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January 25, 2008

Comments

There are, of course, no homeless vets, either.

Megan McArdle could have looked up the figures on food insecurity before announcing its nonexistence.

I admit to being less and less impressed with her output. She never seems to take the extra step of teasing out her ideas - "looking it up" in the present example.

Reading her posts is like reading someone making beginner level/basic errors over and over again, no matter the subject matter discussed.

Not that erring is any great sin. But coupled with defensiveness, a lack of honest reckoning with opposing views and a seeming unwillingness to rectify the flawed method going forward, it makes for a persistent shallowness of thought.

And that's a shame.

Exactly what I was thinking of, idlemind.

Obesity is a problem for the poor in America... food insufficiency is not

It's not like there's a single poor person (who then couldn't reasonably suffer from both problems). This is as illogical as claiming that, because opiate addition is a problem in a community, ergo there can be no problem with a lack of pain control meds at the local ER.

I admit that she may not have intended to do this illogical lumping process, but I can't find another reason for her inclusion of the obesity problem.

'a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink’
-Dickens from a different time, quoted in the article

“Food insecurity” sounds scary. Here’s what it really means:

“Low food security” means no reduction in food intake but a periodic reduction in food variety.

“Very low food security” means that at least once in a year, food intake was reduced due to financial pressures. 4% of American households suffered from “very low food security” in 2006.

I suffered from chronic and recurring “very low food security” in college; it’s not that bad and one can get through it.

In America-2008, two hours of minimum wage work purchases 50 pounds of bulk rice (500+ servings, 80,000+ kilocalories), or enough energy to comfortably keep a man going for two months. Carrots, celery, and chicken are economical ways to add variety. I’ve got a backup plan, passed down from my grandfather, that includes rabbits, squirrels, and fish. Thing is, you’ve got to cook it.

You've also got to be able to live somewhere you can store fifty pounds of rice without it being stolen, being eaten by rats, mice, or other vermin, getting wet, getting mouldy... and you've got to be able to get to a place where you can buy fifty pounds of bulk rice cheap and then carry it home to where you live, too, of course.

I love it when people whose sole experience of anything remotely resembling poverty was when they were in college, tell really poor people that it wasn't that bad for them so it can't be that bad for you.

Bill,
1.6oz of rice is not much of a serving. From your own numbers, that's 160kCal per 'serving'. If we generously interpret "well over two months" to mean 80 days, you're suggesting that 1000kCal a day is enough to "comfortably keep a man going".
I suggest to you that this is perhaps not the meaning of "comfortably" that Im normally used to. "barely" might have been a better choice of words.

Furthermore
-poor people don't have easy access to bulk food suppliers, so they don't get bulk rates. Their access to fresh vegetables etc is also frequently limited.
-a diet of just white rice is not just unappetizing, it is profoundly bad for one's health, particularly for children.
-there are not many rabbits in areas of urban blight. I would not recommend eating the fish caught in the East River, either, or suggest feeding them to children. Hunting is frowned upon in urban areas in any case.

Finally, I admit to a bit of confusion- you claim to have gone hungry many times in the past, but also point out that 2 hours a week would've kept you comfortably rolling in rice-calories. Were you very stupid in the past, or was rice much more expensive back in the day?

And if you get really hard up, Bill, you can always do something to get sent to Guantanamo Bay for the lemon chicken.

I suffered from chronic and recurring “very low food security” in college

Ah yes, college days. Did you have any kids then?

On the topic of obesity and poor people:

I was out and about doing errands recently and stopped to pick up bread and milk. It took me several minutes of searching to find a loaf of bread whose second ingredient wasn't "corn syrup".

Inexpensive food is quite often crappy food. The way you get an inexpensive product through commercial food manufacture is, apparently, to load it up with sugar, cheap and unwholesome oils, and the like. Eating crappy food will make you fat, and lead to other chronic health issues like diabetes, etc.

When I was poor, I used to shop at the Dominican grocery store, because their stuff, although cheap, wasn't loaded down with as much sugar and other junk. Don't know why, it just wasn't.

Plus, Cafe Bustelo rocks.

thanks -

Jes: "You've also got to be able to live somewhere you can store fifty pounds of rice without it being stolen, being eaten by rats, mice, or other vermin"

Silly Jes: you put out the rice, wait for the vermin, and then fry them up to go with the rice!

D'oh.... :)

Megan's point #1 is idiotic.

However, her other points are arguable, and I tend to think it's unfair to not equally note her #5:

5) The economy doesn't need a food sector more distorted by daft government programs than it already is. If you want to give money to the poor, give it to them. Even if they spend it all on drugs, it will hardly be much worse than spending it all on increasing their already astronomical obesity rates.
I don't understand how her post can be addressed and this point ignored; it seems to me to perhaps be a somewhat unfair reading, if she's willing to see a monetary stream instead of EBT cards.

Although it would be much clearer if Megan had stated overtly whether she'd support or oppose giving money to the poor, in which case we'd really have something to argue about.

(And setting aside the foolish knocks on the obesity of "the poor," made as if individuals were generalizations.)

Moreover:

“It’s a delicacy in many cultures,” she said. “The cockroaches provide a nutritional value, like beef, chicken and shrimp.”

Or then again, maybe not:

"Of the insects extant today, one of the most ancient is the cockroach. It dates from the Carboniferous Period which began about 360 million years ago. Some Isaan folk believe that eating cockroaches can cure certain illnesses. But this insect, according to Kanwee, is a real health hazard even if cooked before being eaten. He said the cockroach spreads disease because it is host to a number of dangerous viruses and bacteria and a carrier of parasites like Raillietina sisiraji and Moniliformis which can cause stomach ache, diarrhoea, tiredness and hallucinations."

Gary: I think it would have been unfair had I been arguing against her general conclusion, rather than noting the idiocy of her first point.

For the record: the existence of hungry people in America does not imply that we should include increased food stamp funding as part of a stimulus package.

Reduction of food variety, considering the kinds of food markets available in most poorer areas, usually means less quality food, with more sugar and crap in it, which leads to obesity.

So even on that level, her argument that hunger's not the problem, obesity is, is completely backwards.

Coincidentally, MB Williams over at Wampum has a series of very good posts up on this topic right now.

which can cause stomach ache, diarrhoea, tiredness and hallucinations

Hallucinations?

Don't tell the kids, or a cockroach-eating craze will sweep the nation.

Thanks -

Two months is sixty days which works out to around 1350 calories per day. 1350 calories per day is far less than the Japanese fighting men lived on in World War Two. Based on the images of grossly disfigured men, women, and children that we got to see in New Orleans, I think it’s a fair assumption that the average dependent American enjoys a diet far in excess of 1350 calories per day.

Cheap food can be very healthy. The excuse “all they can afford is fast food” is crap. For the price of a “Number 5”, you can buy enough brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken to feed a family for two days. We need to admit that our society has grown complacent.

Families in Guatemala and Honduras have to get by on a family budget of $3/day when the father can find work. Those are the people who know about food insecurity. Americans have nothing to complain about.

Two months is sixty days which works out to around 1350 calories per day.

"To put things in perspective, the Nazis provided concentration camp inmates at Auschwitz with a diet of 1,300 calories per day for light work prisoners and 1,700 calories for hard labor. The average prisoner at Auschwitz died of starvation within three months on this diet." cite

For the price of a “Number 5”, you can buy enough brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken to feed a family for two days.

Assuming that there is anywhere local where you can buy brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken, and assuming that you can afford to (and know how to) cook brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken without worrying that something will go wrong and you'll waste all that money and your family will go hungry, and assuming you have anywhere to store the food for the second day...

Really, Bill: college students live a particularly cushioned kind of "poverty". To reason that because you know all about how to survive on a limited income as a student and it wasn't that bad means you've touched bottom of poverty in America makes you sound like an ass.

