Dependence on government and the value of a dollar

Posted By on May 18, 2012

As a country, a nation and a generous people … we are heading down the wrong path when assistance programs fail to teach the value of a dollar [insert joke here about the “value” of a dollar] and instead teaches the next generation dependence on government. “Over the last four decades, our government has quietly done away with almost all of the restrictions once placed on food assistance.”

Food Stamps and the $41 Cake


Beware of little expenses.
A small leak will sink a great ship.
—Benjamin Franklin

There is a large chain grocery store in my neighborhood that I rarely frequent because the prices are too high. Instead, I will travel an extra 30 blocks to another store where the costs per item are 20%-30% lower.

I arrange my travel around this activity. It takes a little extra effort, but within a year the savings are substantial. As it turns out, I am not alone.

… paragraph removed …

But every so often I will need one item late at night—a quart of milk, a missing part of a school lunch—and I run over to the high-price store nearby. There, I’ve noticed something happening with increased regularity: The person ahead of me in line or at the next checkout counter is using a benefits card. Since we are now in the third year of our national recession and unemployment remains depressingly high, I understand this.

Recently I had to run into that store and, sizing up the three lines, chose to stand behind a woman with one item in her cart. It was one of those large ice-cream cakes. When the checkout person said "Forty-one dollars," I wasn’t the only one who blanched. The shopper’s son, around 12, repeated it as a question: "Forty-one dollars?"

I quickly calculated that the woman’s cake was eight times more expensive than the kind I make at home to celebrate birthdays. The mother ignored her son’s question.

She took out her benefits card, swiped it through the machine, and they were off. My turn.

I stood there, wondering what lesson the young boy takes away from this transaction. Does he grow up with the faintest understanding of delayed gratification—that you have to earn your money before you can buy candy—or, in this case, an ice-cream treat? I wondered how we arrived at this point as a nation.

… paragraphs removed …

My grandmother did not serve on the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. She did not have an M.B.A. from Harvard. She never went to high school because she had to go to work to support her family. But she gave me an astute piece of financial advice when I was about to enter the world. "Never," she told me, "spend more than you earn" and "always try and save a little something."

When we wonder how this great nation traveled from our grandparents’ common sense to where we are today, it might be easier to understand with this question: How did the country that created the strongest middle class in history, the country that offered everyone the chance to succeed, the country that built and paid for the transcontinental railroad and the Hoover Dam, won World War II and put Neil Armstrong on the moon—how did that country rack up trillions in debt?

One $41 cake at a time.

Mr. Kozak is the author of "LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay" (Regnery, 2009).



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  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.
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