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Donald Trump’s budget includes the idea of replacing food stamps (more accurately, SNAP benefits) with “harvest boxes” of government food. This idea hasn’t received nearly as much derision as it should have done.

It’s a dumb, dumb, dumb, idea. It also makes us all poorer. Seriously dumb idea.

The first problem is that we all know what government food is going to be like. That Nutriloaf pictured is what some prisoners are fed upon. OK, sure, prisoners and all that but the poor ain’t to be punished in the same manner. And can anyone point to a single person who has voluntarily consumed government cheese?

We might also attack this idea from a slightly different nutritional point of view:

She points to the nutrition issue with the boxes, highlighting the sodium present in government foods and how the box doesn’t provide fresh produce.

We don’t share that hypertension over salt in food nor do we worry overmuch about the absence of fresh food. This is all supposed to be a supplement to a food budget (it’s the Supplementary NAP after all) not the budget itself. However, even the left can sometimes get close to being right:

“It takes away the voice of the American citizen,” Johnson-Faniel says. “People should have a decision in what they eat.”

Close but not quite the cigar there. This is the truth though:

Even more fundamentally, though, we know from studies that people place less value on things they are given than they do on gifts of cash. We even know how much more they value it. When food stamps are illegally traded for real money (usually not for drugs but for diapers, the most common item bought this way) it’s 50 cents cash for $1 on the card. This problem will only become worse when we start distributing food, not cards to buy food. What will be the exchange rate of government-canned vegetables to diapers?

People, yes even poor people, value agency. A dollar to be spent as we wish is worth more to us than a dollar of goods or services that people think we should have. Thus it is economically efficient to give people money if they’re poor, not things. Give them money to buy food, not what food you think they ought to have. If this means a nation on Pop Tarts then so be it – it is supposed to be the land of the free after all. An underlying meaning of that being obese and free is better than slim and slaves.

The importance here being that if we distribute food instead of money then what is received is worth less than what is sent. Value just disappears into the ether, we’re all poorer.

That’s before we even consider the expertise and efficiency which government will bring to distribution. We can all see how good they are at delivering the mail and we’re going to use that same expertise to deliver the food without which people will die? And another food logistics system, instead of just going to the stores which already exist? Puerile nonsense is too kind for this.

It’s entirely feasible to insist that the poor should get nothing. Not that it’s going to happen but there’s a logic to it at least. Equally, it’s reasonable enough to argue that we should give money to poor people so that they’re less poor and are able to buy things. But to argue that we should distribute government food to them in a land heaving with grocery stores is idiot delusion. Don’t do it nor allow it to happen folks.