Families in Guatemala and Honduras have to get by on a family budget of $3/day when the father can find work. Those are the people who know about food insecurity.

Ah, the old "Not As Bad As" reasoning...

Also, I'd love to see a comparison between the US and Guatemalan cost of living...

So I believe what you are saying Jesurgislac is that Bill is horrifically wrong: two hours of minimum wage work can't get you enough nutrition for 2 full months, it can only get you enough for 1.5 full months.

Bill is horrifically wrong on all sorts of levels, Sebastian, but as I recall, last time poverty was discussed here you argued in a similar way: that because you'd sometimes been short of money as a student, you knew all about poverty and understood that it wasn't that bad.

Based on the images of grossly disfigured men, women, and children that we got to see in New Orleans, I think it’s a fair assumption that the average dependent American enjoys a diet far in excess of 1350 calories per day.

Yep, that there's some scientific information if I ever heard it. 'I saw some people once'. Nice racial subtext, too. Congrats.
And, as pointed out above, 'average' does not address the problem of a subset. You can, of course, continue to ignore your logical fallacy if it makes you feel better about ignoring hungry children.

Families in Guatemala and Honduras have to get by on a family budget of $3/day when the father can find work. Those are the people who know about food insecurity. Americans have nothing to complain about.

First, food is cheaper there than here.
Second, your theoretical calculations based on 'I saw it once' data points are small solace to actual hungry children.
Third, you still haven't explained how- despite the pathetic ease of getting a healthy and fulfilling diet in America- you managed to frequently go hungry while in college.
Were you disabled somehow in a manner that allowed you to study but not to work?
Were you so profoundly lazy that you couldn't work a couple of hours every few months to keep a steady supply of food?
Or (my preferred explanation)- did your two BS rationalizations run completely at cross-purposes, along the lines of "I didnt steal your bike and besides it's cruddy, the front brake doesn't work".

So I believe what you are saying Jesurgislac is that Bill is horrifically wrong: two hours of minimum wage work can't get you enough nutrition for 2 full months, it can only get you enough for 1.5 full months.

Again, rice does not provide anything like complete nutrition.

"Assuming that there is anywhere local where you can buy brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken, and assuming that you can afford to (and know how to) cook brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken without worrying that something will go wrong and you'll waste all that money and your family will go hungry, and assuming you have anywhere to store the food for the second day..."

A cheap rice cooker can be purchased and a 99 cent store for about $10. (Yes I know, $10 is more than 99 cents but take that up with the truth in advertising people.). You can cook all sorts of things in a rice cooker--it is very much like a crock-pot. The cool thing about that is you don't even need a functioning kitchen--just a working electrical outlet. And you can teach kids without supervision how to use it without any particularly big fear of having a fire.

I'm perfectly willing to help out the people who can't find a dry place to sleep that has access to an electric outlet--but that isn't 35.5 million people in the US either.

Hmmm, I in a minor threadjack let's think of high impact things that we could do with $1 million dollars. I suspect that 50,000 $20 rice cookers (we can upgrade slightly from the 99 cent store version) might be one of the most efficient things I can think of to help lots of poor people.

If anyone's interested, Megan has a follow-up post at the Atlantic Monthly that goes into some more detail.

"Again, rice does not provide anything like complete nutrition."

Again we are talking about a $12-15 bag for more than a month's worth of rice. Even if you spent $20 a week rounding that out with other stuff you're talking a very low food budget that is well within the means of almost any poor family.

"Sebastian, but as I recall, last time poverty was discussed here you argued in a similar way: that because you'd sometimes been short of money as a student, you knew all about poverty and understood that it wasn't that bad."

Actually I think you are remembering the short time I lived in my car, but whatever.

You realize that you are not contradicting my statements, you are merely attacking the messenger, right?

"Gary: I think it would have been unfair had I been arguing against her general conclusion, rather than noting the idiocy of her first point."

Fair enough; I think it would have been better to have acknowledged, if for no other reason than that only a small minority of blog readers ever clicks on links to read the context of a quote, that Megan wasn't explicitly or implicitly saying that there should be no aid for those who have trouble affording food, despite the strong implication otherwise in her first point, taken alone, as you presented it, but it's a presentation choice reasonable people can differ over.

Obviously I have no problem with people explaining to Megan why her first point is ill-thought-out; I just like to see bashing confined to the actual stupid points people make, and discouraged from going into imaginary issues.

As for food aid itself, I don't see why we don't just let people compete with pigeons in picking up bird feed and garbage: there's more than enough out there on the streets to feed every hungry child, woman, and man in America, and they'd be getting much-needed exercise while fetching it, if they'd just bother to make the effort.

Have you ever looked through a garbage dumpster behind a restaurant? Do you have any idea how much perfectly edible food is thrown out every night? It's yours for the taking, if you just get off your lazy "poor" ass and go get it!

And the dumpsters behind the better restaurants have delicious food!

The problem with Americans is that they just don't appreciate how spoiled they are.

http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA

OK, let's assume that a family of three or four can live on a big old bag of rice, an assortment of vegetables available at any neighborhood grocery store, and a chicken or two a week. That is actually NOT a bad assumption.

That family also has to pay for housing, utilities, heat, transportation, clothes, medicine as needed, soap, toilet paper, and all of the other basic things we all need. So, it's also actually NOT a bad assumption that a little assistance would be helpful.

In the context of McArdle's piece, there's also the question of whether increased direct aid to poor people would be a useful stimulus on the larger economy. From here, we have this:

Of all tax and spending stimulus options that CBO examined, the only two that it found would have a large "bang-for-the-buck" as effective stimulus and act fast to boost the economy are the unemployment insurance and food stamp provisions

No doubt the folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are a bunch of hippie commies, but the CBO is not.

It sucks to be poor. It's kind of entertaining when you're a student, and it's character building as hell, but it sucks. It really, really does. Especially when you have kids.

If we're looking to pass money around to stimulate spending, I don't see what the damned problem is with giving some to poor people. Contrary to the pronouncements of the "moral hazard" crowd, it sure as hell is not going to make poor people fond of being poor.

Thanks -

Someone needs to (re-)read The Road To Wigan Pier...

What does a country with a per capita GDP of over $37,000.00 due when it notices problems with hunger among it's lowest earners?


Dude, the dumpster is that way!

Meanwhile we've spent what, $100,000.00 per person on each and every Iraqi?

Yep, our priorities are a bit screwed up.

Perhaps America's poor should immigrate to Mosul?

And on a side note.

Yes, I was always broke in college.

But I lived on a boat.

So while I ate a heck of a lot of fish. (I hate fish these days), boy did I get the chicks!

Again we are talking about a $12-15 bag for more than a month's worth of rice. Even if you spent $20 a week rounding that out with other stuff you're talking a very low food budget that is well within the means of almost any poor family.

You are, of course, budgeting in the time to shop for that rice (the best deals for which are not necessarily within reach) looking for that $20 of vegetables. And you can do that with children in tow.

Sorry, but I suspect anyone who says you can train children to do this and children to do that...sometimes you can, sometimes you CAN'T.....

Wow. If Megan put up that post with an idea that this would somehow negate the image of self-proclaimed libertarians as mean-spirited "I've got mine so screw you" people who don't even bother to check their facts in light of their hypotheses of the world....

Better luck next time, dearie!

Perhaps if Huckabee becomes President, he'll buy a popcorn popper for every hungry American family, and a squirrel to cook in it.

Cheap food can be very healthy. The excuse “all they can afford is fast food” is crap. For the price of a “Number 5”, you can buy enough brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken to feed a family for two days. We need to admit that our society has grown complacent.

