Barring catastrophe, by which I mean something like "a foot of snow on the ground" or "a quarter-inch of ice on the road," I do the bulk of my grocery shopping on Saturday. There is, you'll remember, about a one-in-seven chance that the first day of the month will fall on a Saturday. I had forgotten that minor detail when I got to the supermarket, but the complete absence of carts in the parking lot rather blatantly called attention to it: it's stock-up day for everyone on the dole, and people will be coming out of the store with two full carts. Maybe three of them. And my usual half-hour shopping trip will grow to 45 minutes, maybe a whole hour.

There is a point on the political spectrum, presumably somewhere right of center, where this fact is supposed to engender sheerest outrage: how dare these people glide out of the store with a full basket of goodies for ten or twelve bucks? We, the taxpayers, are ostensibly just sick and tired of this ongoing abuse of the system.

I, a single taxpayer, can't get too worked up over it myself. Yes, it's probably costing me money somewhere: pretty much everything that government does inevitably will cost me money. And yes, the store was completely out of Stouffer's Family-Size Lasagna. (I can't stand Stouffer's lasagna, truth be told, but the display was huge, and its emptiness was therefore conspicuous.) But if I'm going to be properly resentful, it seems to me I should be able to find somebody in those crowded aisles who seemed just a little more undeserving than the rest.

But who? Upon what criteria do I make this call? Ethnicity is a no-no, and in my neck of the woods, there are lots of them to choose from, so singling out one would be unnecessarily foolish; I certainly didn't see anybody buying Forbidden Items with food stamps, and the registers are programmed with what is and what isn't acceptable anyway; it's not like I know these people and can testify under oath that they're professional parasites and have been for years. Having therefore nothing to say, I said nothing.

I will stipulate, arguendo, that there are members of the Undeserving Poor other than, say, Alfred P. Doolittle; even the slightest stereotype surely must match at least one person, or nobody would have gone to the trouble of inventing it. I have friends in other parts of the country who regularly regale me with stories of same, and my friends, as a general rule, don't make stuff up for my amusement. I have to figure that the really blatant offenders stand out enough to draw attention to themselves, and therefore stick in the mind.

Besides, there are far greater threats to my personal pocketbook than food stamps. A "welfare-reform" effort back in the 1990s brought this observation from me:

The federal budget, as distinguished from what Washington actually spends, is somewhere in the vicinity of $1.5 trillion. (Actual spending exceeds this figure by about ten percent, about the same percentage as during the Nixon years, and about a third the figure run up during the heady years of Reagan/Bush.)

How much of this is actually spent on Welfare As We Know It? Five hundred billion? Seven hundred billion? Actually, it's less than one hundred billion — including all flavors of AFDC and food stamps, but not including items which are part of Social Security, which are considered "off-budget".

Over a mere six percent of the budget, therefore, Congress and the White House have been circling each other in some grisly pas de doofus for the better part of four years.

The numbers are larger today, but I stand by the conclusion. A single extra overpaid Federal bureaucrat costs way more per year than a dozen of the food-stamp users in the supermarket today. If I'm going to resent someone, let it be someone who not only costs me money but is in a position to do me, and every other taxpayer, serious financial harm.

The Vent

  1 May 2010

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