Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Archive for May 2013

National and Social Security and the Right to Eat

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Vegetarian diet

By Scott Bauer, USDA ARS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Section 2 of the National School Lunch Act of 1946 reads,

It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States,  through grants-in-aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of foods and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, and expansion of nonprofit school-lunch programs.

In the hearings for this Act,Major General Lewis B. Hershey testified to Congress that 16% of Selective Service registrants in World War II were rejected from service or placed in the limited service class and that malnutrition or underfeeding played a likely role in somewhere between 40% and 60% of these cases (U.S. Congress 1945). Congress felt the need to remedy this situation and, thus, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), under which the federal government provides cash and commodity aid to states for localities to use in serving warm lunches to students, was seen as a “measure of national security.”

I ran across this in a paper by Peter Hinrichs on the health and educational effects of the school lunch program. It’s striking to think of a program designed to help the poor as a ‘national security’ measure, but it’s true that a great deal of government action in the  World War II and post-War period was justified on this basis. (I’d love to see a geneology of the ideas of social security–which originally meant something far more broad than today’s meaning of Old Age Insurance, and national security, and how the latter overcame the former as the main justification for the welfare state.)

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Written by David Kaib

May 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Culpability and Change: The Bangladesh Disaster (Again)

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[Update: Jerry Davis had a longer piece on this issue at Yale Global Online.]

Jerry Davis objects to my post, accusing me of misreading him because I didn’t read him (allegedly).  “I would not summarize my argument as ‘Blame the consumers,’ and tried to be careful not to phrase it this way.” I gather part of the complaint is that ‘blame the consumers’ implies it is solely their fault, whereas (at points) Davis is clear blame is shared. Fair enough.

Let’s start with the original post.

Blame quickly extended from the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing. But the culpability extends all the way down the supply chain — to us.

Our willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions, chocolate made from cocoa picked by captive children, or cellphones and laptops containing “conflict minerals” from Congo create the demand that underwrites these tragedies.

I’ll concede he doesn’t actual apply the word blame to consumers – he used culpability (seemingly  as a synonym for blame, which is used at the beginning of the sentence, but let’s leave that aside).  Where does our culpability come from?  “Our willingness” (a phrase I already quoted) to buy such goods. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

May 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Predistribution, Public Opinion and Unilateral Executive Action

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The Market St Quentin

A market, which exists, unlike “the market” which does not. (St Quinton Saturday Market by M Hobbs)

Matt Bruenig has a good post on predistribution, “measures governments take to reduce or eliminate inequality in market incomes” as “the most viable way to give a boost to low-income workers.”

As far I am concerned, there is no moral or political difference between the two. Predistributive institutions and redistributive institutions are both just institutions. What matters is achieving greater economic equality, not so much the precise institutional regime that we use to get there. If anything, I tend to find so-called redistributive institutions more attractive because they are easier to fine tune and strike me as more liberating.

I certainly agree on the ‘no difference’ point.  Why is it more viable?

But, as Hacker correctly points out, my view is almost certainly an outlying one. For cultural or other reasons, Americans tend to be more supportive of equality-producing measures that get baked into paychecks than they are of equality-producing measures that go through more overt government channels. As a result, the US has a very stingy welfare state and delivers much of its government spending through opaque, submerged mechanisms like tax credits.

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Blaming Consumers is a Cop Out

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[Update: On Orhtheory, Jerry Davis object to my comment (which was the first draft of this post) for claiming  that he is calling to blame the consumer.] 

[Update 2: Davis also makes his objections in this comments to this post. My response is here]

[Update 3: Jim Naureckas has a good post on this topic: You’re to Blame for Factory Deaths. Well, You and Walmart]

[Update 4: You can take the National Consumers’ League 10 cent pledge here.]

Speaking of the awful Bangladesh factory disaster that killed at least a thousand people, Brayden King at Orgtheory quotes Jerry Davis in the New York Times who blames consumers for working conditions in the Third World. In essence, consumer demand for cheap products are what forces wages down and makes working conditions so dangerous, so the blame lies with those consumers.

I see a few problems with this. First, if the all-powerful consumer was driving this, we wouldn’t see businesses making high profits, because that too raises costs. This is not the case. Second, even with expensive goods, where consumers are willing and even eager to pay high prices, we see similar working conditions (think Apple products).

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Written by David Kaib

May 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

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