Food stamp use is at an all time high. In 2011, more than 46 million Americans—about one in seven—received food stamps. But President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack doesn’t think that’s enough.
The US Department of Agriculture would like to see more people utilizing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The department believes that one reason more people don’t sign up is individual pride. In order to combat the deleterious effects of self-respect,
…. the department is offering non-profit groups the chance to receive $75,000 grants for projects designed to boost food stamp participation among those who are eligible but have yet to sign up. The Department of Agriculture believes that the SNAP program is “severely underutilized” and says that 33 percent more Americans who are eligible to receive food stamps have yet to apply, thus the need to offer federal grants to sign more citizens up.1
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that food stamps are good for the economy. After all, it puts “people to work,” because whenever they are used, “someone’s got to stock it, shelve it, package it, process it, ship it–all of those are jobs.”
We’ll take it as a given that Vilsack never read Frederic Bastiat’s Essays on Political Economy. He should have.
For instance, I want to agree with a drainer to make a trench in my field for a hundred sous. Just as we have concluded our arrangement the tax-gatherer comes, takes my hundred sous, and sends them to the Minister of the Interior; my bargain is at end, but the minister will have another dish added to his table. Upon what ground will you dare to affirm that this official expense helps the national industry? Do you not see, that in this there is only a reversing of satisfaction and labour? A minister has his table better covered, it is true; but it is just as true that an agriculturist has his field worse drained. A Parisian tavern-keeper has gained a hundred sous, I grant you; but then you must grant me that a drainer has been prevented from gaining five francs. It all comes to this,–that the official and the tavern-keeper being satisfied, is that which is seen; the field undrained, and the drainer deprived of his job, is that which is not seen. Dear me! how much trouble there is in proving that two and two make four; and if you succeed in proving it, it is said “the thing is so plain it is quite tiresome,” and they vote as if you had proved nothing at all.
Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else.
For now, as formerly, every one is, more or less, for profiting by the labours of others. No one would dare to profess such a sentiment; he even hides it from himself; and then what is done? A medium is thought of; Government is applied to, and every class in its turn comes to it, and says, “You, who can take justifiably and honestly, take from the public, and we will partake.” Alas! Government is only too much disposed to follow this diabolical advice, for it is composed of ministers and officials–of men, in short, who, like all other men, desire in their hearts, and always seize every opportunity with eagerness, to increase their wealth and influence. Government is not slow to perceive the advantages it may derive from the part which is entrusted to it by the public. It is glad to be the judge and the master of the destinies of all; it will take much, for then a large share will remain for itself; it will multiply the number of its agents; it will enlarge the circle of its privileges; it will end by appropriating a ruinous proportion.