Immiserating the Poor for the Benefit of the Rich

| Wed Jun. 5, 2013 11:46 AM EDT

Mark Bittman is appalled at the farm bill currently wending its way through Congress:

The current versions of the Farm Bill [] could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.”

Deficit reduction is the sacred excuse for such cruelty, but the first could be achieved without the second. Two of the most expensive programs are food stamps, the cost of which has justifiably soared since the beginning of the Great Recession, and direct subsidy payments.

This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.

I'm starting to lose my ability to write rationally about this stuff. I just don't know any longer what I'm supposed to think about a political movement whose primary raison d'être, one they no longer even bother to conceal, is an almost gleeful immiseration of the poor for the benefit of the rich. How is it that the wealthiest country on earth has come to this?

This would all be cruel enough even if the economy were good and you thought that folks on food stamps needed some motivation to get themselves off assistance and into jobs. Cruel but—arguably, anyway—perhaps best in the long run. But now? When the current level of SNAP spending is entirely due to the swollen ranks of the unemployed and underemployed, which makes it all but impossible for most recipients to entertain even a faint hope of either finding work or, for those lucky enough to have jobs, increase their incomes enough to escape poverty? Is there even a pretense of a reason for these cuts, aside from a desire not to reduce subsidies to agribusiness and not to raise taxes on the best off? Help me out. What is it?