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free lunches vs. free wars

I received the following via email over the weekend:

NO FREE LUNCH!

Excellent read!

THIS IS TRULY THOUGHT PROVOKING.....TAKE THE TIME TO READ IT....AND SEND
IT ON TO THOSE THAT YOU THINK ARE WORTH SENDING TO AS I HAVE DONE.....

There was a Chemistry professor in a large college that had some Exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back And stretching as if his back hurt.

The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country's government and install a new communist government.

In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked, ' Do you know how to catch wild pigs?'

The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line. The young man said this was no joke.'You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in The last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd.

Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how To forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms- just a little at a time.

One should always remember 'There is no such thing as a free Lunch!' Also, 'You can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself.

Also, if you see that all of this wonderful government 'help' is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends. If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life then you will probably delete this email, but God help you when the gate slams shut!

Although I felt some trepidation, it wasn’t enough to prevent me from responding:

To begin with, the statement that “You can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself” is proven false on a daily basis by nearly everyone. The pittance for which I can hire a doctor to perform a regular checkup is a far lesser sum of money than what it would cost me to put myself through medical school in order to gain the same expertise. That’s an extreme example, of course, but the premise that no one can hire an expert to provide a service is ludicrous. None of us has the time, talent, or inclination to become proficient in every skill, which is why hiring others is necessary in modern society; specialization all but demands it.

While government is indeed too powerful a force in our lives, this email’s ire is misdirected at public assistance programs rather than the bloated “military-industrial complex,” to use Eisenhower’s famous phrase. Our future (heavily mortgaged via short-sighted, military-heavy, infrastructure-neglecting policies that that amount to little more than “trillions for defense, but not one penny for children’s health insurance”) is endangered on many fronts, but problems far larger than "free lunches" lie elsewhere.

The concept of pooling resources for the common good is no less valid when promoting the general welfare than when providing for the common defense, to take two phrases from the preamble to the Constitution. Shared risk (via programs such as Social Security and Medicare) and progressive taxation (aimed at helping the less fortunate through EITC—there is no such thing as “unearned income tax credit”—and “welfare”—meaning SSI, TANF, Medicaid, and food stamps, I assume) are hardly “free corn” leading us to slaughter.

One suspects that some conservatives' real problem with successful government programs (using Social Security and Medicare as prime examples) is that they are too good at ameliorating problems that the “free market” cannot. Environmental concerns are an excellent case in point, as the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) demonstrates:

CRP protects millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion and is designed to safeguard the Nation's natural resources. By reducing water runoff and sedimentation, CRP protects groundwater and helps improve the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted to resource-conserving vegetative covers, making the program a major contributor to increased wildlife populations in many parts of the country.

The CRP can certainly be parodied as “payments not to plant crops,” but that’s as poor an argument against the program as Reagan’s mythical “welfare queen” was against public assistance. While some recipients are no doubt unhealthily dependent on such aid programs, it is ridiculous to suggest that the entire system is a conspiratorial effort to pacify the citizenry, as this email seems to do.

It would be more to the point to write an email titled “NO FREE WARS” that rails against the manner in which industry has been wooed by top-heavy tax cuts, pork-barrel deficit spending, corporate bailouts, no-bid contracts, and bloated military appropriations. Fiscal responsibility may ultimately be a secondary issue, but it matters just as much when the budget is wrecked by “borrow and waste” Republicans as it does when “tax and spend” Democrats did it in decades past.

The distraction posed by “free lunches” pales in comparison to the flag-waving idolatry, jingoism, and xenophobia with which the electorate has been frightened and coerced into giving up real freedoms over the past six years. It saddens me to see some people so consumed by the overblown specter of dealing with the IRS on April 15th (because of those "free lunches") that they willingly surrender so much liberty on every other day of the year. I’m far more alarmed about conservatives flirting with fascism that I am about the bogeyman of “Communism/Socialism.” We have less to fear from the Left (which wants to spend more on healthcare and the working poor) than from the Right (that invades other nations in the name of freedom while dismantling that very freedom here).

