Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Nutrition or character?"

Mickey Kaus makes an interesting point in the course of an argument that sides with Gingrich against Pelosi about the apparently minor issue of food stamps: "Pelosi's Wrong About Gingrich and Food Stamps". It starts out like this: Gingrich says Republicans should campaign for "paychecks" not "foodstamps"; Pelosi accuses him and the Republicans of trying to divide people between those who need foodstamps and those who don't; Kaus says Pelosi is wrong about Gingrich in that he's really saying everyone is in danger of becoming too dependent on government handouts, of which foodstamps are just an illustration.

But Kaus expands on his point by arguing that a sign of this spreading dependency is the loss of stigma associated with accepting such handouts, and an associated loss in work ethic, an aspect of character. So, Kaus says:
The real issue isn't whether food stamp use goes up during a vicious economic slump--that's what they're there for. The issue is whether, thanks to the justified stigma, food stamp use goes down again when the recession ends.
Gingrich, rightly, worries that it won't. It's a valid left-right point of disagreement. A few months ago, I thought I was stacking the deck when I phrased the disagreement like this:
If you came across two societies--Society A, in which food stamps were stigmatized, with families reluctant to go on the dole even if they were eligible, and Society B, in which they weren't, you would want to bet on (and live in) Society A.
To my surprise, blogger Matt Yglesias of the liberal Center for American Progress immediately chimed in on behalf of Society B, if it produced better-nourished children who became a "better-educated workforce" with "lower crime" and "less disabilty."
Well, there you have a choice. What's America's bigger problem--nutrition or character? "Which future do I want?" asks Gingrich. "More food stamps? Or more paychecks?" Society B or Society A? But not "us" versus "them."
Remember that Churchill quote about those who would trade honor for peace ending up with neither? Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that a similar fate might befall those who would trade character for nutrition?


  1. "Stigmatized" is not exactly a precise term--some po' folks may be. Not all. It's sort of irrelevant--those living in poverty don't trade "character"--they need to eat, so they take the stamps.

    And Gingrich is mistaken and appealing to the conservatives and rednecks (and racists) with the usual "blame the welfare recipients" typical of the right-GOP. That's how they get the crackers in the voting booths--hey, 1/3 of yr paycheck, Junior, pays the n****r's welfare! so they vote GOP.

    Really they're both in error--the Gingriches think that the market will, with the help of some 'Merican businessmen, magically heal itself. The Pelosi bureaucrats on the other hand consider a welfare state an economic solution, and are mostly unwilling to take on corporate power and excess, and ignore even FDR-era like work/recovery programs for the poor.

  2. As usual, J, you misunderstand the point. There's no stigma to being poor and nobody's saying there should be. What Kaus is saying there should be is a stigma attached to accepting government handouts. Which won't prevent people from accepting the handouts when actually needed, but would work against becoming dependent on the handouts when they're not needed. Otherwise, it's not "those living in poverty" who are trading away character, says Kaus/Gingrich -- it's all of us as a society.

    Markets, by the way, have always healed themselves, and have long been the primary help for the poor, except when delayed or prevented from doing so by the burdens placed on them through "FDR-era like work/recovery programs for the poor".

  3. No you don't understand my point. First off, you can't really discuss whether people feel "stigmatized" or not by food stamps, welfare, etc. Same for "trading away character". It's merely conjecture, vague, emotional. And not pertinent to the discussion. Even if in some circumstances a few people accept the handouts when they could work, that doesn't really mean much, even if a few crypto-klansmen like Gingrich were to ridicule them--drops in the bucket. Kaus hardly differs from Gingrich in that regard. As far as govt. spending goes the billions spent on one Supercarrier would probably feed all of the impoverished and marginalized in LA.

    Did the market crash of the Great Depression heal itself? Nyet. The banks collapsed. The speculators had traded themselves into bankruptcy. Repairing that mess required a great deal of planning , and govt. intervention--and the recovery plans, while not perfect, did work, regardless of what the Aynnie Rand types insist.

  4. But your point isn't the point. Perception of stigma may be conjecture, etc., but it is what's being discussed. Your point(s) seem largely to be that Gingrich is probably in the Ku Klux Klan, and that conservatives/Republicans misspell words and talk funny. Those things obviously fascinate you, but few others.

    And it's certainly worth saying again that the market crash of the great depression didn't heal itself precisely because of the "great deal of planning, and govt. intervention", which is what turned a market crash into a depression that persisted for over a decade.

  5. --Few? Read the big liberal blogs and you'd discover that millions of people (even somewhat moderate ones) consider Gingrich...a crypto-klansman. And lets not forget Gingrich/Gramm's role in de-reg (with help from Clinton, and the Summers/Rubin team)

    --you're simply mistaken on the Great Depression, the Crash, the collapse of the banks, etc. Instead you simply parrot libertarian ideology --it was all due to the gubbmint! Not exactly. Actually, it was the Hoover's Admin's fault insofar that they did nothing to prevent speculators from buying/trading stocks/bonds on credit that they did not have (in brief)--the govt. should have prevented it (which they did, once FDR's people took over).

  6. the govt. should have prevented it

    the "govt" -- is that the same thing as the "gubbmint"?

  7. Not sure...but perhaps your pals at Lew Rockwell or Ayn Rand might have correct libertarian usage--they seem to allow "Gubmint" at times.

  8. Really anything Mickey Mouse Kaus squeaks shouldn't be taken seriously, even by Vegass style libertarians such as yrself morf. He's another of the Slate wafflers-=-neo-con one day, cutie-pie liberal- sexhound the next (which is to say, typical neo-con opportunist tactics).

  9. "cutie-pie"?

    Anyway, he's not at Slate anymore, J.

    How's your struggle with reason coming along, by the way? Just a thought, but you might try exercising it at some point and actually address an issue.

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  11. I don't think you quite understand what a valid syllogism requires, yet, morf--much less the principles of the American revolution

    Anyway I made substantive claims re the Great depression, the Crash, the collapse of the banks, buying on margin, etc. (which you did not respond to) All can be verified (and are, in most reasonable econ/history textbooks--not in the Libertarian/Ayn Rand Reader however)

  12. All can be verified (and are, in most reasonable econ/history textbooks....

    Oh, right -- you mean those "textbooks" that say how the Depression was ended shortly after FDR and his boys got working on it? Those ones?


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