I'd like you to live in a high-poverty neighborhood with no means of transportation and find a grocery store within walking distance that carries fresh vegetables other than onions or meat other than hot dogs. I live on the border of such a neighborhood. If you lived in that neighborhood, you'd either A. have to take a crowded bus to go get groceries and good luck with that with kids in tow. Or B. walk two miles one way to the closest supermarket, which doesn't stock the freshest of vegetables. So you'd have to only buy enough to last one or two days. So in other words, you'd have to be making this trip every other day. With kids in tow.

By the way, green vegetables are very expensive. Spinach costs a lot more than you seem to realize.


Cheap food can be very healthy. The excuse “all they can afford is fast food” is crap. For the price of a “Number 5”, you can buy enough brown rice, carrots, spinach, and chicken to feed a family for two days. We need to admit that our society has grown complacent.

I'd like you to live in a high-poverty neighborhood with no means of transportation and find a grocery store within walking distance that carries fresh vegetables other than onions or meat other than hot dogs. I live on the border of such a neighborhood. If you lived in that neighborhood, you'd either A. have to take a crowded bus to go get groceries and good luck with that with kids in tow. Or B. walk two miles one way to the closest supermarket, which doesn't stock the freshest of vegetables. So you'd have to only buy enough to last one or two days. So in other words, you'd have to be making this trip every other day. With kids in tow.

By the way, green vegetables are very expensive. Spinach costs a lot more than you seem to realize.


Perhaps America's poor should immigrate to Mosul?

No, Davebo, they can stay right here and we can just as easily take $100,000 for each of them and give it to Halliburton, Blackwater, and various weapon makers. No doubt that would benefit them at least as much as the Iraqis you seem to think are making out like bandits.

I think it’s a fair assumption that the average dependent American enjoys a diet far in excess of 1350 calories per day.

You know, even 1,350 calories a day of food laden with corn syrup, sodium, fat, fillers and preservatives is really, really bad for you, nutritionally. In fact, it's a major cause of obesity. Now I'll give you ten guesses as to what kinds of food are most easily available to people in the poorest neighborhoods. The first nine guesses don't count.

"You are, of course, budgeting in the time to shop for that rice (the best deals for which are not necessarily within reach) looking for that $20 of vegetables. And you can do that with children in tow."

Ok, so we are talking about 10 hours of work per month for the money and if I'm generous, 8 hours a month for the shopping.

Getting the food just isn't the big problem. Getting the housing however is probably something worth talking about.

Megan's point #1 is idiotic.

However, her other points are arguable,

I'm not so sure. Consider:

2) Food stamps only imperfectly translate into increased cash income, meaning that the poor will spend . . . more money on food.

It's not clear to me what she is getting at here, so I don't know if it's arguable or not. Does the "money" referred to include food stamps? If so, what's her point? If not, then I doubt that this is a true statement.

4) The limits on the type of goods available to food stamp consumers, and the growing season, mean that some (it's hard to say how much) of the food stamp spending will simply draw down perishable stocks rather than generating new economic activity. Eventually this will probably generate more economic activity, but probably well after your stimulus is needed.

To the extent this matters it is true of the cash benefits she thinks are better also. Some will be spent on food, and the effect will be the same, possibly a smidge smaller. In any case, I doubt it's large enough to matter. Even in the case of the few foods that might fit in this category, the purchases will still stimulate grocery store activity and transportation.

That family also has to pay for housing, utilities, heat, transportation, clothes, medicine as needed, soap, toilet paper, and all of the other basic things we all need. So, it's also actually NOT a bad assumption that a little assistance would be helpful.

This is the larger discussion- people who fall into food insecurity are those who are paying all of these bills, barely getting by, and then someone gets sick or hurt and can't work, or has to pay for emergency medical care, loses a job, etc.
The financial crunch comes. Yes, if they had 20$ and could get to a good grocery story, they could eat pretty well for a week. But they've got competing priorities- getting the breadwinner healthy, paying rent, utilities, paying for transportation to get the breadwinner to their job, and eating.

Sometimes eating takes a backseat. And, you know, it wouldn't take a great deal of compassion to say "hey, that's a rough spot to be in" rather than recommending starvation diets of rice or expounding the wonders of cheap appliances.

I give you an example: I knew a guy who worked as a janitor in a warehouse I worked in. He worked two jobs, his wife one, while taking care of four kids. Then he got sick, for several weeks, too sick to work. They spent their tiny savings on health care, got kicked out of their apartment, lived in their station wagon for a week or two, and finally managed to get things back together via hard work and going without.
They were short of food, sometimes. It was not because they were too stupid to cook rice.

Ok, so we are talking about 10 hours of work per month for the money and if I'm generous, 8 hours a month for the shopping.

No, you're being totally unrealistic.

I'm surprised. You generally have a better handle on the nuts and bolts of how things work in the real world.

Not all markets are close to people. If you have kids, you either have to take them in tow, or you find someone to look after them. Heaven help you if someone is sick, even with a mild cold.

All that takes TIME. I've seen how it takes to get even well behaved ADULTS taken care of and squared away for minor chores like shopping---the more people you add, the time it takes gets multiplied geometrically. And even as a bachelor, I know that time spent gets multiplied even more with children.

I just don't think you have a very good handle on what it really takes to do what you seem to think is so easy.

Maybe 8 hours a month if you're alone. MAYBE. But with kids? That's a joke, son...

It could be eight hours a month if you shop once a week (which requires you to have enough space and appliances to easily store food for a week, too), get everything at one supermarket, drive there and drive back, live alone, and are pretty organised. In fact, if you regard 8 hours as more than enough time, you probably have space and appliances (and front money) to shop for food once a fortnight if for some reason you have to skip one week).

And, at a guess, all of this applies to Sebastian: except that he attributes the whole to his good organisation skills, and takes everything else for granted.

I think a more forceful rebuttal of Ms. McArdle's point was available.

The gist of her argument seems to be that

1. *IF* the current food stamp program provides 100% of the food assistance needed by the poor and

2. *IF*, based on obesity rates for different income groups, it is hard to believe that we have a real hunger problem in America, then

3. Giving more food stamps to the poor will not help them or stimulate the economy - they don't need more food, won't buy more food, and why did we bother?

However - per the food stamp calculation, the aid recipient is expected to contribute 30% of monthly income towards food. That means assumption (1) is wrong.

So - it may simply be that if we give the poor more food stamps (within some limit, e.g., 20% more) they will buy and eat *exactly* what they have been buying and eating up to now but simply pay less out of pocket to buy it.

In which case they will have more available cash for other things. Being poor, the bet is that they will spend, rather than save, the windfall - hence, a stimulus, through purchases of things other than food (which quashes Ms. McArdles's point 4, that pulling on the food chain is a slow and uncertain stimulus).

As noted above, the CBO reached just that conclusion.

Once eligibility has been determined, the amount of the monthly Food Stamp benefit is calculated. A household is expected to contribute 30 percent of its net income (gross income minus deductions for certain expenses) toward food expenditures. In 2008, the maximum amount that an eligible four-person household with no income in the contiguous United States can receive is $542 per month.

During fiscal year 2006, approximately 27 million people received Food Stamp benefits each month. Nearly all benefits went to the 87 percent of Food Stamp households that were in poverty. Over half of all benefits went to the 39 percent of Food Stamp households whose income was less than or equal to half of the poverty line. The vast majority of Food Stamp benefits are spent
extremely rapidly. And because Food Stamp recipients have low income and few assets, most of any additional benefits would probably be spent quickly.

If you're a single mom on welfare with one or more kids, perhaps taking care of an elderly parent, the last thing you're going to want to have to worry about is the time required to get and cook "good food", especially when there's all this "convenience food" easy to grab.

Also not easy if getting to the grocery store requires 30 minutes on a bus, while there's a McDonald's on every corner.

Gary's argument that we should take Megan McArdle's other arguments more seriously is something that I wonder about. When a writer tries so clearly to load up her delivery like she does in this one (and tends to do all the time), I'm thinking maybe ridicule and sarcasm are the appropriate responses.

