The grain dole of America

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Ben points to the a new article in The New York Times, Across U.S., Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades. The county-by-county data are of interest. I’ve just snatched the csv file, which they made available. Andrew Gelman has a modest critique of the assertion that 50% of children are on food stamps at some point in their childhood. The variance in utilization rates of the program by region (50% in California vs. 98% in Missouri) of those eligible, as well as the near saturation of utilization in much of the Black Belt and highland South (the Appalachians and the Ozarks), implies to me that while in some American subcultures the program is seen as a stop-gap in others it is a background condition of life. A minimum income guarantee or grain dole basically. Also, I recently heard a radio interview with Kevin Concannon, an under secretary of agriculture. In response to criticism of misrepresentation of the results of reports of hunger in America his stance was basically “statistics, schmamistics.”

The reason that I’m fixating a bit on the issue of hunger in America is that we’re also told that there’s an “obesity epidemic” in this country, in particular among the lower classes. Often from the same policy elites who point to long lines at soup kitchens as evidence of a surfeit of food! To be hungry sometimes is uncomfortable, I know this personally, I am hungry sometimes. Though for me it has to do with the fact that I don’t think that the immediate response to hunger always has to be food to satiate the pangs (I don’t like to eat past a certain hour). Nutritional belt tightening isn’t necessarily a bad thing, remember that the Great Depression saw an increase in life expectancy.

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11 Comments

  1. It appears that your closing examples of life expectancy during the great depression don’t appear to show a correlation to food supply issues. 
     
    Diet is mentioned as one of multiple factors that may have contributed to an increase in life span, but the University of Michigan researchers appear to concede that the actual explanations go beyond the scope of their study.

  2. It appears that your closing examples of life expectancy during the great depression don’t appear to show a correlation to food supply issues. 
     
     
    yes they do. they don’t show the causation. ergo, “isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

  3. p.s. because of lack of means tested social welfare programs nutritional deficits were a much more serious issue during the great depression. i doubt people will get much thinner during this recession.

  4. I am pretty sure the same trope (tripe?) is used in the healthcare debate. But I am not certain, because I am not certain the real situation makes the tripe quite as tripe-ish. 
     
    What I mean is that people (David Brooks) write about the “terror” of possibly getting some severe illness when you are uninsured. I’m pretty sure you have to come down to a certain threshold of wealth and income before you can receive Medicaid in the USA, but I’m sure the threshold in question would be *extremely* non-grueling by any halfway-thoughtful standard. 
     
    Can anyone confirm or deny that my picture is correct? I definitely havent noticed sick people dying in the streets, but is there any odd, rare way that you would really get a raw deal — in a sense where having to live on some amount like 35k a year “just because you happened to get sick” does *not* qualify as raw?

  5. Actually, its true that there are some ill homeless people dying in the streets, but thats kind of a special exception to what I meant. After all the bulk of the ill ones probably includes only about two syndromes, namely major depression or light psychosis. And maybe PTSD. The other 5 zillion diseases in the world arent really much overrepresented on the mean streets.

  6. food is (relatively) cheap, healthcare is (relatively) expensive.* i’m not interested in having a debate about healthcare and the utility of the analogy since there are plenty of places to talk about that. 
     
    * or perhaps more precisely, the expected variance in food expenditure is generally far less than the variance in healthcare expenditure. of course if someone goes from cooking at home to eating at french restaurants oen can change the expenditure a lot, but that’s probably not typical.

  7. My mistake, “causation” was what I was trying to get at, not “correlation”.

  8. That map is a pretty strong signal that people in Appalachia need to evacuate and move to the Rocky Mountains. There’s still a mountain boy culture, but they’ll actually have good jobs. 
     
    But why should people have to leave the idyll of West Virginia just because it’s not sustainable? We need bigger subsidies just to make sure our Appalachian menagerie stays intact. 
     
    Anyone with common sense, like my mother’s side of the family, gets the hell out. Other people need tougher incentives, and running low on food is about as clear as it gets.

  9. The vast majority of us are preposterously overfed, and that’s even more true for poor people, so I agree that food stamps are counterproductive. 
     
    Speaking of HBD and food, I have a new biorealist blog, Personal HBD. As the name suggests, it’s more about the personal than the political consequences of biorealism. Coincidentally enough, my first post is about biorealistic diet, universal diets kill.

  10. To be hungry sometimes is uncomfortable, I know this personally, I am hungry sometimes. Though for me it has to do with the fact that I don?t think that the immediate response to hunger always has to be food to satiate the pangs (I don?t like to eat past a certain hour). 
     
    What a way to trivialize other people?s hunger by insinuating that they can?t distinguish between physical hunger and psychological hunger. It?s even more important to distinguish between voluntary hunger and involuntary hunger. Those who don?t have enough to eat may not have the privilege of experiencing psychological hunger.

  11. Generic commenter, 
     
    The vast majority of us are preposterously overfed, and that’s even more true for poor people, so I agree that food stamps are counterproductive. 
     
    The purpose of food stamps is to alleviate hunger/food insecurity, for that purpose they?re 
    not counterproductive.

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