No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Posted on Fri 09/09/2011 by


By Tom McLaughlin

Ben Franklin said that “God helps those who help themselves,” but government helps those who don’t. In his recent book “After America,” Mark Steyn points out how many Americans have become dependent on government: “ . . . by 2004, 20 percent of U. S. households were getting about 75 percent of their income from the federal government [and] another fifth of households . . . receive about 40 percent of their income from the feds . . .” Is that the kind of republic Franklin had in mind when he worked at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia? No. I don’t think so.

So, government is supporting over 100 million of us, but can the rest of us afford to continue paying for it? No again. Under President Obama, we’re borrowing forty cents of every dollar we spend. We’re borrowing money we probably can’t repay. We’re borrowing money our children and grandchildren will have difficulty paying back, and we’re spending it on ourselves, not them. This is sinful.

Forty percent of Americans are hugely dependent on government. It’s also true that forty-seven percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. How much overlap is there between those two populations? Are we talking about the same people? In most cases, yes. How many of them are likely to vote for a congressman or a senator who says we must stop spending money we don’t have? Not too many when they discover that the only way to eliminate deficit spending is cutting back on the checks they get. We’re a country more and more divided between those who pay and those who get paid.

How long can we take money from our most productive and give it to our least productive? How long can we borrow from foreigners? Not much longer. The whole rest of the world doesn’t have enough money to keep lending to us – especially when they know we’re paying interest with dollars printed under Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s policies of “quantitative easing” and artificially low rates.

Too many Americans have learned that it’s easier to let government support them than to support themselves. Reflecting back on thirty-six years of teaching since my recent retirement, I saw a similar pattern in our government schools. A school district’s eligibility for federal money is often figured based on how many parents fill out forms that enable their children to get free or reduced-cost breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The higher the percentage of families who qualify, the more money the school or the district gets. Schools, therefore, are naturally disinclined to scrutinize financial data parents put on the forms. The tendency is to qualify all who apply. Parents and schools both benefit. Not all kids do, however, because some them will grow up to become the citizens expected to pay back the forty cents of every dollar spent on “free” lunches this year. The old adage still applies after all: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Just as an aside: if you saw how much of that food qualifying students throw in the wastebasket every day it would make you sick. People tend not to value what they don’t pay for, students included. Early in my teaching career, I noticed that custodians would save the discarded food for local pig farmers. Then federal government regulators ruled they couldn’t do that. Ever since, it’s gone into the waste stream.

The percentage of students dependent on expensive federal programs is increasing right along with the percentage of adults dependent depend on federal government checks. Students qualifying for federally-mandated special education are “coded.” Even though I earned an advanced degree in special education decades ago, I still have trouble deciphering criteria for certain codes. For a while at least, the simple explanation for someone qualifying as “learning disabled” was functioning at a grade level lower than what would be expected with his/her measured IQ score. The truly disabled had some measurable perceptual or processing deficiency. Others didn’t, but were nonetheless functioning below grade level, and were, therefore, coded. They received the special assistance of a teacher or an educational technician all through school. Several I got to know well over the years, and it was my personal and professional opinion that they simply didn’t want to do the work. They learned early to be helpless as teachers would administrators would lower the bar for them to pass on to the next grade. Every year I’d have several, and it was rare for even one to be kept back. Much more was spent on such students per capita than on those who did the work expected of them. From

Others were coded for behavior problems and that designation changed periodically as well as euphemistically. Some years it was “Behaviorally Handicapped.” Other years it was “Emotionally Disturbed,” and so forth. Some even got their own “educational technician” to follow them around throughout their school day acting as personal secretary or manservant. Parents of these children qualifed for so-called “crazy checks” amounting to several hundred dollars per month. The Urban Dictionary describes them as “often approved for simple and common conditions such as a child (usually in a single-parent household) who can’t behave in school.” If their children learned to behave, their crazy checks would stop.

Teachers are encouraged to believe that every child comes to school ready to learn. Trouble is, too many learn that if they don’t work, others will support them. That’s the lesson they carry with them throughout their lives.

And we wonder why America is going bankrupt.

Contributing Editor   is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.

Read more excellent articles from