On Thanksgiving eve, a Nicholas Kristof editorial instructed us on how to think about poverty in The New York Times. The main reason there is poverty, he tells us, is bad luck.
We don't choose our parents, after all. Or the household or neighborhood we are born into. Here are a few of his observations, with my emphasis added:
"As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the 'ovarian lottery.'
[T]he difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.
[S]uccess in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing."
So what's the solution to this problem? It is apparently very simple: All we need is love. (Kristof's column is actually titled "Where Is the Love?") And just in case you are not motivated in that way, Kristof draws on the work of Harvard professor John Rawls to give a rational philosophical reason to spend more on welfare programs.
But before getting into that let's pause for a moment. Is being born really a matter of luck? Doesn't that take willful activity on the part of two parents? And is the inability of parents to support their children really a matter of luck? Or is it the result of bad habits and undisciplined behavior?
Let's grant that some people do have bad luck. But bad luck usually strikes randomly. Absent hurricanes and tornados, we don't expect misfortune to befall entire neighborhoods ? to say nothing of entire cities.
Kristof's particular focus is on Food Stamps, given the debate in Congress over whether to cut spending on the program. So let's concede that misfortune can cause some people to be hungry. But does that include the entire city of Dallas?
Every single child attending public school in Dallas, Texas is getting a free lunch and a free breakfast. The reason: There are so few children who don't qualify for free or subsidized food that it made administrative sense just to give free meals to everybody. And as I wrote previously, the trend around the country these days is to add a free supper as well. So the only time kids will need Food Stamps is on weekends.