Rejecting Federal Food Programs
By David DemingGovernor Stitt recently created a furor when he rejected participation in a federal program to feed children over the summer. The New Republic claimed that the decision was made because Oklahoma legislators “hate poor children.” On social media, critics complained that Republicans wanted children to starve and suffer. I don’t speak for anyone but myself, but I can explain why conservatives reject such programs in general.
It’s very simple: conservatives do not believe that providing food or other commodities is a legitimate function of government. The philosophy behind our system was expressed elegantly in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. Governments are instituted to secure natural rights such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Natural rights are liberties. Commodities such as food, shelter, clothing, and education, can never be rights, because these are things provided by other people. Claiming a right to another person’s goods or services is equivalent to claiming a right to enslave them through the power of government.
Our system of ordered liberty allows people to produce and distribute goods through the free market. It’s the best and most productive economic system ever devised. For 248 years, it has allowed the United States to become the wealthiest, freest, and most powerful nation on Earth. Voluntary economic transactions inculcate good will and friendships. The alternative of distributing commodities through political means produces rancor, resentment, envy, and conflict. Socialist governments invariably culminate in poverty, misery, and tyranny.
It’s been claimed that we need the federal government to feed children because 20 percent of children in Oklahoma are “food insecure.” “Food security” is an ambiguous and ill-defined term fabricated to obscure the fact that no one starves to death today because of the incredible productivity of our free market system. The truth is that we suffer from excess. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 32.3 percent of Oklahoma children ages 10 through 17 are overweight or obese.
Parents, not government, are morally and legally responsible for providing children with all the necessities of life, including food, housing, clothing, education, and medical care. It is important that people have incentives to increase their productivity, independence and creativity. Nothing in life is completely free. Strings are always attached. A people so dependent on government that they cannot feed themselves are ripe for political slavery.
Conservatives do not want children to starve. The historical record demonstrates that we have produced the exact opposite by eschewing government dependency and protecting the freedom to be productive and innovative. Liberty, not welfare, is what made America great.
David Deming is Professor of Arts & Sciences at the University of Oklahoma. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @profdeming.