There is a concept in business that you should manage exceptions not manage to the exceptions. Basically it means that if you have a couple of minor problems with a process you should deal with the people making the problems rather than make a policy that is so restrictive that, while preventing this problem, encumbers everyone who is involved in the process so shackled that it reduces output, innovation and efficiency.
When it comes to public policy, Republicans can’t seem to grasp this idea. There is a good example of this in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. James Bovard is a “Pox on both your houses” libertarian who likes to point out problems without viable solutions.
Yesterday he took to his roost at the WSJ and cawed out a column about the abuses of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which used to be called Food Stamps. Mr. Bovard gives several examples of abuse and fraud in the program that currently helps 44 million Americans feed themselves.
He makes the argument that the Obama Administration’s decision not to spend a lot of time and money on fraud enforcement is a major problem. Or more correctly he just complains. Here is part of what he had to say:
The Obama administration is far more enthusiastic about boosting food-stamp enrollment than about preventing fraud. Thanks in part to vigorous federally funded campaigns by nonprofit groups, the government’s AmericaCorps service program, and other organizations urging people to accept government handouts, the number of food-stamp recipients has soared to 44 million from 26 million in 2007, and costs have more than doubled to $77 billion from $33 billion.
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service now has only 40 inspectors to oversee almost 200,000 merchants that accept food stamps nationwide. The Government Accountability Office reported last summer that retailers who traffic illegally in food stamps by redeeming stamps for cash or alcohol or other prohibited items “are less likely to face criminal penalties or prosecution” than in earlier years.
I think that we can all agree that we don’t want fraud and waste in any government program, however I am at a loss as to why it is more important that we crack down on people who are in need than it is we crack down on say Medicare fraud, which is just as rampant but costs the United States tax payer far more.
What has set off this Randite writer is that there have been 35 states that have removed the asset testing from the SNAP program. In theory (and in a single case that he cites) this could mean that someone who has a million dollars in assets but no monthly income could collect nutrition assistance.
Which is true, there is a this douche-bag in Michigan who won 2 million in the lottery. He continued to apply for and receive food stamps because he took a lump sum pay out. No income means the qualifies for food stamps.
Is it a deplorable act? You bet your ass, Mr. Leroy Frick has earned himself a place in the pantheon of World Class Assholes. Is it reason to put hard curbs on food assistance when millions of Americans are out of work and are running out of unemployment benefits? Hell No.
When your nation is in a crisis, feeding your people is an important idea. As Bovard notes the expansion of nutrition assistance started under the Bush Administration (even the worst criminals can get some things right). It was the correct thing to politically and as human beings, to try to make sure that in a country that boasts the largest economy in the world we don’t have people starving in the streets.
Should we prosecute merchants and recipients that commit fraud in this program? Of course we should. But what gets my goat about this is that Bovard would be the first to say that we should remove regulations and inspections on business.
It is just fine to have lax regulation of business but gods greater and lesser help the citizen that gets a little help from the government and does not do it exactly right. It is like the pernicious random drug testing that Governor Rick Scott (AKA Lex Luthor) signed into law for welfare recipients’. It isn’t designed to help these people but find another excuse to kick them out of the program.
All of this bloviating by Bovard is really based on his convictions that the government should never help the people. It is a belief that they should be left “at liberty” even if that liberty is to be without health insurance or food to feed themselves or their kids. He ends his little complaint fest with:
H.L. Mencken quipped that the New Deal divided America into “those who work for a living and those who vote for a living.” The explosion in the number of food-stamp recipients tilts the political playing field in favor of big government. The more people who become government dependents, the more likely that democracy will become a conspiracy against self-reliance.
This is just great for his intended audience. This column was intended to do nothing but stir up outrage in the wealthy and make them smug about the fact that the “little people” abuse any system designed to help them.
The fact that he uses that Menken quote shows this is not even a dog whistle, just about every reader of the WSHJ is going to consider themselves part of the former group and abused by the latter group.
The problem with this idea is that self-reliance is a myth. No one at the top of our earnings food chain got there all on their own. They went to great schools, from grade school on. These people benefitted from their parents money and connections. The “masters of the universe” have huge staffs that do all the detail work that allows them to become millionaires and billionaires.
No human can ever be completely self reliant. We live in cities and towns, that means that most of us can’t grow our own food or generate our own electricity. We are all cogs in the machinery of our society. Even at the top, they have a role that they are supposed to play (and are failing miserably at, but that is for another post).
The myth of self-reliance that the Randites and Conservatives espouse is just a way to keep people divided. It is part a parcel of wearing down organizations like Labor. When the workers all believe that they are weak if they need anyone else, then it becomes nearly impossible to band together to counter power like Bovards friends and employers have.
Yes, everyone should work to take care of themselves as much as they can. However when the nation has a crisis caused by folks like Bovard and it puts millions out of work and the government steps in to bail those assholes out, it is also incumbent on the government to do something for those who are suffering at no fault of their own.
Bitching about the exceptions rather than managing them might be a good way to gin up political outrage in the moneyed classes, but it does not do anything to solve a problem with a program that is very much needed, even if some people cheat the system.
The floor is yours.