Agriculture chief calls food stamps economic stimulus

The Obama administration’s view of government spending and jobs gets weirder with time. Now its luminaries are touting the job-creating goodness of food stamps.

In an Aug. 16 interview with MSNBC, Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the food-stamp problem “is putting people back to work.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), he asserted, is “an economic stimulus,” he asserted.

“Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity,” Vilsack said. “If people are able to buy a little more in the grocery store, someone has to stock it, package it, shelve it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs.”

Well, yes, those are jobs. But most of the jobs exist with or without SNAP. Food stamps don’t create jobs unless they boost profits of grocery stores, food processors, and shippers.

Maybe they do. They still can’t create net gains in employment.

Vilsack left out an important part of the food-stamp chain. The money the government spends on SNAP has to come from taxpayers or federal creditors.

It’s money taxpayers can’t spend on groceries or other goods or services. It’s money businesses profitable enough to pay taxes can’t invest. It’s therefore money that can’t create economically durable employment. And it’s money degraded by bureaucratic inefficiencies, which always assure that less value goes into the economy through federal spending than came out through taxation.

What’s more, since nowadays so much of the money must be borrowed, the spending contributes to a federal deficit now so frighteningly large that markets are quaking and analysts are gauging chances of an economic relapse into recession. The recent odds: 50:50.

Food stamps are important. The program that provides them is essential to the welfare of people who’ve experienced misfortune. It’s a worthy use of public money.

But SNAP doesn’t create jobs. It transfers wealth away from productive work. There’s nothing wrong with doing so for humanitarian purposes. There’s much wrong with calling it something it’s not.

(Online July 19, 2011; author’s e-mail:

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