Tuesday, June 26, 2012
"If you give money to those people, they will never learn to help themselves. You know that the more you give people like that, the more they will want, until eventually they will come to expect it, then you've created a whole group of people who are dependent on the Big Government. The most loving thing we can do is help them to learn to live on their own, without help from our government, then not only will they be productive members of society, but we can keep some more of our tax money so that everybody else will have more money to spend, which will hopefully lead to to a healthier economy and higher wages for everybody. I know it may hurt some of those people in the short term, but in the long run they will appreciate it. After all, we've been handing out money since the 1940s, and nothing has really changed, has it? In fact, the only thing that has happened is some bad apples have learned to abuse the system and get way more than they deserve, while the people that really need it have to suffer."
This is a pretty typical conversation that you might have with somebody when you bring up the subject of food stamps in the United States. I know, because for a good part of my life, that would have been my exact response when faced with the same conversation. The argument is essentially, "give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day, teach him to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." It is a wise saying, and I think 100% true... in a perfect world, where fishing equipment is available to all, and lakes can be accessed by everybody, and all fishermen are willing to share their skills with people who don't know a Bass from a Baseball.
What if I told you I wasn't talking about food stamps? What if I told you I was talking about farm subsidies instead?
We have been subsidizing farming in the country since the Great Depression. The idea was that farming was not only necessary for our survival, but that by helping farmers with monetary aid, the money would flow out into the hands of the farm workers, who lived in rural, poor areas. Farm subsidies have succeeded in keeping our food supply relatively cheap and secure, but they have also had detrimental effects such as encouraging conglomeration of farms and the development of GMO crops that are having known and unknown consequences.
From 1995-2010, the largest 10 percent of farms got 76 percent of the $262 billion the federal government spent on farm support. Their average annual payment was $30,751—while the bottom 80 percent of farms that received support got an average of $587.1 2
The idyllic image of the family farm has in most instances become nothing more than a marketing campaign for large agribusiness, spurred on, ironically, by the very programs initially meant to help the family farm survive and thrive. Farm subsidies have also led to gluts of "commodity crops," especially corn, which has led to cheap calories which has led to our nation's obesity epidemic which has led to our countless health problems. How, you might ask? Because crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, etc. are subsidized, given federal insurance protection, and price controlled, whereas all fruits and vegetables (except apples) are considered "specialty crops" by the USDA, and therefore restricted not only in acres planted, but also in the subsidies they receive. Why is fresh produce so expensive while cheetos are so cheap? Because our tax dollars are subsidizing that bag of cheetos, but not those carrots you want!
I don't want to turn this into a research paper (though here is an excellent one if you want to read one!) What I do want to point out is the double standard of the American public when it comes to government assistance.
I also don't want to give the impression that I am against farm subsidies. I think that our farm subsidies are a great idea, and I want to be sure the readers understand I want family farmers to have the help they need to survive tough years, produce good healthy food, and make a wage worthy of the work they do - which is some of the most honorable work a person can do!
We need to reform the farm bill, and that won't happen until we learn more about the problems that currently exist with it.
We also need to reform our attitudes.
Nobody seems to make an issue out of farmers relying on government assistance, even though it has been conclusively proven that the vast majority of that money goes to large corporations that don't need the assistance to survive, meanwhile people talk about "dependency" when "those people" who need direct assistance in the form of food stamps need money from the public treasury.
It is, admittedly a complicated issue, and it may seem out of place on a preacher's blog, but I would hope you will come to understand it isn't. Food, justice, health, and the economy are all inseparably tied to one another - and these become spiritual issues when we see them through the frame of the Gospel that asks us to:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
- Proverbs 31:8-9
at 10:25 AM