Note to House Republicans

Cutting Food Stamps? Srsly?

On an economic question, if you’re on one side and both Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen are on the other, it’s a good bet that you’re not merely wrong, but grossly, obviously, stupidly, and immorally wrong. (I say “immorally” because no one is likely to make this sort of mistake without being blinded to the facts by ill-will. Not a single Democrat, for example, voted for this abomination, but only 15 Republicans voted against it.) Yes, I know that doing mean, stupid things to hurt poor people is business as usual for you folks. But targeting Food Stamps (alias SNAP)? Srsly?

Are you really so in love with “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher” that you want to imitate even her blunders? Or do you think that your voters are so much more degraded morally than voters in the UK that you can actually get away with this kind of crap?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

34 thoughts on “Note to House Republicans”

  1. “Or do you think that your voters are so much more degraded morally than voters in the UK that you can actually get away with this kind of crap?”


    this has been the 9/22 edition of simple answers to simple questions. thanks for playing.

  2. ‘Thatcher the milk snatcher’ stemmed from her first cabinet post, as Education Minister under the disastrous Heath government (was more or less ended by the Miner’s Strike and the 3 day working week due to power cuts in 1973).

    Documents declassified under the 30 Year Rule, including Cabinet papers, show that she was actually uncomfortable with the measure and knew it would harm her politically.

    Margaret T was always a much more subtle politician than her enemies, and her devotees, would have one believe (shades of Ronald R). And the caricatured figure isolated from the electorate and determined to go ‘on and on’ that her party overthrew in 1990 (she never actually faced electoral defeat, which could well have happened to her had she stayed in power until 1992 election) was a very different person from the Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) who skilfully climbed to power.

    1. I don’t see how these new”revelations” are at all to Thatcher’s credit. Thatcher didn’t have any qualms about snatching the kiddies milk, she just worried that “the complete withdrawal of free milk for our school children would be too drastic a step and would arouse more widespread public antagonism than the saving justifies.”

      What’s more, her supposed misgivings didn’t stop her from actually snatching the milk. Nobody was holding a gun to the wicked witch’s head. If her misgivings were genuine, she could have simply done the honorable thing and fought for the children to keep their milk. She didn’t, so that’s who she really was (ass covering memos notwithstanding).

      1. But the original post suggested she did this willingly out of ideological bent– anything but.

        And of course the voters in the UK *did* let her get away with it. It was seen, in some quarters, as a sign of strength– a willingness to do the unpopular in the cause of the greater good. A conviction politician– which is what we are always claiming we are lacking with the likes of Blair and Cameron (when we did have a conviction politician ie Brown– the electorate dumped him as soon as they could).

        1. As I said, nobody was holding a gun to her head. Thatcher’s supposedly noble objection wasn’t that she was against depriving the kiddies of their free milk but rather that doing so would be extremely unpopular and might reflect badly upon her. So, in the end, snatching the milk from the schoolchildren was something she was perfectly okay with provided it could be done with an acceptable political cost to her personally. The wellbeing of English schoolchildren really never entered Thatcher’s mind, as even your own supposedly “humanizing” documents show.

          Again, the welfare of English schoolchildren obviously had no meaning for her, just as the human misery she gleefully inflicted upon the vulnerable and the weak moved her not at all. What mattered to her was the political equation. Margret Thatcher was by every account a truly horrid person, lacking even a single redeeming quality.

          1. Mitchell

            Her concern for the very menial people who served her was demonstrated time and again (waitress spilt hot something on a politician, Thatcher jumped up and consoled her).

            And her connection to ‘Us’ aka Essex man, aspirant British people of the working and lower middle classes.

            She did at various times, in private, show strong emotion (weeping over casualties in the Falklands etc.).

            There’s a reason people loved her, and elected her again and again. She had a better electoral record than Churchill.

            This isn’t to say that she was some hidden saint. I agree she was a divisive politician, and a nasty bit of work in a lot of ways. North Americans I respect who were living in the UK at the time said the change she wrought in the UK work ethic and the balance of power between trade unions and the rest of society was quite bracing. Maybe, as with the Falklands, the country needed that sort of uncompromising politician at that time in its history. Read Hugo Young’s obituary: he disagreed with her on just about everything, but he could identify her achievements.

            But she was not without redeeming qualities. You have to give the electorate more intelligence than that.

            And ‘Milk snatcher’ is a classic case of language blinding us to the subtleties of the woman.

            My reaction was to the original post that implied that ‘milk snatcher’ was something she did willingly, and that it ranks among her great political mistakes.