As far as food aid, it seems to me that this has some relationship with the way we view charity as a society. I'm not quite sure how this plays out, but we seem to be much less willing to provide housing, or jobs to people who are poor than we are with food.

Megan's point #1 is idiotic.

However, her other points are arguable

"Arguable" they are. I'll argue with them.

2) Food stamps only imperfectly translate into increased cash income, meaning that the poor will spend . . . more money on food.

That's right, they will. It's an economic stimulus initiative. Spending more money is the point.

Unless her concern is that they'll just get fatter and fatter.

3) If the increase in food stamps takes the form of expanded eligibility, rather than larger grants, the administrative issues and public outreach will delay your stimulus until well after it is no longer needed.

Sez Megan. I don't know how long it takes to spin up a new food stamp recipient, nor do I know how long we'll need to be stimulating the economy. She could be right. I'll spot her this one.

4) The limits on the type of goods available to food stamp consumers, and the growing season, mean that some (it's hard to say how much) of the food stamp spending will simply draw down perishable stocks rather than generating new economic activity

I'm an economics dummy, so somebody help me out if I go wrong here. But "drawing down perishable stocks" means buying something, right? So, you're putting money into the economy, right?

5) The economy doesn't need a food sector more distorted by daft government programs than it already is.

The larger topic under discussion is what form an economic stimulus package should take. An economic stimulus package is a government program that deliberate distorts the market, hopefully in a positive direction.

What's special about the "food sector" that it should be exempt from such an initiative? Why not exclude paper clips, or automobile tires, or men's hats?

Either we're going to intervene in the market, or we're not. You're on the bus or you're off the bus.

At least if we do so by expanding food stamps, somebody gets a couple of good meals out of it.

Thanks -

"Gary's argument that we should take Megan McArdle's other arguments more seriously is something that I wonder about."

Gary made no such argument.

I wouldn't bother appealling to mcArdle's sense of decency.

Everyone who actuyally gives a damn atlready knows that poor on food stamps get less fresh food ( because it is too expensive), less bulk food (because they are too hard to carry on a bus, especially ifthhe food stamp recepient is disabled) and more of the kinnd of food that will ward off hunger cheaply--pastas, for esxample.


BTW I do the groceery shopping for a disabled man and I use his food stamps. If I spent his money on "good food" he'd starve to death.

This was all discussed to death back when Food Stamps were a new idea.

I have a car, plenty of shops/supermarkets in walking/driving/biking distance and 3 kids. Now that the kids are old enough to leave at home I spend about 8 hours a week on shopping, before it would have been at least 4 hours per week more.

This does not include the writing of shoppinglists, checking out recipies or the actual cooking - and since we are not poor I don't spend time on research about what is cheaper in which shops (which I did when I was poorer).

I like rice, but it isn't very filling or very nutricious so it would not be my first choice of 'filling food' to be honest. And all the cheap rice is white rice (over here at least), which doesn't even have the ... eh... peel(?) you need for enough vitamine B and such.

To eat properly you don't just need calories, you also need vitamins and minerals and other essentials. Eating healty is much more expensive than eating unhealthy and can lead to malnourishment quite easily. Variation in food is rather essential and though eating a few weeks less healthy during college won't hurt you eating a rather limited diet for longer periods can cause great harm.

Question: don't people that have an urge to squander their 'dole' on drugs or other bad habits just sell their foodstamps? Or is that impossible?

Who the f**k is Megan McArdle and can I have her job as she's obviously too stupid for any kind of paid employment? She can go blog with John Avaricious...sorry Avarosis.

Regards, C

"And, at a guess, all of this applies to Sebastian: except that he attributes the whole to his good organisation skills"

Heh. I've rarely had good organisation skills attributed to me. ;)

I absolutely understand that all sorts of problems from being poor come from the fact that many of them make all sorts of poor choices.

But that isn't a discussion about what you CAN do. That is a discussion about what they choose to do. If you want to say "sure they could easily get enough food to eat on a lot less money if they were taught how to" we would be having a totally different argument. But you are arguing that they MUST starve off of the money available to them. And that almost always is not true in the US. Yes, the poor make all sorts of bad choices for various reasons which are often really not their 'fault' in a sense where coherent blame makes any sense. But that doesn't mean that the best solution is to ignore that fact and move on from there. But instead of teaching them how to fish, we seem more interested in taking dirty fish, throwing them in the dirt and saying 'go for it'.

There is in fact a valuable nugget buried in McArdle's post. Part of her fifth point is:

If you want to give money to the poor, give it to them.

In other words, rather than giving food stamp recipients X dollars of extra food stamps, just give them X dollars. IMO, this is better for any number of reasons. Regrettably, she obscures a simple point with a lot of extraneous nonsense.

I absolutely understand that all sorts of problems from being poor come from the fact that many of them make all sorts of poor choices.

And all sorts of problems come from the fact that they're poor and not from the choices they make.

If you note...some of the problems that were pointed are kinda inherent; it comes from having kids, it comes from living not close to good food areas, it comes from being disabled and so forth. I don't think what you're talking about is applicable to the reality of many people who are poor.

Seb,

A few comments upthread, wonkie claims that she shops for a disabled man using his foodstamps. She claims that it is impossible to provide him with a nutritious diet using just his foodstamps. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that since wonkie is unlikely to be poor, she doesn't tend to make the poor choices that poor people tend to make.


So, can you explain to me, what is it that she's doing wrong? Do you think she's just lying? Do you think she's incompetent? Do you think that despite being rich enough to hang out in online discussion fora and pick up foodstamps for a disabled poor guy, she's secretly poor and thus has all the decision making deficits that you seem to attribute to the poor? Or what?

We can argue about generalities, but I think a discussion of specifics would be much more useful. I'd really like to see you engage wonkie and explain in detail why she's wrong. Given that she's actually doing the shopping, it seems that she knows a lot more about this question than you do, empirically.

Well it is really more complicated than just trying to keep his belly full annd get some nutrition into him too. he has very severe artritis and his finngers are so distorted that he can't open jars, use oa cvan opener, or tear into some kinds f plastic packaginng. Also he can't reach from his wheelchair into his sind to wash dishes. The point being that not onnly do many food stamp users have a hard time getting to the sotre, but once they get home they often have a hard time cooking.

When my husband was a starving college student hhe dug clams to suppliment his diet. But there is a big difference between the days of thhe seventies whhen college sgtudents could et food stamps annd ow. Now you have to be in very dire straits to get food stamps.

People in dire straits are very restricted on their energy. My gentleman, for example, sin't expecting to finnish school and go off to a middle class job. he's expecting to get owrse annd die in a nursing home.

It's a big difference.

BTW I cook big batches of brown rice for him. It's a staple. He doesn't getmuch in thhe way of fresh fruit or vegetables, however. Mostly I have to buy frozen.

Another reason why a poor person might be overweight: food banks. I have two clients who don't get food stamps but do get food delivered to themfrom the food bank. Talk about calories! They get boxes anndboxes of macaroni and cheese, big bags of ramen noodles, tons of stuff like Tuna Helper...

Megan doesn't believe in facts or research. She believes in Truthinesss and what her Econ 101 professor told her.

Per the USDA, seventy percent of men experiencing ‘food insecurity’ are overweight or obese. The percent of ‘food insecure’ adults who are underweight rounds to zero.

I’m kind of a dried-food-in-the-basement guy, so here’s some tips I can offer anyone trying to eat well on food stamps. I checked out the USDA food stamp calculator and a low-income family of four gets $344 dollars per month (~$11/day).

http://www.basic-ingredients.com/index.htm

Green Split Peas: 8 cents per serving
Lentils: 10 cents per serving
Navy Beans: 9 cents per serving
Brown Rice: 9 cents per serving
Raisins: 19 cents per serving
Chicken Bouillon: negligible (44 cents for two pounds)

The above are non-bulk prices from the linked grocery store. In comparison, bulk rice is around 3 cents per serving. I don’t want to minimize the fact that preparing many of the above foodstuffs involves heating water, sometimes for extended periods.