After the next president has repaired some of the Bush-era damage (repealed the Patriot [sic] Act and the Military Commissions Act, restored habeas corpus and posse comitatus, stopped warrantless wiretapping and spying on Americans, closed Guantanamo, ended "extraordinary rendition," renovated the TSA’s infamous “no-fly list,” and restored fiscal sanity to the federal budget) I’ll gladly get into a discussion about the merits of farm subsidies and the Medicare drug benefit. Until then, we have bigger concerns than tall tales about exchange students discussing wild pigs.


update: SCHIP and scary socialists (9/28 @ 9:30am):
Philip Boffey writes about S-CHIP scare tactics “The Socialists Are Coming! The Socialists Are Coming!” and observes that “The epithet of choice these days for Republicans who oppose any expansion of government’s role in health care programs is ‘socialized’ medicine:”

The take-home message for voters is this: Look behind the labels to judge health care proposals on their merits. Whenever you hear a candidate denounce something as a step toward socialized medicine, it probably isn’t. More likely the politician is demagoguing the issue or is abysmally ignorant of the inner workings — and real, not ideological, failings — of the country’s multifaceted health care system.


update 2 (10/8 @ 4:08pm):
Here’s a section from an op-ed by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chair of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health, from the Washington Post. Anyone who calls S-CHIP “socialized medicine” needs to pay attention:

Properly speaking, socialism is when the state owns or controls the means of production. Thus "socialized medicine" is when the doctors are state employees; when the hospitals, drugstores, home health agencies and other facilities are owned and controlled by the government.

Only one part of the U.S. system really is socialized medicine: the veterans' health-care system, which is wholly owned and operated by the federal government. Veterans love the system and vigorously oppose any suggestions of dismantling it and integrating them into civilian health care. By many measures, this bastion of socialized medicine may constitute the highest-quality and most efficient part of American health care.

[…]

It is absurd to call an expansion of government payments for health care in the existing private delivery system socialized medicine. Politics may be full of hype, exaggeration or partisan bickering, but there should be no place for overt deception. A serious debate about whether and how to reform the American health-care system requires that we eliminate comments whose only purpose is to mischaracterize and misinform. [emphasis added]


update 3 (10/11 @ 9:15pm):
Joe Conason writes at TruthDig about “Why ‘Socialism’ Evokes No Fear,” observing that the phrase ‘socialized medicine’ “sounds awfully dated, like a song on a gramophone or a mother-in-law joke or a John Birch Society rant against fluoridated water:”

Although the red threat still triggers an autonomic reaction among GOP true believers, the rest of the country no longer twitches to that high-pitched, far-right whistle. Most polls not only show enormous majorities favoring extension of coverage to every child, but substantial support for a radical change in how we pay and administer health insurance—including the possibility of a single-payer system.


update 4 (10/15 @ 9:16am):
This version (h/t: Freethinker in a comment at Invisible Opportunity) is much closer to reality than the original story, although the spelling (corrected here) was rather poor:

There was a theology professor in a large college that had some Exchange students in the class.

One day while the class was in the lab the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back and stretching as if his back hurt.

The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while protesting abuses of the Constitution in his native country by its President that was trying to suppress his country’s freedoms and install a new fascist government.

In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked, ™Do you know how to catch wild pigs?’

The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line.

The young man said this was no joke. ‘You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly, the wild pigs have lost their freedom.

They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage freely in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward a fascist government controlled state and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of protection against terrorism such as illegal wiretapping, tax shelters for the wealthy, subsidies for big corporations, payments for shipping jobs overseas, cheap foreign labor, unsafe medicine, excessive profits for un-needed drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms- just a little at a time.

One should always remember ‘There is no such thing as a safety and freedom!’

Also, ‘You can never hire someone to provide protections of your freedoms if you won’t do it yourself.

Also, if you see that all of this wonderful government ’security’ is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends. If you think the claim of protection from terrorism is essential to your way of life then you will probably delete this email, but no one will help you when the gate slams shut!

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