I was just thinking about the “simple bare necessities of life” which traditionally included food, shelter, and clothing. Now “health care,” however the government decides to define that, is included also. That caused me to wonder about this: If universal health care with a single government payer is a good idea, why not universal government issued food stamps as well. Bloomberg news recently reported that 35.9M people, about 12% of the population, received food stamps in July 2009 (About 43M as of April 2016.) The Food Stamp program, like Medicare, which currently covers about 45M people (55M in 2015), is well tested and works and could easily be extended to the rest of the population.
Of course “Food Stamps” is incorrect terminology now but is so ingrained in the language that it will probably never be successfully replaced with the new term, SNAP, an acronym standing for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And there are no “stamps” now. Recipients of are issued EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards tied to individual accounts that are restocked with funds at the first of each month. For the purposes of this discussion, I will stick with “Food Stamps.”
Why even consider this bold new initiative? Primarily because we are clearly spending too much on food! Total expenditures in 2008 for food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased for off premises consumption totaled $669B, almost $2200 per person per year. With Universal Food Stamps, that could be reduced to $1200 per person per year. I’m not sure what to do about the $1600 per person we spent for on premises consumption (restaurants). Probably, for the time being, we can just say that restaurant dining is not a necessity and leave it alone. Those who feel they can’t survive on their allocation of Food Stamps can, for the time being, go to a restaurant.
Besides the excessive level of spending, there are other United States food related problems that could be eliminated by establishing Universal Food Stamps and outlawing direct purchase of food with cash. One of those problems is variability of prices caused by weather, competition, and the law of supply and demand. It seems we never know how much a gallon of milk is going to cost! This variability raises issues for farmers and for consumers and elimination of it could be a big boost for economic stability, though I am unsure what it would do to the milk supply.
Over-consumption and even gluttony are prevalent serious personal problems that could be eliminated by the improved diet controls available with Universal Food Stamps. (Maybe we will have to rethink that restaurant option.) And our balance of trade is being skewed in the wrong direction by all the exotic and possibly contaminated foods being imported from South and Central America and Asia. Universal Food Stamps could eliminate that problem by simply excluding those foods from the approved purchase list.
Standard prices for all approved foods and standard consumption rates for all individuals based on age and required professional activity level would have to be established. (Non-professional activity, such as exercise, would no longer be required because of the restrictions on caloric intake.) Implementation of these new standards will be greatly facilitated by the already established requirements that packaged food be labeled with widely ignored caloric content and serving size. (I bet that wasn’t cheap.) Given that basis, the simplest way to proceed would be to just establish approved dollar values per serving size and approved standards for servings per day per person. We can force people to pay attention to those expensive labels.
This standardization requirement could be a big boost to the Government Spending part of the economy and largely offset the reduced consumer spending for food because a system similar to the MPFS (Medicare Physician Fee Schedule) with its more than 10,000 defined medical procedures would have to be established and kept up-to-date. Of course a serving of ice cream is not the same as a serving of spinach, so there would have to be quotas for all the different types of foods.
Wow, this is getting complicated and expensive. Maybe we should go the other way, leave the food stamp program alone, and use it as a model for how to do health care. Under that model, we would provide health care assistance to those who are unable to take care of that personal responsibility themselves and leave the health care market and all those who can pay for their own insurance or health care alone. Probably that would be better. Of course it is too late for the over 65 crowd. We are already on Medicare and our numbers are steadily increasing. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will eventually be on Medicare, but let them buy their own food!
I’m sorry I even brought it up!