Bernard, we have every reason to believe that McArdle will be in favor of a hypothetical direct grant of cash precisely so long as it's hypothetical. This is a fairly standard rhetorical trick: oppose real possibility A in favor of not currently feasible alternative B, and then if B becomes feasible, oppose it in favor of no-longer-feasible A, not yet feasible C, or both. There is no point at which she ever says anything to the effect of "This current action on behalf of people in need is a good one, and does more good than any complications it may make for an abstractly free market." It's always "Let's not do this because we could do that."

There's a related point that I think is important to make explicit about the liberal/left approach to this kind of social relief. We are talking about, among others, people who are stupid fools. Not just uneducated thanks to bad schools and limited social opportunities, but jerks who refuse to learn, who have horrible judgment, who won't cultivate the basic skills of social interactions. A significant part of their misery is self-inflicted. It's relatively easy to talk about the plight of those who are conscientious hard workers, diligent students, and the like. What do the twits deserve? This is where divergent views of human nature come into play.

When I talk about universal services, I mean it. I don't want the jerks starving or malnourished, or freezing or burning for want of shelter, or any of the rest - I think it's a good use of our collective resources to provide for their basic needs along with those of the rest. I think many services should be focused on those who are willing to work at them, but not the fundamentals. And this puts me across a rather large schism from movement conservatives and libertarians, for whom lingering death by neglect is indeed the right sanction for some kinds of bad behavior. It might be the subject of glee (as it would be from Jonah Goldberg or Vodkapundit) or regret, but in any event something to be endorsed as part of a desirable social order.

And if one feels that lingering death isn't the right response, then the follow-up question must be, why do we throw so many barriers in the face of support? If we don't want these people to suffer, why do we condone such much entirely gratuituous misery along the way to help? There are no answers that reflect well on the advocates of the sort of degrading roadblock that wonkie, Gary, and I and others have described out of our own experience.

Sebastian, I think you're missing the fact that it is possible to make structural changes that will make it easier for poor people to make good/healthy food choices. Example: adding $10/week in farmers' market vouchers to food stamps increases fruit and vegetable consumption among poor families (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/the-farmers-market-effect/) - and did it more than supermarket vouchers. So there's a concrete way to improve people's options that does affect behavior, too.

In the neighborhood where I live, that's a realistic program: there's a good farmers' market 3 blocks away. In the neighborhood where I work, it's not. No farmers' market for miles; no grocery store for at least a mile and a half. No McD's right there either: the crappy food is all cheesesteak/hoagie/Chinese/West African stores. So what you need is some way to get a farmers' market or a grocery store into the neighborhood, which takes money and access to capital and advertising and all kinds of stuff.

I continue to question your judgment about what's realistic for a lot of people. Obviously poor people do irresponsible things and are not saints, but the same is true of the wealthy. There's no point in complaining that food stamps don't work at the epidemiological level because people aren't perfect. It was always going to be true, and we might as well accept it and design policies that actually work.

"Who the f**k is Megan McArdle and can I have her job as she's obviously too stupid for any kind of paid employment? She can go blog with John Avaricious...sorry Avarosis."

Posted by: Cernig

Megan McArdle is a juvenile Thomas Friedman. She's got a Chicago MBA (otherwise known as one of the top 10 B-Schools in the world), but couldn't make a living at it. Apparently other business-trained people don't find her persuasive, or competant.

She figured out that being blithe and superficially good with numbers got her a niche as an allegedly libertarian blogger; she's now an Atlantic Monthly blogger. If you skim their bloggers, and figure that it's pretty thoroughly-skimmed milk, you won't get a disagreement from me. They have clear market niches, and she's the econoblogger (note: the MSM doesn't seem to connect 'liberal' and 'economics', for reasons which wouldn't surprise any cynical liberal).

I call her 'juvenile' because she's just started her professional career, and I found that unique; I sort of figured that this sort of columnist was hatched already in middle age.

Her job is obviously to be a budding Thomas Friedman, the smiling face of neoliberalism.

Besides there are anawful lot of obeses farmers getting fat on farm subsidies thhat cost the taxpayere a hell of a lot more than food stamps do.

I absolutely understand that all sorts of problems from being poor come from the fact that many of them make all sorts of poor choices.

Forgive me if I am not understanding you correctly, but I think you are really missing the point.

There seems to be a lot of quibbling over whether or not some kind of perfectly knowledgeable Mary Poppins robot would be able to maintain a minimum level of nutrition while working two minimum wage jobs and clothing, housing, schooling, babysitting, reading to, doctoring and entertaining two or three children.

(Really, that summary is overly fair to the side of the argument that pretty much dead ends with "$10 rice cooker" and hasn't really addressed any of the other myriad problems of navigating urban sprawl without a car, daycare, disability, illness, injury, coming up with interesting recipes for boiled rice and chicken and getting children to want to eat them, dirty diapers at 2am, information gathering costs, fatigue, depression, psycho roommates and boyfriends, the dangers of waiting 30 minutes with bored children in a checkout line, or the surprising dearth of fresh produce and farmers markets in impoverished neighborhoods.)

But even if you were to successfully defend that thesis, I think it would still leave you sounding pretty callous.

Because the point isn't actually to figure out the bare minimum level of yeast cake dole to keep a perfectly industrious, calculating, rice-cooking, coupon-clipping machine in 2500 Kcals day.

The point is that we're talking about people, and people (*all* people, not just poor ones) make a lot of mistakes. We are talking about compassion, and relieving people from some of the unrelenting pressure of walking a razor's edge where one false step means living in a station wagon or putting your children to bed with growling tummies for the third night in a row.

That means not just a theoretical minimum. It means a comfortable level where even people who make an above average number of mistakes will find it pretty easy to get by without fearing hunger or malnutrition (and yes, corn syrup and white flour fed obesity is a kind of malnutrition).

Gary,
apologies if I attributed a thought to you that you didn't have. I thought it was a fair point, and I just wanted to hang my thoughts about Jane Galt/McArdle on them. Again, apologies.

Megan McArdle could have looked up the figures on food insecurity before announcing its nonexistence.

Or she could have just called me.

Megan McArdle could have looked up the figures on food insecurity before announcing its nonexistence.

Or she could have just called me.

Since "food insecurity" appears to be perfectly consistent with practically everybody who's "food insecure" getting enough food, I think I have to conclude it's just a damned weasel-word meant to mislead. Maybe it "exists", but what exists ain't what people are intended to think of when they hear the phrase.

"To reason that because you know all about how to survive on a limited income as a student and it wasn't that bad means you've touched bottom of poverty in America makes you sound like an ass."

Look, the point here is quite valid: The poor for the most part are not malnourished because they don't have enough funds to buy a healthy diet, they're malnourished because they don't know what a healthy diet IS.

In other words, this is a problem with the EDUCATION SYSTEM. What composes a healthy diet is part of the absolute minimum core of knowledge a functional education system ought to impart to anybody who's not so mentally damaged as to need to be institutionalized.

You throw money at somebody who doesn't know what they should be eating, and they're just going to end up malnourished and fat.

And considering the degree to which maternal nutrition influences both intelligence and health of offspring, malnutrition of this sort is a major public health problem. The extent to which this helps perpetuate the underclass by ensuring that their children won't just be disadvantaged, but also sickly and stupid, is under appreciated.

Identify the real problem here: It isn't food "insecurity", it's that we're not teaching people anything about proper nutrition.

