Wednesday, February 16, 2011

American Dreamin'

A comment caught my eye this weekend on Paul Krguman's blog post "Eat the Rich" on which I already commented. It evokes a theme in the modern liberal-conservative split on the conception of nationhood. The meat of the comment, from a Minnesotan going by "Dan" is as follows, beginning with a quote from Krugman's piece:
"let’s cut that, because the damage to the nation from malnourishment is a problem for future politicians."

No, Paul, it's a problem for the malnourished individuals, not the responsible individuals who aren't sheeple or cattle and simply know how to eat right, save for retirement, avoid living in flooded hurricane magnet locations. Quit trying to socialize problems that are problems of individuals, and not of society as a whole.
The conservative world view is fairly easy to sum up: individuals are solely respnsible for their destiny.

Just for the moment, let's grant this premise: responsible adults, essentially meaning ones free of mental health problems, shape their own ends. This fails to explain why society should not be concerned with providing nutritional assistance to families with young children, as WIC does. Malnutrition is not a matter of diet for the vast majority of people who suffer from it, but from a lack of available food. Children are particularly susceptible to malnutrition because their bodies are developing. They are also dependent on their families for food. If a family cannot afford food, the child will be malnourished (barring stealing in order to feed the child). WIC prevents malnourishment in children. Malnourishment during development can have lifetime consequences for physical development, hamstringing brain, organ, or limb development. Problems in development create problems down the road for the child.

Is it in society's interest to protect its children from malnourishment? Though Dan would have us believe that this is a normative question, it hardly is. The quality of next generation's workforce depends on the health, education, and resilience of our children. Dan believes that permanent damage to one American is only bad for his immediate family, essentially a tribalistic viewpoint. He goes so far as to say that any concern for the health of others' progeny is "socializing" individuals' problems.

Dan fails to grasp that the worker who brings up the company's health insurance costs (a corporate problem), or the student who fails to fully grasp algebra (a research and development problem), or the dockworker who is less productive than she should be because her arms developed abnormally (a labor market problem) are not merely problems for the individual. They are problems for the market, introducing extraneous dead weight loss into the system. Lives stunted by nutrition effect the people surrounding the individual, placing a strain on the society's resources, which, even if allocated via free market protocols, are limited. Undue demands--preventable demands--on resources should be nipped in the bud by government agencies when the costs of inaction outweigh the cost of action and no other entity is concerned with preventing the loss to society. Dan calls it socialism, but it's actually a logical outgrowth of the principles of a market economy.

The tribalism that Dan suggests is also anathema to the American ideal of meritocracy. America has always valued equality of opportunity. Defunding WIC creates severe obstacles for the babies from whose mouths it rips food, unleveling the playing field of American capitalism. The additional obstacles that Dan wants to erect in front of children receiving WIC assistance privileges the children of the wealthy, children who by accident of birth don't need to enroll in a federal program to receive basic nutrition. My guess is that Dan also believes that those children are entitled to the entire value of their parents' holdings at death, not just the first $5 million worth and 65 cents of every dollar above that sum. Because, after all, the most fairest way to succeed is to be born rich. Those who aren't as worthy as rich babies should have more to overcome. Anything else would "socialize" those rich babies' wealth.

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