    2. Thatcher’s Hubris came about with the disastrous attempt to introduce a Poll Tax, or Community Charge, who led to serious rioting in England and Wales. Declining popularity made Tory party grandees decide she was unelectable again and should go. She was gone in matter of months, with undignified haste.

      Worse still was the decision to start introducing it in Scotland, a typical arrogant London-centric view to try it out in one of the outer colonies first. If you trace the effort of the Scots Nationalists to leave the United Kingdom, you will find that it received its greatest recent impulse from the Thatcher years.

      1. Exactly. And that’s also why there’s more unicorns in Scotland than Conservative Members of Parliament

      2. The force of the recession at the time, with soaring interest rates (we were tracking the ECU, the predecessor to the Euro and as our economy got weaker, the bank of England was forced to raise interest rates to defend the currency exchange rage) and a collapse of a housing bust, had a big impact at the time as well.

        It wasn’t just the Poll Tax, although that was a lightning rod.

  3. “Margaret T was always a much more subtle politician than her enemies, and her devotees, would have one believe…”

    Standard boilerplate language to excuse the excesses of those who take pains to publicly avoid such shades of gray in favor of demonizing their opposition. They say the same thing about Newt Gingrich, John McCain, even Paul Ryan.

    And she turned lose the milk-snatchers, whatever her inner “compassionate conservative” was whispering to her at the moment.

    In a way, I don’t mind the Republicans doing this. The last 5 years have seen the president and his party tracking closely with Republican rhetoric and, in far too many case, Republican actions. Kind of sad that it takes another Republican tantrum to throw light on the fact that there is still some small difference between the two wings of the Party of the 1% (as someone once said, the U.S. is a one-party state, too, but the difference is we can afford two of them.) You’d hardly have known that from the glomming onto Republicanism-lite by the Dems that passes for politics right now. Even if the Republicans cooperated in governance, rather than trying to prove their own crackpot theories about how gov’t can’t get anything except wars and prisons right (despite all evidence to the contrary that it makes a bigger mess of both of those than of everything else it does), it’s hard to say what a Democratic agenda would be, except something…better. No wonder this country can’t seem to find its progressive majority. No one has bothered to make the phone call to wake them up.

    1. Mike

      No, seriously. Thatcher was not the right wing saint she is now portrayed. She often did things which were quite ‘wet’– for example she did not want to privatize the railways (that was her successor, John Major) and she was ‘hands off’ on privatizing Royal Mail (which is now going ahead in the next few weeks). She was not unfailingly the standard bearer of conservative thinking (or myth, now).

      She really only lost her political radar when she got to the Poll Tax, and for that, her party finished her off.

      Yes she behaved as a politician– concerned about the political risk. But simply to call her ‘milk snatcher’ ie to demonize her, is to miss the point.

      1. Happy Faces for Maggie? Milk-snatching was the least of it.

        I certainly do not intend to reduce her to a sound-bite, rather to simply sum up her impact on British society. Nope, it’s shorthand for a whole lot of other policy far more insidious in undermining inclusive and egalitarian social structures.

        Thatcher may have been reluctant about the railways and mail in the context she governed in, but I don’t doubt for a minute if you time-shifted her political life 20 years forward, she’d privatize them along with everything else. She only judged them a bridge too far in accomplishing the rest of her agenda. If politics is the art of the possible, she just didn’t quite assess those two issues as worth her time and political capital, which she judged were apparently better spent breaking unions, etc.

        1. So your point is she was happy to snatch milk? That the epithet (which is also a badge of pride for her fans) was well deserved?

          And, by implication, anything she did that was not maximally ‘right wing’ was only tactical?

          PS I have not said anything about Newt Gingrich, John McCain nor Paul Ryan. So you can’t tar me with that brush. I was talking about British politics in the 1970s and the rise of Margaret Thatcher. I do commend to you the Guardian’s obituary of her, btw.

          and Hugo Young’s (she died after him)– perhaps her best chronicler:

          1. I have never see any indication that she was personally troubled by the suffering of others. Just as I’ve never seen any evidence that her ideological zeal was ever tempered by concern for her fellow man. Her supposed objections to privatizing things like the railways and the post related entirely to her fears that the resulting diminishment of public service would be too immediate and too economically disruptive. What Thatcher feared was never the human costs of these privatizations but simply that they were too much, too soon and would have resulted in a backlash at the polls.

            I’m not aware of any policy she chose not to pursue out of concern for the poor and downtrodden. Indeed as we all saw during her brutal suppression of the coal strikes, Thatcher was utterly ruthless and inhumane in her pursuit of her objectives. She was an evil person who never showed mercy to her many victims and that is exactly how she deserves to be forever remembered.

