The real nanny state

I’m not theoretically opposed, as some people are, to all cases in which government grants to the poor are conditioned on spending limitations. I think there’s a good argument that the government, in providing support money, wants to be sure that the money actually gets used for *support* – and while I recognize the inherent problem that the existence of a rule prohibiting [x] implies a belief that absent the rule people would do [x], and acknowledge that this assumption is tremendously unfair for the overwhelming majority of the poor, I also think there are people for whom it is *not* unfair, and who are actually helped by such rules. Whether the number of people who are helped, and the value of the help to them, outweighs the number of people who are hurt by the implication that they can’t be trusted, and the damage done to them, is something worth looking at on a case-by-case basis, and not via a categorical one-size-fits-all rule.

That said, I can think of no good reason for Missouri House Bill no 813 (http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills151/billpdf/intro/HB0813I.PDF) which, as introduced, prohibits recipients of food stamps from using them to purchase “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak”.

For one thing, seafood is very, very healthy, and there are times when it’s actually fairly cheap.

For another thing – it’s hard to imagine that there are very many people who are helped by this proposition; all you get is an unreasonable limitation on the ability of poor people to buy things like cookies. Surely a poor person is entitled to a cookie now and again, if they can make it work in their budget.

This measure is punitive and serves no real purpose. It’s shocking that it comes from a conservative politician, whose normal rhetoric would be that government shouldn’t be micromanaging the lives of the people. It’s very hard to avoid the conclusion that such aversion to micromanagement only applies to ‘people’ who are part of the in-group favored by the politician in question, not to people in general.

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