You all might find it hard to believe, but there are, in fact, people who are hungry in the US. I'm with those who say that people shouldn't have to be organizational geniuses not to starve -- especially if they have kids, or are disabled, or are themselves a child. But I've known people who were hungry even so, and who did know about proper nutrition.

Just because Megan McArdle says it isn't so doesn't make her right.

Look, the point here is quite valid: The poor for the most part are not malnourished because they don't have enough funds to buy a healthy diet, they're malnourished because they don't know what a healthy diet IS.

That may be a point.

But I think there is also a point that a healthy diet is a lot more logistically difficult than many people think it is. Some of that can actually be gotten around by giving them more money (because fresh vegetables and milk are more expensive than some of the cheaper foods out there)(and are you REALLY saying that those are luxuries for young children?). Some of them are structurally difficult to get around, such as availability of bulk staples within a half hours distance.

I notice some folks are very much focussed on the behavior of the poor, and have not given much thought on the very real barriers, both in cost and in time (for example, single mothers with children will be spending far more than 8 hours a month shopping). Isnt that a somewhat incomplete approach to the problem?

The best chicken soup ever:

1. Pick up some dark meat, keep your eyes open and you can get leg quarters for under $0.50 per pound. The bones in chicken hips are stronger than in the breast, and make for better soup stock.
2. Boil the hind quarter in a large pot for two hours. Pick the meat off the bones and set it aside. Simmer the chicken bones, skin, and connective tissue overnight to create a soup base. Add salt.
3. Drain bones, skin, and connective tissue the next day and keep the broth.
4. Add some dark meat, rice, beans, chopped carrots, celery, and pepper to the broth. Bring to a boil.
5. Drop back to a simmer and wait six hours.

Voila! A cheap but excellent dinner, costing less than fifty cents per meal. “A chicken in every pot” used to be the promise. Eighty years later and we’re really no different. Other than the unwilling or unable.

2. Boil the hind quarter in a large pot for two hours. Pick the meat off the bones and set it aside. Simmer the chicken bones, skin, and connective tissue overnight to create a soup base. Add salt.

...which requires a person to have a large pot which is good-quality enough for this purpose (most cheap cooking pans aren't useful for long cooking times): to be able to afford the cooking time: to have the time and the energy to be able to spend three hours after you've finished work for the day preparing a meal: and to have a kitchen in which you can leave a pot of soup simmering overnight and expect to find it still there the next morning.

Lacking any of these things makes a person unable to follow your recipe. As you might think for yourself, you know. It's no different now than it was 80 years ago: people who were that poor 80 years ago didn't get to eat chicken soup much either.

But you are arguing that they MUST starve off of the money available to them. And that almost always is not true in the US.

No, this is a slightly different argument.

What they will do is eat the government-subsidised food, because that's cheaper. It's also not healthy, because the US government gives welfare money to agribusiness produce cheap meat and corn syrup, not tomatoes and brown rice. What people who don't have very much money buy is heavily dependent on what the government subsidises.

Separately from this, Bill was arguing that these people wouldn't starve if they were eating 1350 calories a day and working full-time; I and others were pointing out that in fact they would starve.

Now, what would make sense in terms of ensuring that people on a low income would get a proper diet would be, first of all, to ensure that anyone can, at least once a week, easily get to a place where they can buy fresh fruit and vegetables: and make sure that people on a really low income have the extra they need to buy it. Provide recipe cards which take into account the kind of equipment people tend to have and the amount of time they have to prepare a meal. (Hint: they won't look like Bill's.)

As was already noted upthread,
-if you give people on a low income the means and opportunity to eat better, they'll usually take advantage of this.
-if you stand at a distance and go "Let them eat rice!/Why don't they buy a rice cooker?" you get to feel a comforting sense of moral superiority.

There is a difference between the two outcomes. Can you spot what it is?

The families that landed here one hundred years ago, including my grandfather, figured it out and got on with their lives. Without handouts. Maybe some Lass agreed to borrow him a pot until he earned his own.

Never underestimate the human genome.

Very nicely said, Jes.

What most people who focus on the "personal responsibility" aspect of poverty and hunger lack, I think, is the ability or desire to truly put themselves in the poor/hungry person's shoes.

I could never really grok the argument. It's a complaint about someone else's lack of responsibility, used to dismiss one's own personal responsibility.

Now we're on to "Things were better a hundred years ago!" are we? Bill, that works almost as badly as comparing poor in the US to poor in Guatamela.

"Never underestimate the human genome."

Especially since it's given rise to creatures who care about whether other creatures are poor and hungry, regardless of whether they're lazy or industrious.

The families that landed here one hundred years ago, including my grandfather, figured it out and got on with their lives.

Oh, don't go there.

Just admit that you don't have a clue on what it's like to exist as a poor person in America and we can go onward from there. Even after other people have pointed out various factors that may be relevant, you simply aren't thinking it through.

That's irresponsible. At the very least in modern American, you need to think things through.

The stupid have always been punished, a trend that I predict will continue.

The families that landed here one hundred years ago, including my grandfather, figured it out and got on with their lives.

Mine too. A great grandfather on my mothers side fed his family digging ditches. I mean, literally.

A bit more than a hundred years before that, my old man's forebears came over as indentured servants. My old man grew up shooting squirrels for meat and trading eggs for staples like sugar, salt, and coffee.

You can, in fact, put together a decent diet from cheap basic commodities. Legumes -- beans and peas -- along with carbs like rice or pasta make a nutritious and filling meal for very short money. Round it out with some cheap animal protein and whatever fresh vegetables are on sale, and you can do OK.

Onions are always cheap. Dandelions are tasty, healthful, and grow in the damn yard 8 or 9 months out of the year. Hunting isn't really practical in a lot of places, but you can fish pretty much anywhere there's water. You can get a meal's worth of mackerel in a can for about a buck.

It is true that decent grocery stores are often scarce in poor neighborhoods. Goods there also often cost more than at comparable stores in less poor neighborhoods. So, there is that.

But, as you note, people find a way.

In none of this do I find any explanation of why, if we're going to have a program for stimulating the economy by encouraging spending, it's a bad idea to give some of that money to poor people in the form of food stamps.

They'll spend the money. The economy will be stimulated. They'll eat better.

What's your beef? I don't get it.

Thanks -

I would have a lot more respect for the blame-the-poor perspective coming from people who call themsleves conservatives or libertarians if thhe same folks spent an equal amount of time or even better yet a larger amount of time bitching about how the military industrial complex or profitable corportations waste their subsidies.

it seems to me to be very small minded and petty and nasty to gripe about someone wasting their food stmps on fish sticks whn the timber industry ( as just one example of many) wastes far more of our resources.

BTW you can't make that excellent soup if your fingers are so distorted with arthritis that you can't lift a heavy pot.


In order to be eligible for food stamps a person has to be in great need for compelling reasons. Meanwhile the politicians who get all nasty about food stamps are the same ones who bail out S & L's, throw money at mortgage companies and shower dollars on Halliburton.

it is true that a prudent and careful shopper can make better use of food stamps than a person who isn't prudent and careful. But even if every sinngle food stamp recepient wasted every cent they got they still all together wouldn't add up to the amount of money cattle ranchers extort out of the tax payers through their red state Republican representatives.

One of my cliennts is a wheelchair bouund lady who can't drive and lives alone. Her one pleasure is eating. How small minded and nasty to begrude her the food of her choice.

Which isn't to say that some helpful guidance toward healthier food would be a bad thing. But wouldn't that require expeditures on someone to provide that guidance? Would that self proclaimed conserrvatives and libertarians be willing to pay for that?

As usual the conservative and liberatarian argument is just a ratinalization for selfishness.

I don't think people who put forward the darwinism argument really understand what they are saying and how it really misses the point. Within any population, there are going to be people who have talents that could really help society. By adopting a notion that people must prove their fitness to survive by being able to perform low level tasks naturally excludes anyone who might, have special potential to do something extraordinary at a high level, but is 'too dumb' to survive. The Wikipedia entry for absent minded professor is interesting in this regard.

