Author Note: I do not intend this piece to be taken literally. I have written three books and dozens of articles promoting decentralization, limited government and the free market, so I would certainly never seriously advocate big-government solutions to a big government problem. My “reform measures” are intended to be as preposterous as the problem itself.
For those of you who missed it, several months ago “Mr. EBT” went viral with his hit tune “My EBT.” Classic examples of Shakespearean prose from the song include this passage: “Damn, I just want some jam. Walkin’ down the aisle ’cause I’m lookin’ for the haaaamm. Wham! Where da hell da cheese at?” And who could forget this line: “I wish I could buy some weed with my EBT, but the drug dealer frontin’ me. I mean, who cares? I mean, who cares? It’s an EBT, it’s not food stamps.” Catchy and brilliant! Mr. EBT is quite the wordsmith. Of course, he would lose his street cred without his Yankees hat and leather coat. Heck, it wasn’t even his Electronic Benefit Transfer card! He “borrowed” it from his sister! And now we have Jesse Jackson telling us Barack Obama should be honored to be the “food stamp president” because food stamps pay for everything under the sun and save lives. What’s going on, America?
These are fine examples of what many Americans witness on a regular basis. The other day, while my family and I were waiting in a check-out line at Wal-Mart, I noticed that the woman checking out in front of us was texting on her $200 cell phone (which probably costs at least $100 a month in service fees and may have been paid for by the government as well) and holding what my wife says was a $100 designer purse, with a stack of junk food, beer and cigarettes on the belt behind a line of subsistence products like milk, cheese, cereal and meat.
People pay for “necessary” items with their EBT government debit cards and then use cash for their smokes, beer and munchies. Yet, I have to fork over my hard-earned dollars for every item in my cart (and in essence theirs as well, since I pay taxes while they probably get “refunds” every April). Something is wrong here. Why is the average taxpayer both screwed by the system and forced to watch his tax dollars being wasted on people who abuse the system?
I have a solution: Dharma-style food stamp reform. Fans of “Lost” will recognize the reference, but for those who did not watch the show, the Dharma Initiative packaged its own food to supply members of the project on the island. Each item came in a package with a simple black-and-white label and a basic description. Beer cans were marked with the word “Beer.” It probably tasted as bad as it looked. In any case, here is a picture:
Dharma-style food stamp reform would have four basic components. First, the federal government would create a government “brand” of essential food items such as milk, cheese, meat, cereal, vegetables, bread, peanut butter, beans, juice, soup, baby formula, diapers, etc., and would package the items with simple black-and-white labels and basic descriptions. The word “Government” would be stamped across the top in bold letters so everyone would know it was a welfare item. These items could be manufactured by major companies through government contracts, thus not creating a net loss to private industry. Because competition is not an issue, taste and quality, with the exception of the baby formula and baby food, would not be a top priority. Snacks, soda, cigarettes and beer would not be available through the program.
Second, the government would lease existing store fronts and set up “government stores.” There are typically several grocery store locations that have gone out of business in any given area; these would make ideal settings for the new government stores. The number of store locations would be chosen based on the size of the area and its number of food stamp recipients. The stores would be placed on public transportation routes for convenience.
Third, and most importantly, all food stamp recipients would be required to spend their government dollars at these stores. Private grocery stores and chains, such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, would no longer be allowed to accept EBT cards, and the money loaded on the cards could not be withdrawn and used for any other purpose. Each card would have a set dollar amount sizable enough to purchase essential items from the government store. For example, a family of four could expect to receive enough government-brand beans, rice, bread, milk, cheese, meat, cereal and vegetables to last a month with careful planning. In other words, they must be ready to stretch a food budget. Families with babies would get a month supply of formula, baby food and diapers.
Fourth, anyone who accepts government aid would have to submit to a monthly tobacco and drug test. Food stamp recipients are, after all, wards of the state. They are slaves to the government and should be reminded of that fact. If a recipient is found to have tobacco or drugs in his system, he would be dropped from the program. People on government aid would also lose the privilege of voting. That way they couldn’t vote for greater benefits or easier terms (most of them don’t vote, but now they couldn’t).
While I believe the federal food stamp program to be unconstitutional, immoral and a state issue, the simple fact is that the program is not going away. There are more people on the dole now than at any other point in United States history, and with more Americans seemingly fine with the idea of taking government handouts, as Mr. EBT and Jesse Jackson have shown, the numbers will continue to grow. My reform measures might seem draconian to some (and the antithesis of the free market), but they would hopefully have the desired result of reducing food stamp rolls so we could eventually eliminate the program and let the states handle the issue. Before accepting food stamps, people would have to carefully consider whether they want to face the loss of voting privileges, the humiliation of shopping at government stores and using government food, the inability to smoke or do drugs and the added inconvenience of having to make two or three stops for their groceries should they choose to buy snacks with their own money. Plus, tax producers would no longer have to knowingly be face to face with people at the check-out who are on government assistance but have nicer cell phones and accessories than they do.
There should be humiliation and pain in government assistance. Every time someone accepts food stamps, they are spitting on the principles of independence, and they, not the taxpayers who fund the program, should be reminded of that fact.
Brion McClanahan holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of South Carolina. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009) and The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), as well as the forthcoming Forgotten Conservatives in American History with Clyde Wilson (Pelican, 2012). You can find his Facebook fan page here.