          2. Mitch already said it better than I would.

            I understand about why some folks want to split hairs on the milk snatching. Some stereotypes are nonetheless pretty accurate. I didn’t see much point in belaboring the obvious — and still don’t.

            Was she evil incarnate? Probably not. Were her policies bad for Britain? I think so, but not being British I don’t really have a dog in that fight, except for my sympathies with the Irish. There I can’t help but think Maggie’s policies simply extended the violence. She could have done a “Nixon to China” but she was too witless for that.

            And since I’m comparing Nixon favorably to her, you can tell I’m really digging in my personal political cesspool a little to deep already. Yuck! Time to hose off and have dinner.

    2. Mike this software does not allow deeper embedding so I am back out to the top level of the thread.

      On Ireland she was tough in the face of the Hunger Strikers. But they were also opening up a ‘back channel’ at the same time, and brought the Republic of Ireland into the negotiations on the North for the first time.

      So it was very much the lady. She was not prepared to back down in public, and given the British history with extremists (on both sides) in the North, that was a justifiable point of view. And her rhetoric was divisive– another mark of the lady. She wasn’t afraid to shed blood.

      And indeed the IRA had shed blood– nearly killing her, and grievously injuring her friends in that bombing at the Brighton Grand Hotel.

      And yet there was that much broader manoeuvring again, away from the public persona. Ronald Reagan proved capable of that, too.

      (What we don’t know is if Airey Neave had lived. Neave was an Irish protestant (though not an Ulsterman?) and had run MI9 (aircrew escape) during WW2. He had a long affiliation with shadowy right wing groups in government and the security services during the 60s (remember the file of an MI5 coup against Wilson is missing from the archives). He was her advisor on northern Ireland, and he was assassinated almost as soon as she took power).

      *that* was the thing about Thatcher, she was a much shrewder politician, and more given to compromise, than either the people who deify her or the people who curse her now admit. She was neither a saint nor a devil.

  4. The Republicans have succeeded in Scots-Irishizing the majority of lower-income white voters: whatever their ethnic background. (C&W music; gun worship; honor culture; sex-crazed religion, etc.) These voters will gladly go hungry as long as they know that the Negroes are starving and Brahmin values are dishonored. Obviously, “Negroes”>black folk.

    1. Hmm. Couldn’t one just as easily say that they’d Puritanized them?

      On your larger point though, I do agree. Racism and fear at the root.

  5. Agreed. But, how come in the LAT it said the Senate bill *also* cuts SNAP, just less? Um, wtf????? I thought the Senate was supposed to be run by Dems. This is totally and completely unacceptable negotiating, and oddly, this time I can’t blame the president.

    Not a danged dime.

    1. NCG wrote:
      “But, how come in the LAT it said the Senate bill *also* cuts SNAP, just less? Um, wtf????? I thought the Senate was supposed to be run by Dems.”

      Yep, that was one of the data points I was thinking about. I just refuse to apply any energy to bucking-up the Party of We’re Not Republicans any longer. The problems are obvious and longstanding and seem devoid of solution. Heck, even NASCAR constantly turns left and no one gets excited about that. Why can’t the Dems manage to do that every once in awhile? The best they can do is 3 rights to make a left — and time is running out. You think the Republicans have a board up where the sun don’t shine now? Wait until they weasel back a few of those middle of the road voters, mostly because the Dems just don’t care to be anything different and most of their voters stay home. It’ll be ugly.

      1. Anyone know what happens next?

        I can’t imagine that there could even be a conference bill. This is or should be a non-starter for Democrats. I like Reid, but what was he thinking? Honestly I don’t understand. Someone please explain. How could this happen?

        1. On Arthur Goldhammer’s excellent blog “French Politics,” introduced me to a thinker I’d never head of before named Chantal Mouffe who explains exactly how and why this is happening. Muffe argues that much of our current political crisis flows from what she calls the:“‘consensus at the centre’ between the centre-right and centre-left around the idea that there is no alternative to neo-liberal globalization.

          Money quote as it relates to our topic of discussion:

          “For me, democracy requires citizens to be given a genuine choice when they go to vote, and this choice must offer a real alternative to the existing order. This is not possible anymore because the centre-left parties do not offer anything which is a genuine alternative to neo-liberal globalisation. We have seen that very much in Britain, with Tony Blair and New Labour, who came to power and did not question the basis of the agenda which had been established by Margaret Thatcher, but simply decided to manage it a bit more humanely.”

