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Food stamps to save the economy

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted August 22, 2011

Obama's Secretary of Agriculture thinks food stamps are an "economic stimulus"! I can't think of a sadder or more realistic commentary on the Obama Administration's clueless approach to economics. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says that each dollar of food stamp spending generates $1.84 worth of economic activity out there in the "great economic beyond" that he apparently never saw in his legal career.

If food stamps were such an economic stimulus, why haven't we put everyone on food stamps and made ourselves all filthy rich with the profits?  But that would be ludicrous, wouldn't it? Even Obama wouldn't pretend that far.

Years ago, I worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- and for the Food Stamp Program itself. We knew that the tax dollars we spent on behalf of the government for the food stamps were part of the country's safety net for the poor and unemployed. Hopefully they got the food stamps on a temporary basis, until they could find productive jobs. At that time, however, many of the people receiving food stamps regarded them as a "right."  They staged protest marches demanding more food stamps per family -- and too many of those marching were in their third generation of food stamp eligibility.  

That was before Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act and proved that keeping people on the unemployment and welfare rolls really did create its own permanent and very expensive clientele. People can exist on welfare, they don't thrive on welfare.

Calvin Coolidge handled his recession neatly and quickly -- by doing nothing. He said, "The business of America is business," and he watched as the market forces moved in to restore prosperity. Coolidge was ridiculed by the intelligentsia, of course, who secretly believed they could have handled Coolidge's recession more humanely. With Roosevelt, they got their chance -- and failed.

If government spending had successfully "primed the pump" during the Depression, as Franklin Roosevelt and his administrators were so fond of saying, why did the country's Roosevelt-supervised 20 percent unemployment last until 1940? And why was the recession actually ended by a guy named Adolph Hitler, who put everybody to work making guns, bombers, and submarines? 

How could Larry Summers, an economics professor in good standing from Harvard, support the Obama stimulus program after the Roosevelt failure? And I mean any stimulus program, let alone the awful Democrat graft-and-union-payoff program that Nancy Pelosi designed for us on the model of her father's Baltimore machine-politics.

Summers must have wanted to believe it would work -- out of the goodness in his heart. I no longer give points for good intentions. The road to hell is already paved partly with stimulus dollars.

My sister's Michigan community got a ten-foot-wide walkway from here to nowhere as a "recreation asset." Is this what rust-belt Michigan most needs? And taxpayers got the debt. John Stossel's community in New York's posh Upper West Side got free bicycle helmets. And we pay back the $2.6 million for the bike helmets -- plus interest from here to eternity.    

When I worked on the food stamp program, I knew that the public not only paid for the stamps, but also for the local administrators who determined who got them, and for my federal pension plan, and for the highways on which I commuted to my big federal building.

But where do the federal dollars come from? Those federal dollars had to be taxed from someone with a productive job that made things or sold things or serviced things and therefore earned profits that the government could take away.

That's what "community organizers" and career politicians and "goodhearted economists" too seldom understand. We may soon all be on food stamps after all. ESR

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to cgfi@hughes.net or visit us at www.cgfi.org


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