Rick Perry criticized food stamps on Saturday, saying that they were a "symbol of the problem" and that he would work to make the Federal government "as inconsequential to you as [he] can." Coming from the guy who thinks "compassionate conservatism" is too liberal, I assume he wants to seriously curtail food stamps. After all, he doesn't prioritize the program in his current job: Texas has the "worst performing food stamp program in the nation," according to the Houston Chronicle.The most obvious objection to Perry's comments is that food stamps were largely created as a way to use excess food. In other words, they were meant to subsidize farmers the farmers Perry now claims to represent. The program's first administrator, Milo Perkins, said, "We got a picture of a gorge, with farm surpluses on one cliff and under-nourished city folks with outstretched hands on the other." Failure to mention this aspect of food stamps comes across as dishonest and uninformed. Further, Perry made these comments in Iowa, a state that benefits hugely from the government-supplied demand for food in the form of food stamps (and to a lesser extent TANF).Perry's comments reveal a lot about the way the conservative presidential contenders frame issues in a manner that ultimately avoids substance altogether. The statement that food stamps are a "symbol of the problem" is basically accurate, but only if "the problem" is poverty. Instead, Perry imagines "the problem" to be Federal food programs, which magically create a situation where "the state that feeds the world has so many people dependent on the government for food." Economically speaking, this vision would require that programs like food stamps have such an allure that they radically diminish labor supply. This would push up the price of labor and mean that we're seeing economy-wide inefficiency because the government provides a huge disincentive to work. While we often hear anecdotal stories about people living off of safety net programs, I haven't read anything convincing that demonstrates this is the case across the country at a catastrophic level.More plausibly, people are using safety net programs more because the economy was badly bruised in the recession (and unemployment shot up). If anything, businesses are getting cheap labor at the moment: Americans who do have jobs put in more hours with higher productivity, but pay doesn't necessarily correspond to this. Looking at the very basic economic reality, blaming safety net programs as a root cause of the current economic situation becomes silly. Even worse, it derails the conversation that badly needs to take place about the best way to focus our nation's increasingly limited resources.
read more: Clearly, Food Stamps Caused the Recession