There is No Free Lunch

English: Official Headshot of Rep Jack Kingston

Rep Jack Kingston (R-GA)

I know it is offensive to some, but the preponderance of the evidence says it is so:  Republicans are idiots.

As a case in point, let’s turn to Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia.  School children from less fortunate families get sometimes qualify for government-subsidized lunches and Kingston isn’t happy about it.  He thinks these children should be taught that there is no such thing as a free lunch, even if they have to fork over only a nickle or a dime to make the point.

But in the very aptly titled “Republican unveils worst school idea ever:  Make poor kids clean floors” posted on The Salon, he thinks children should keep school cafeteria’s clean to pay for their lunch.  And he’s serious.

We can maybe — maybe — argue whether Republicans are idiots.  Maybe.  But this proves the point that conservatives are not really conservative anymore, they are openly regressive.  Once upon a time, even conservatives stood behind laws that ended abusive child labor practices.  Today, of course, with free trade agreements running rampant they — and much to my dismay, Democrats, too — endorse it by outsourcing child labor to poorer countries, but that’s another story.

Implicit here is the dangerously simple-minded lack of sophistication that goes on in the conservative brain of people like Jack Kingston.

First of all, the whole “There is no free lunch” adage is misunderstood.  Originally it referred to the “costs” of getting your “free” lunch in a saloon.  Sure, you could go to the bar and eat all you want, but you have to buy drinks to stay.  Anyone who went to college with me knows how foolish and costly that was…indeed there was no free lunch.

Free LunchConservatives love — and frequently misunderstand — Milton Friedman.  He inadvertently popularized the idea in the 1970s, but as my economics professors made clear, we were not talking literally about my free lunch at Fowl Play, we were talking about opportunity costs.

So let’s go back to my buddies and me going to the bar for our free lunch.  There is more than the cost of the drinks we squandered in order to enjoy free tacos.  We traded things like the time we spent in the bar when we might be better served investing that time studying.

We also might be trading away good health.  Greasy tacos and quarts of beer can do bad things to a young mind and body.  We might even fall for the wrong girl in the blurry pursuit of ill-conceived happiness and live the rest of our adult lives in hen-pecked misery.

free-lunch-anyoneThe point is it isn’t really about the $1 spent on drinks so you can enjoy the “free” lunch.  It isn’t even so much about the idea that somebody has to pay, i.e., someone had to stock the free lunch counter, while someone else doesn’t.  (This misunderstood free rider complaint most commonly at the root of misunderstanding the free lunch argument.)  It is about options and choices.

So let’s go back to the school children and keep in mind that these are children.  Adults make the decision.

Rather than give these children the benefit of a socially equal environment for their education, for example, we will make the choice for them that they will be classified as workers because of their unfortunate economic status.  Few people choose to be poor, no one decides to be born that way.  (Likewise, no one does anything special to be born wealthy.)

National Child Labor Committee Poster, 1938, a more progressive era.

National Child Labor Committee Poster, 1938, a more progressive era.

The social stigma is one thing, the time spent — that opportunity cost — is another.  So in sense that idiot Jack Kingston is correct, there is no free lunch, but like so many simpletons, he doesn’t grasp the real implications.

As we continue to regress in this country, as we continue to argue that less is more, we are creating socio-economic environment that has real costs.  Everything from our country’s physical infrastructure to our social communities are in decline.  Poverty on the rise and the prospects for a secure middle class look bleak.  These are real costs that affect us all, rich and poor alike.

No recess for you.  No hot dog either, until you clean this floor.

No recess for you. No hot dog either, until you clean this floor.

The problem is there are too many conservatives who choose to look backward if they choose to look at all at what their ideas might mean for the country.

Ironically, Kingston probably thinks his idea is one of those common sense things that will get eager support because it feels good.  But rarely has milquetoast “feel good” legislation been so nasty and wrong-headed.  It feels good for whom?

We have to stop electing these people.  It is that simple.

Can anyone — please, anyone — point to ANY legislation from the right that could possibly have any substantial benefit to our future?  Any?  They don’t propose anything but the dismantling of our common good.

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