October 13, 2005 -- As many major public policy matters are being debated in Washington -- a Supreme Court nomination, runaway federal spending -- seemingly small erosions of our independence and, thus, our freedom continue with very little attention.

District of Columbia school officials have just announced that all students will be offered free breakfasts, regardless of family income, under a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. School system official Mark Truax argues that, "Studies keep showing the benefits of a good breakfast: increased attendance, better behavior and better performance." What he fails to say is that it is policies such as this one that create in the first place the problems he claims to want to solve. 

Government school lunch programs have been around for decades, based on the assumptions that: 1) poor people literally cannot afford to feed their kids; 2) society -- that is, the rest of us -- has a duty to feed such starving children; 3) it is pointless to spend taxpayer dollars to educate malnourished kids who are too hungry to focus on their lessons; 4) all kids are required to go to school; and thus 5) subsidized or free school lunches are the most efficient means to remedy this social evil.
Now advocates of such programs have dropped the poverty pretext altogether and simply offered the "it's good for all kids so the government should provide it" argument. Let's consider the moral mess from whence such policies arise and that they continue to foster.
First, the "government should provide good things" argument is a concise formula for the government providing everything, i.e., socialism. That public figures in America can utter such nonsense without eliciting howls of ridicule shows the range of moral confusion loose in the land.
Second, when parents choose to have kids, they take on the obligation to care for them -- they as the individual parents, as moms and dads. Indeed, if they are decent and proud parents they should take pride in raising their children rather than shuffling the responsibility off on their neighbors, Hillary's village or "society."
Policies such as free breakfasts create the problems they claim to solve.
Third, it is easy today to feed kids. Most folks who are classified as "poor" by the government, if they manage their money right, can afford food. It's pretty cheap! And there are private charities to help the poorest of the poor. Most poorer Americans have televisions, DVD and CD players and many of the other consumer products that entrepreneurs in the free market provide in such abundance. If they don't give priority to food for their kids, it is their poverty of values and of discipline that is responsible for their material plight, not some failure of the capitalist system. This is a tragedy because these individuals do not achieve their full potential and thus the most fulfilling lives possible. But this problem should not be addressed by the government that rewards irresponsible behavior and thus helps create the tragedy.
Fourth, parents who are not poor should be incensed by this breakfast giveaway. Are the D.C. politicians implying that they're too stupid or irresponsible even to give their kids a bowl of cereal before sending them off to school? The answer, sadly, is much more sinister.
Paternalist politicians treat us not like independent citizens but like servile subjects who can't wipe our noses, tie our shoes or feed our kids without the help of would-be philosopher kings like them. Of course, most of us are efficacious enough to live our own lives without their help. But by treating us like children they foster in many the moral habits and whining attitudes of children.
Every government entitlement is a multi-faceted evil. Because they are paid for by our redistributed tax dollars, they reduce economic growth and opportunities, making it especially tough for poorer, entry-level workers to get a start and to work their way to pride and prosperity. Further, taxes take money out of our pockets as individuals, making us less able to care for ourselves and our families and making us more dependent on government.
Thus we see that these patronizing politicians are like doctors who break our legs and then change us a high price to treat the pain. They are in the business of creating dependence.
In the end this system undermines the virtue of independence. Adults are rewarded and, indeed, told that it is moral to act like little children, expecting to have their needs -- and those of their actual children -- taken care of by others. And when, for budget reasons or pangs of moral conscious, some policymakers or other citizens suggest that the government stop redistributed benefits from those who earned them to those who did not, some childish grown-ups will cry like babies reprieved of their breakfasts. How pathetic and tragic.
It is only when independence is absent from the minds, moral codes and habits of individuals that we turn over our freedom to masters. We will know that the morality of reason and freedom is winning when programs like the D.C. breakfast giveaway are met by the outrage they deserve.

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Edward Hudgins

About The Author:

Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

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