn’t enough food? OK, maybe you have family, or an education or options because you’re middle class or higher, but what if you didn’t have those advantages?

Ask those questions and this time answer them through the eyes of someone who has been down all their life, has no options in sight and is desperate.

Hungry people with nothing to lose will eventually find a way to eat. The question is not whether they’ll find it, but where.

I’d like the “where” to remain the local grocery store with the plastic SNAP card as opposed to my kitchen cupboards with a Smith & Wesson.

UPDATE: please read Peter Orszag’s piece correlating the end of the month (and diminished food supply based on the food stamp cycle of monthly disbursements) and the increase in discipline problems in schools.

One thought on “The Farm Bill, Food Stamps and Freakonomics

  1. I am very concerned about the way this country is going. A basic need such as food really should not come under heavy scrutiny. And I also agree a woman’s access to basic contraception should be without any penalty or judgement. The responsibility deciding on whether or not to bring into the world another human being rests with the woman untimately. Having options help keep lives from spiraling down and out of control, or worse.

    Excellent article!

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