          I know everybody always says “read the whole thing” but, seriously, it’s a very short interview but I highly recommend it:

          The Democrats cut food stamps not for the same philosophical reasons as the Republicans but simply because they agree that the social welfare state with its “wasteful” expenditures on education, health care and help for the poor is incompatible with neoliberalism but, as with Tony Blair, they would like to seem the dismantling of social welfare state managed somewhat more humanely.

          What we need to focus on is how to break free of neoliberalism’s hold. That’s the real problem with the Democratic Party right now and until we can vanquish neoliberalism and its proponents we will never be able to get our society back on track.

          1. That’s very interesting, although I don’t know that I agree that all Dem sens are completely soul-less yet. Nor are they all screaming centrists. There must be an explanation for this move, a specific one.

            And even if your friend were right, those of us who are on the left still have a duty to bring the metaphorical pain to our electeds when they fall down on the job. Tiring as it is.

            So, has anyone heard an explanation for this? It’s not in the news at all, I even googled it and got nothing in the first page.

  6. Who gives a shit what that Koch propagandist thinks? His job is to make plutocracy respectable and by respecting him you’re playing their game. For pete’s sake he takes a shot at disability insurance while he’s at it and you just let it slide.

  7. Chait nailed it between the dumb eyes a few days back:

    You can picture Cantor, Boehner, and Paul Ryan, encircled by wide-eyed Republican members, excitedly asking, “And will there be food stamp cuts? And guns?” and the GOP leaders telling them, oh, yes, food stamps will be snatched away from the lazy 47-percent-ers, and there will be a rifle in every schoolroom.

    The House Shutdown Plan Is Not a Plan

  8. I know next to nothing about Food Stamps. But here’s a clue for my fiscally conservative brethren and sister-folk: you can look hard at reducing/replacing/streamlining/rationalizing/eliminating food stamps AFTER (and only after) you eliminate the $BILLION$ spent anually on farm subsidies.

    Until then, I don’t want to hear one more word about “the 47%.” Not a word.

  9. Mark, everything after your lead sentence is anticlimactic. That first sentence is solid gold.

    When Tyler Cowen and Paul Krugman agree, there ought to be a law that says “just move on; that one’s settled.”

    1. It’s settled only for people who believe that society should do something for the needy but might disagree about, say, the scope of the social welfare state or the relative merits of various programs for providing the aid that they agree ought to be provided. It’s not remotely settled for conservatives who oppose all efforts to aid the less fortunate and whose goal is the elimination of the social welfare state and its replacement with something more to their Scrooge-like neoliberal tastes. If Tyler Cowen doesn’t see the truth about the Republican Party which is so plain then it must be because he does not wish to see.

  10. Here’s the brutal truth – food stamps subsidize the existence of likely Democratic voters, so slashing them may help the Republicans, demographically, in the long run, if it reduces fertility among people who depend on them, or if likely Democratic voters starve in the streets. Cowen and Krugman both seem to assume that helping the poor is a good thing, an assumption that may not be shared by all.

    1. I’m not sure this is particularly correct. Rural, white, working-class families and retired individuals often rely on SNAP benefits, and these are demographics that tend to vote Republican.

  11. Mark

    It’s also true that Thatcher *did* get away with cutting free lunch milk. So UK voters not only let the Tories in 1972 ‘get away with it’ but they actually elected her as PM, 3 times (might not have done so a 4th, so her own party deposed her).

  12. Comparing the current US republican party to the 1971 Tory party (an organisation so left-wing by American standards that the democrats would have disowned them) shows that this site once again abandons it’s committment to “facts” in favour of leftist dogma.

    Seriously, stop it with the nonsensical UK comparisons. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Labour cut free milk for just as many students in 1968, so presumably they are also crazy right wingers a la the current GOP?

    Totally agree with you about SNAP.

    1. anonymouse sez:
      “…this site once again abandons it’s committment to “facts” in favour of leftist dogma.”

      Really? This site? You mean the bloggers? Mark, Keith, et al?

      You don’t get out much, do you?

      While I agree they’re usually left of center, it’s not much. In fact, Prof. Kleiman is to “leftism” as Reagan is to Paul Ryan. YMMV

      Now, a few of we commenters have been known to hit the bong of Marxism and even dabble in a little Lennonism from time to time. If the CIA hadn’t helped kill Che, I’d probably even finally be willing to join Facebook to make him my Friend. But I long ago sent my dogma to obedience school and now defer to my catma’s political guidance.

  13. Overall I would judge the ‘Thatcher milk snatcher’ analogy to be a false one in this context. The circumstances and motivations of the time were very different from the GOP now, which is trying to prove a political point.

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