EDITORIAL: Food-stamp looting

A computer shutdown reveals a culture of dependence

A computer-software glitch over the weekend briefly removed spending limits from certain food-stamp debit cards, setting off a run on supermarkets in several states. The incident provides a glimpse at what society looks like when it becomes dependent on the government just to eat.

Big crowds showed up, cleared store shelves and loaded shopping carts when word spread Saturday that there was no limit on the spending. The food-stamp electronic benefits transfer cards were suddenly magic. Being a computer mistake, it was corrected within a few hours. Once everyone learned the problem was resolved and the spending limits were on again, the overflowing shopping carts were abandoned in the aisles. The fun was over.

A contractor performing a routine maintenance test of the debit-card system was finally blamed for the food-stamp outage. The Wal-Mart stores, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi, that allowed unlimited spending on the cards will bear the cost of the spree. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest grocery chain, is looking at the possibility of prosecuting whoever took advantage of the computer error.

There’s a saying, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” The Obama administration, which can’t seem to figure out how to create jobs, has rewritten that adage: “Teach a man to fish, and we lose a voter.” Through the food-stamp program and other entitlements, the administration has created a growing class of dependents. The food-stamp rolls have soared from 26.3 million recipients in 2007 to 46.6 million in 2012. During the same period, spending on those benefits has more than doubled, from $30.4 billion to $74.6 billion annually. Mr. Obama is eager to make the ranks grow even larger.

It’s a Democratic strategy that hasn’t changed much since Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to use the New Deal to make his party a permanent majority. By handing out as many government benefits as possible to a steadily increasing pool of recipients, Democrats hoped to build a bloc of voters eager to pull the lever for the political party that could keep the freebies flowing.

FDR realized this dependence strategy had limits. “The lessons of history,” he cautioned in his 1935 State of the Union speech, “confirmed by the evidence immediately before me show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” The Democrats revere FDR as a party icon, but few Democrats would say those words today.

The food-stamp frenzy in Louisiana and Mississippi, however, demonstrates the truth of Mr. Roosevelt’s warning. The crowds saw everything in the stores as if it were free for the taking. They might enjoy those same items more if they were the fruit of their labor. If Mr. Obama and his Democrats would trim overbearing tax and regulatory hurdles, he could liberate the economy and millions of eager Americans would get an honest — and satisfying — day’s work.

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