Socialism and self sufficiency

Regular readers of Wheatlands News would have seen my posting on the Peninsula School Feeding Association here.

Today, in response to that post, guest writer Skoorby offers his perspective:

You may have noticed that in the recent U.S. election campaign, John McCain cast about wildly for something, anything, that would frame Barack Obama in a poor light, and would resonate with the American electorate. In the last week or two of the campaign, he finally came up with what became his final campaign theme: “Obama is a Socialist!” And it seemed to work. At least, Obama’s rise in the polls stopped and even pulled back from that point on. Why it was effective has something to say about the Peninsula School Feeding Association’s work.

A few days after the “Socialist!” meme emerged, I was sitting in a restaurant in suburban Philadelphia having lunch when I overheard a conversation between two fairly well-to-do middle aged white men – obviously Republicans and conservatives. They expressed disgust at the new fact of Obama’s socialism, and one of the two concluded as they got up to leave: “Everybody’s looking for a handout!”

On the face of it, this is just another instance of conservative mean-spiritedness. Wealthy Republicans objecting once more to the outrage of a progressive tax system. But there is a serious idea behind it. It’s that programmes designed to benefit the less-fortunate in society, whether government-run or privately run, tend to create a condition of moral hazard, and to become self-perpetuating. If you know somebody’s going to provide for your needs (or your child’s), you have less incentive to provide for them yourself. Aggregated to the level of Society, less work gets done, fewer goods are produced, and those that that do work end up providing for those that don’t. This is the root idea behind the very old and still very strong strain of American Conservatism. This is the idea that induced President Clinton, a no-so-liberal Democrat, to sign in 1996 a welfare reform bill that was aimed at reducing welfare (i.e., dependency) by restructuring and reducing welfare benefits in ways designed to address the problem of moral hazard. (See for Clinton’s review of the initiative with 10 years of hindsight.)

It may be that these ideas have no relevance in an environment such as that faced by Zimbabweans, where physical survival is a daily struggle, and opportunities for personal upliftment are non-existent, whatever the incentives. But they may be worth considering in South Africa.

The thing about the PFSA that gives cause for concern here is, as Lynne indicated, its longevity. Its continued existence is inarguably “a sad indictment on our society”. I would add that it may also be an indictment of the PFSA. Its mission statement reads as follows: “Our Mission: To combat the prevalence of hunger in children attending schools or other educational institutions in the Western Cape, through school feeding and development initiatives, that will promote self-sufficiency and household food security.” Complete success in promoting self-sufficiency and household food security would eliminate the need for the PFSA.

Clearly the mission statement sets an impossible goal. Universal self-sufficiency and household food security is a condition that may exist in only a handful of small countries in the world, if it exists at all. The PFSA will not achieve this in the Western Cape. So what should it be doing to avoid having an elderly Lynne point out in 2058 that it has the dubious honour of being 100 years old?

Adopting a child for R235 per year may be the best we can do in the short run, but a 50-year old feeding programme needs urgently to consider the long run in new ways.


Anonymous said…
depends on what kind of socialsm were talking about right a way dont think of cuba or north korea. obama seems to have alot of aspects of nationalism too and that is what we need right now

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