A growing awareness of Asperger's syndrome has lent a new dimension to this stereotype. Asperger's is considered to be a disorder in the autism spectrum. Persons with Asperger's syndrome often have advanced intelligence and language skills, while their attention is often focused on one narrow area of interest to the exclusion of other important aspects of life, which fits with the stereotype of the absent-minded professor. A person labeled as being an absent-minded professor is often forgetful and is so full of ideas that he is usually not in touch with reality. Sometimes the absent-minded professor will intentionally disconnect with reality to increase the focus on subjects that are of interest to him. This disconnect sometimes means lack of social grace in order to focus more keenly on his work. Sometimes absent-minded professors are diagnosed with a host of disorders but these disorders are sometimes inaccurate.[2] Evidence suggests that some of the historical figures named above might have had Asperger's syndrome. In fact, the brain of Albert Einstein has been examined physically, and it shows many of the signs characteristic of autism.[3]

When we create a society that has notions of survival related to negotiating a range of low level tasks, setting aside how difficult they may be to complete in certain circumstances, we are basically ensuring that people who might have special insights into certain things are consigned to a menial existence, or even death (which is certainly implied by the invocation of darwinian selection). If notions of liberalism have resulted in progress, insofar as expanding the ability for previously marginalized groups to participate in society has created a better world, then an argument that darwinian selection thru difficulty in obtaining proper nutrition is exceedingly shortsighted.

Wonkie: Very much agreed about balance. And I've commented elsewhere that I think it's sensible to apply a sort of passion test. I've talked with too many libertarians and conservatives who do mention offhandedly the corrupting influence and wasteful use of subsidies to businesses and the rich, but whose passion is for ranting about the evils of helping the poor, the sick, and others in need. They can talk in a calm sort of way about waste and fraud in export subsidies, correctly note the health problems associated with high-fructose corn syrup, and so on. But what they really want to rant about, intensely and at great length, is about just why the poor have enough to eat, about why the bad judgment of the poor is so much nastier and disgusting than the bad judgment of the rich, about how removing an element of risk and dread from life ruins the poor for their role as labor, and on and on. They may well deplore unnecessary handouts to the rich, but they mobilize to fight handouts to the poor. And like that. It says something about where the treasure of their hearts is.

Also, as others are noting, it's not wild-eyed socialists saying that increasing food stamp allotments would be a good channel for economic stimulus. It's mainstream and conservative voices in economics doing that. "Poor people are yucky" is not an adequate response to economic analysis, it's just an excuse for dodging the data.

Random late-night thought: I'm struck by how much I'm inclined these days to think of large accumulations of capital in notional terms very similar to those I'd used to describe obesity in people who aren't pushed into it by bad circumstances. There's nothing innately bad about a dollar any more than a calorie, but if you pile up too many of either, it's overwhelmingly likely that more and more of one's resources will go to propping up that stuff rather than actually using it for purposes beyond sustaining itself. Nor is it a purely personal matter, because big collections of capital put loads on their society just like the obese do with their health risks: corrupted legislative and executive operations, media manipulation, and all the rest.

Bruce,
Isn't that partly (but perhaps not totally) to do with power imbalances and such? The poor can't mobilize campaigns to demonize people who take issue with food stamps or subsidized housing or the like.

Man, this "8 hours a month" shopping . . . you people are, to put the politest possible spin I can on it, entirely misinformed.

About 12 years ago, my wife and I had to spend about two years living without a car. Now, these are the circumstances -- we were:

-- Both working, but bringing in less than $50,000 a year combined. Both of our jobs were desk jobs.
-- Without dependents, either children or elderly parents, to take care of.
-- Living in a near-west-side Cleveland suburb, about 6 miles out of downtown.
-- Both pretty well-educated (I have a BA, she was about 3/4 towards hers).
-- Not poor, but had mountains of debt that were eating up a lot of our income.

We had a decent grocery store (Topps), about 10 blocks away. We also had the Cleveland West Side Market, just across the river from downtown, about 5 miles from our house.

To shop at the grocery store, we could walk, bike or take the bus in good weather. Walking or using the bus entailed using those two-wheeled grocery carts. My wife and I would each bring one -- hauling them those kind of distances tends to wear them out easily, so we'd have to replace them each at least once a year. If we took them on the bus, we were required to unload all the bags out of the cart and onto the bus, fold up the cart, then reverse the process when we got off the bus. If we biked to the store, we were limited in each trip to what our bike baskets could carry -- maybe 2-3 days worth of groceries.

In the winter, we were limited to walking or busing. If we walked, we were doing it through, sometimes, thigh-high snow, in which case we couldn't use the carts and could carry, if we struggled, 6 bags each. (Three bags in each hand.) If that trip included purchases of milk or detergent or cat litter, take that down to 4 bags each.

To use the West Side Market, forget walking -- we weren't about to haul two carts worth of produce five miles each way, and in any case, it wouldn't have been a safe walk. We had to use the bus, and the bus that ran that way only came once every 40 minutes on the weekends.

So, we weren't even poor by any reasonable definition, but had limitations -- some of them serious -- on how and when we could shop, even with the presence of places to buy good food. Eight hours a month? I would have KILLED to get all our shopping done in eight hours a month. Try twelve to fifteen, minimum, just for travel, shopping, and loading/unloading time.

I literally cannot imagine what it would have been like if we were trying to feed a family of three or four, with even more severe time and mobility restraints, and after working a job that demanded standing all day or physical labor. I bet it would have taken 20 hours or more per month just to shop.

Hey, who wants to sign up for the Food Stamp Challenge?

As for chicken soup, the product of 8 hours of simmering:

Even the cost to run the stove that long isn't minor any more, especially when measured against the resources of people who need food stamps. The last time I got my propane bill, I gasped at how much it had gone up in just half a year. And that was during a time when I had been away a lot, and cooking at home very little.

I know, I'm just too lazy to go out and cut some firewood to cook with.....

"Now, what would make sense in terms of ensuring that people on a low income would get a proper diet would be, first of all, to ensure that anyone can, at least once a week, easily get to a place where they can buy fresh fruit and vegetables"

Well then why are so many people so resistant to allowing WalMart in large cities? We have this perfectly good system of distributing cheap but good fresh fruit and vegetables which lefties here and everywhere go off on any time it tries to operate in a poor neighborhood. (See most recently Chicago).

I fully agree with you about the stupid farm subsidies. There is no economic reason to be propping up the milk price and keeping it out of poor people's reach. (Though on the flip side, you said that they don't have refrigerators so that would tend to make the price of milk pretty much irrelevant).

LJ: Certainly, about power imbalances. It's a nasty reinforcing cycle.

Bernard, we have every reason to believe that McArdle will be in favor of a hypothetical direct grant of cash precisely so long as it's hypothetical.

Bruce,

I agree with you on this.

"which requires a person to have a large pot which is good-quality enough for this purpose (most cheap cooking pans aren't useful for long cooking times)"

I find that you can simmer soup stock, and even the thickest soups, without burning, if you place your cheap pot in a cast iron frying pan. (It distributes the heat evenly) Which are both cheaper than those non-stick wonders, and last for generations.

Sebastian, if you are honestly unaware-- and I mean, real, honest-to-goodness, what's-everyone-talking about utterly unaware -- of the variety of issues at work concerning Wal-Mart vis-a-vis poor people, and the competing interests that people try to think about and balance when talking about a new store in any particular neighborhood, you need a lot more education than you're going to get on this thread.

If, on the other hand, you are simply being coy, and ignoring away those issues in favor of baiting people with "Why not just open more Wal-Marts," I'd suggest such a tactic is entirely unproductive.

If there's another option I'm not considering, I'm open to hearing it.

