From School Lunches to Health Care: The Welfare State Is Coming to America
Last week a little girl in North Carolina was told by a tax-paid school bureaucrat that the lunch that her mother had packed for her was not good enough. The incident pointed Big Brother’s finger at the tens of millions of mothers in America whose entire lives revolve around their kids’ best. Understandably, many Americans questioned what business it is of the government to tell our children what to eat.
It would be bad enough if this was an isolated case of tax-paid do-goodery gone wrong. But this incident was much more than that. It was an example of the systematic transformation of America, from a generally free society to a Scandinavian-style social democracy. The school bureaucrat’s prying into a four-year-old’s sack lunch offered Americans foretaste of what life will look like once we are subjected to the full force of that welfare state.
There are three important angles to this incident that tie it to our future under European collectivism: economic redistribution, social engineering and socialized health care. The mother-packed school lunch in North Carolina is related to economic redistribution via something called Federal Aid to States (FAS). This is a program – or, to be precise, a package of programs – that send federal funds to states for a variety of purposes. Among them is a program to subsidize school lunches. Another pays for milk in school cafeterias and a third program helps school districts serve our kids fruit and vegetables.
These three programs come with strings attached. The bureaucrats at the United States Department of Agriculture impose restrictions and mandates on how schools can serve their lunches – and how also what nutritional value all school lunches must have. As the incident in North Carolina shows, these regulations now allow the federal government to open school lunch bags that kids brought from home and pass judgment on whether or not the kids’ parents followed federal regulations when they packed the lunches.
In other words: because Congress has created programs to make school lunch more accessible to kids from poor families, the federal government can now tell you what kind of food you can send with your kid to school each morning.
The second big-government angle to this school lunch incident has to do with social engineering. The welfare state is a project where government redesigns our entire society, including but not limited to our economy, in accordance with socialist theories and ideological preferences. At the heart of the welfare state is the idea that politicians, bureaucrats and select “experts” from academia know better than you and me what you and I want and need. This central planning of our lives spans from the macro level, where government punishes hard work and rewards sloth and indolence through income redistribution, to the micro level where individual citizens are told how they can and cannot live their lives.
As an extension of this master social planning, government takes upon itself to interfere with practically every aspect of our lives. In Denmark, e.g., there is a law that says that you as an employee must take a vacation every year. If you don’t, you are punished with a fine. (In my case that would have amounted to a loss of $3,000 taken out of my income.) In the bad old days, Communist East Germany mandated preschool for all children because it was “good” for the children’s upbringing.
In America, the same do-good social engineering philosophy now de facto dictates what parents can and cannot feed their children. So far, the dictate is limited to what is in the children’s school lunch bags. But how inconceivable is it that, in the name of creating a better society, the next step would be home inspections? How far are we now from extending this social engineering to a situation where parents are asked to sign a Fourth Amendment waiver and allow federal agents to do unannounced nutritional inspections of their dinner plates?
The third angle to the school lunch inspections is related to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare. When our beloved government wants to tell our kids what to eat and what not to eat, the purpose is partly to replace parents as the final arbiter of good, nutritional food. Partly, though, the purpose is to enforce eating habits that keep kids from getting obese.
No one wants their kids to become obese. But if the federal government’s sole purpose was to help children avoid obesity, then all it would have to do would be to launch some dorky campaign with paternalistic TV commercials about how to eat well. It would not have to invade our children’s school lunch bags.
The purpose behind fighting child obesity is much more sinister than to help kids stay healthy. To see it, we have to take a step back and look at the Affordable Care Act one more time. One major feature of the ACA is to put so many mandates on private insurance plans (abortion pills and contraception being just a couple of them) that it becomes increasingly difficult for employers to afford private health benefits for their employees.
As more and more employers have to dump private insurance, the idea is that people will demand a government replacement plan. Lurking in the back of the ACA is the public option, which will spring to life once enough people have lost their private insurance. (This can very well happen even if the Supreme Court declares the individual mandate unconstitutional.) Once it is activated, the public option will enroll more and more Americans until it effectively wipes private options off the table.
Socialized health care through the back door.
Back now to the school lunch in North Carolina. The idea with force-feeding kids what government has deemed is nutritional and healthy food is, again, to fight obesity. The reason for fighting obesity, in turn, is that it leads to costly medical conditions. So long as we all have private insurance, these costs are no matter for the federal government. Only when the federal government takes over our health insurance through a public option will the costs of obesity-related diseases become a matter for Congress and the president.
In fact, cost containment is the main feature of government-run health care. Any student of socialized health care in Europe knows that it is marred in cost problems. In theory, everyone has the right to health insurance at no cost, but in practice access to health care is so rationed that people suffer tremendously while waiting for it. Patients die of curable conditions at stunningly high rates because they cannot see a doctor or, once in the hospital, there are too few doctors to give them the right diagnosis or treatment.
The architects of the ACA know this. They know that that once their law has socialized health insurance in America, the federal government will be faced with the same cost problems that plague government-run health care in Europe. As a measure to stem an obesity-related cost tide tomorrow, they invade children’s school lunches today.
There is no doubt that too many Americans have a problem with obesity, and there is also no doubt that obesity leads to a slew of medical conditions. But the way to fight obesity is to let the persons who become obese through irresponsible behavior bear the bulk of the cost for their decisions. Private employers who care about the health and well-being of their employees provide them with wellness programs. They do this sometimes because they genuinely care, sometimes because it is a cheap and effective way to keep the cost of health insurance down.
By the same token, parents who let their children become obese by feeding them irresponsibly should bear the financial cost of the extra health care that their children will require. This can, again, be done if private insurance companies are allowed to operate on the terms of free markets. Just like a smoker should have to pay a higher health insurance premium than a non-smoker, private insurance companies should be allowed to charge higher premiums of a family that eats themselves obese than of a family that eats responsibly and attends to their own health.
But instead of allowing us private citizens to make independent decisions and pay the consequences, the big-government honchos who currently run the federal government prefer to expand government control over our lives into new areas. The latest addition to that list of government-controlled areas is our children’s school lunch bags. It came about as a result of other expansions – economic redistribution, social engineering and socialized health care – and will probably not be the last of its kind.
Unless, of course, the American people decides that it is time to elect a president and a Congress that is more friendly to individual freedom and responsibility and less interested in building a Scandinavian welfare state. It remains to be seen whether or not that will happen.