A Philosopher's Blog

$21

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 5, 2007

The typical food stamp recipient receives $21 a week in federal aid. Recently, some law makers decided to see for themselves what that would buy. They decided to go for a week eating only what $21 would purchase. Given that the budget per meal would be $1, it was hardly a shock when they found that they could buy very little food and almost nothing that would be considered high quality, healthy food.

Given the scant support available, it is good that a bill has been proposed to significantly increase the aid provided, especially to families. Although this proposal certainly seems pro-life, pro-family and pro-American values, there are some who disagree with this.

The classic objection is that the poor are lazy and simply milking the system. While there are no doubt some people who do exploit the system, the evidence seems to show that most of the adults on food stamps work. I make special mention of adults because many of the Americans on food stamps are children. Saying that these kids are lazy and exploiting America is a rather cold and cruel thing to say. Even if you believe that adults should take care of themselves, it is morally unacceptable to let children go hungry simply to hold true to an abstract political ideal about rugged individualism.

Of course, some people have said that the poor are putting their children in this situation by being irresponsible and by having children in the first place. This does raise a point of great concern. On one hand, I believe that people should not have children unless they are responsible enough to care for those children. In my own case, I would not even have a pet if I could not provide for it. It is, to say the least, morally irresponsible to have children without the means to provide them with adequate food, care and shelter. On the other hand, the view that only those who are adequately wealthy have the right to have children certainly strikes me as morally questionable. As Aristotle claimed, a family is one of the great goods in life and to claim that poor people should not have families is to say that they should be denied yet another good.

Laying aside the philosophical points, the fact is that there are kids now who live in poverty and are hungry. To say that the poor should not have kids does nothing to help these kids.

It might be said that the kids are not our responsibility. It would be nice to help them, but we have no obligation to do so.

Perhaps this is true-perhaps we owe nothing to other people, not even children. Perhaps we are not our brother’s keeper. Perhaps our hearts are cold and empty. I would like to think that we are better than that, that we will not let children suffer because of ideology.

One final point-food stamps are a medicine that eases the symptoms but does not cure the disease. Providing more aid and support is a good thing, but what is truly needed is a way to ensure that people can earn a living wage and put healthy, adequate food on the table for themselves and their kids.

If, as the Bush administration claims, we have a culture of life and should follow Christian ethics, then we should feed the hungry and see to it that the children suffer not.

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One Response

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  1. The Imugi said, on June 8, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    For all this talk of “family values”, I don’t see the current administration doing much in support of the family. I think Aristotle and Confucius, both of whom were “family-man” philosophers, would be apalled by our lack of priorities re: the family.

    Generally, “family values” is just code for: “Two dudes shouldn’t be allowed to marry each other.”


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