"If poor people have such trouble making ends meet, why do lefties howl every time a bunch of new payday loan places open up in poor neighborhoods? We have a perfectly good system of distributing money quickly to poor people."

If you think putting a WalMart in has any thing remotely like the problems of a payday loan store, you're the one who doesn't have a good handle on the issues.

For the kind of poor people we are talking about having a Walmart available to them would be a very good thing. They aren't running the mom and pop stores that might have trouble with WalMart, nor are they working in them. (In fact this whole thread has essentially been a complaint about how bad those mom and pop stores are for the eating habits and budgets of poor people).

It may very well be that WalMart interferes with other progressive ideals that are important to you. But welcome to the world of trade-offs. All policies have them. Your worries about unionization or what have you (and these poor people clearly are having trouble getting even non-union pay-level jobs much less being squeezed out of jobs at double or triple the pay) have very little to do with the fact that WalMart really does provide cheap healthy food in poor neighborhoods when we let them. They also provide cheap unhealthy food--and then we are back to the whole poor choices thing.

Walmart has generally placed their stores in locations that require driving (and parking lots that seem to create Meanderthals), so Walmarts have not been a panacea in the places where they have sprung up. I'm open to the idea that they might be very useful in poorer neighborhoods, but I'm wondering if you have any examples where they have been permitted and we have seen improvements in these areas, because I haven't heard of improved diet being a side effect of WalMart introduction, which would be something that I would think the company would boast of if it were able to make such a claim. Also, because WalMart has not only low prices, but also low wages, low benefits, it has been argued that it increases the number of people on the margins, which would, if true, lead to a sort of zero sum, in that you may be feeding more people, but you are doing it by placing more people at risk.

Here's a link that discusses the dueling reports for LA concerning WalMarts there.

If you think putting a WalMart in has any thing remotely like the problems of a payday loan store, you're the one who doesn't have a good handle on the issues.

Oh, I see, I confused you: I was objecting to the introduction of an at-best problematic solution as a panacea, which was what you appeared to be doing.

It may very well be that WalMart interferes with other progressive ideals that are important to you. But welcome to the world of trade-offs. All policies have them.

That answers that. You were aware that there were policy issues involved beyond just opening the store, but were coyly ignoring them away to bait people. Very productive.

You also seem to be insinuating that people who find Wal-Mart openings problematic don't prioritize their own values correctly, an argument that I doubt you would countenance for more than about 15 nanoseconds were someone to bring up poor people who vote against their own economic self-interest in favor of abortion restrictions and gay marriage bans.

WalMart really does provide cheap healthy food in poor neighborhoods when we let them. They also provide cheap unhealthy food--and then we are back to the whole poor choices thing.

No, we're back to the convenience, time and education thing. I've already demolished your "8 shopping hours a month" argument, but you can keep coming back to this if you want.

The Wal-Mart nearest me is in a strip center that's not directly accessible by bus; for people without cars, it's only reachable by a tiny "community circulator" bus, about a third the size of a regular bus, that runs once every half hour. It begins and ends its run at the RTA station near Case Western Reserve University, and its stops are mostly on campus, so it doesn't really reach a lot of poor neighborhoods. If someone wants to use it to shop, they'll have to either take a bus line that stops quite a distance away from the store and walk it; take a bus line to the RTA station, which may be way out of their way; or take a bus line to somewhere that the circulator goes past. All three of those things are kind of a major inconvenience. Particularly if the schedules for the buses don't quite coincide, so you have to stand out in the cold for a long time.

"Walmart has generally placed their stores in locations that require driving (and parking lots that seem to create Meanderthals), so Walmarts have not been a panacea in the places where they have sprung up."

This was true of their initial growth ten years ago where they brought the stores to rural areas. True, it required driving, but not the 30 miles to the nearest large town that such rural areas would have had before.

The story of recent growth however has been in the cities. And when Walmart has tried to move into cities, we have seen things like the Chicago council or the entire state of California trying to ban it.

Again, the people we are talking about here aren't even able to hold a minimum wage job--the idea that if it weren't for WalMart they would have union wage $15-20/hour jobs is rather surprising.

"Also, because WalMart has not only low prices, but also low wages, low benefits, it has been argued that it increases the number of people on the margins, which would, if true, lead to a sort of zero sum, in that you may be feeding more people, but you are doing it by placing more people at risk."

This doesn't make good sense as an economic argument. With the number of people WalMart employs and the differential in pay, it can't come close to making up the difference in savings considering the enormous customer base. Even if you posit a ridiculous $20 pay differential for every single worker (and I'm spotting you a huge amount on the typical bag-boy) you would only need 30 or so people an hour saving $20 to make up for it. Any WalMart that has only 30 people an hour saving $20 is a WalMart that isn't going to get opened. On any real number of shoppers, even on a much lower level of savings, it will more than net out.

And 'depressing' grocery wages elsewhere assumes that we *ought* not employ these people in other areas if groceries can be sold cheaply. Those people can, should, and do work in other non-grocery areas that are better for the economy as a whole.

My problem in this context is that the whole thread is (without naming them directly) about how bad the mom and pop stores are for poor people--they have high prices, they have bad selection, they aren't open at convenient hours, etc.). But the second I mention WalMart, suddenly we have to worry that these mom and pop stores are gold that we will be flushing down the toilet.

As a point of reference, in my tiny studio ($500/month rent), I have an under-counter mini-fridge that's 33' x 10' x 19', including the freezer, which is large enough for 2 tv dinners and a pint of ice cream. So storage options for food cooked or uncooked is limited. Putting another fridge in isn't an option, both for reasons of expense and lack of space.

Beyond that, I have two burners and no stove, but over the years have acquired a microwave and a toaster oven; cabinet space is about the size of the fridge, although I have a bureau I also use for food storage.

It was distinctly easier to spend less on food when I could cook up big pots of stuff, and both freeze it and keep enough for a week at a time in the fridge. In this apt., that's not an option.

Currently there's a good supermarket four long blocks away, and 3 more within short bus rides. This is good. In NYC, outside of Brooklyn, I was always a good bus ride away from a lousy tiny supermarket, or a long bus or subway ride (45 minutes to an hour) away from a good supermarket, with the only alternative very low-qualities bodegas of very limited selection.

Seattle, it was a short bus ride to a good supermarket.

Not a problem in itself for the able-bodied, but more so if you're not.

"You were aware that there were policy issues involved beyond just opening the store, but were coyly ignoring them away to bait people."

Nope. The policy issues involved beyond just opening them aren't particularly serious in the context of actual poor people who are having trouble making ends meet. They are mostly serious for the local grocery which YOU say forces people to pay unfairly high prices, is open at inconvenient hours, and has poor selection. You can have whatever other policy preferences you want, but in this context your policy preferences are hurting a very practical solution just as much as any real conservative policy.

"The Wal-Mart nearest me is in a strip center that's not directly accessible by bus; for people without cars, it's only reachable by a tiny "community circulator" bus, about a third the size of a regular bus, that runs once every half hour. It begins and ends its run at the RTA station near Case Western Reserve University, and its stops are mostly on campus, so it doesn't really reach a lot of poor neighborhoods. If someone wants to use it to shop, they'll have to either take a bus line that stops quite a distance away from the store and walk it; take a bus line to the RTA station, which may be way out of their way; or take a bus line to somewhere that the circulator goes past. All three of those things are kind of a major inconvenience. Particularly if the schedules for the buses don't quite coincide, so you have to stand out in the cold for a long time."

Are you complaining that WalMart isn't everywhere yet? Because my whole 'it isn't in lots of poor neighborhoods yet' thesis kind of already noticed that.

But the good news for you is that if *your* store isn't very accessible, it isn't much of threat to the mom and pop stores you think are so crucial. Hooray!

But if you think that is an argument against having them in poor neighborhoods, you'll have to explain yourself more.

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