SNAP and the Bauer Theory of Behavior Modification

By Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger

A government’s allowing people to starve when it is preventable reflects a lack of concern for human rights, and well-ordered regimes…will not allow this to happen.”

John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (1999)

It ought not be a matter of serious debate that every human being is entitled to nourishment sufficient to sustain life.  The right to sustenance is subsumed within the right to life.  We acknowledge in our founding documents that protection of that right is a primary function of government.  No rational person would choose to live in a society that permitted its members to die for lack of food.  Nevertheless, the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), is under attack by Republican members of Congress.  The recent vote in the House of Representatives to cut funding for the program, and the arguments advanced in support of the cuts, suggest that the GOP believes that providing the poor with enough to eat is a discretionary exercise , demanded by neither law nor morality.  It appears that the Republican Party has adopted what I call the Bauer Theory of Behavior Modification. The formulation of the Bauer Theory can be found in the following statement made several years ago by its namesake, former South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer:  “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals.  You know why?  Because they breed.  You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply.  They will reproduce, especially ones who don’t think much further than that.  And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior.  They don’t know any better.”

It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Bauer’s comment as merely unfortunate and aberrational, but for the fact that it has been repeated many times in one form or another by other Republican leaders.  In March of last year, for instance, Republican Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson remarked, “Isn’t it ironic that the food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever?  Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.”

Variations on this theme filled the halls of Congress during debate over cuts to the SNAP program.  Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R. Kan.) observed, “You can no longer sit on your couch and expect the government to feed you.”  Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R Wash.) complained, “Since President Obama took office, SNAP has grown at an unprecedented rate, with one in seven Americans now receiving food stamps.”  Rep. Tom Cotton (R. Ark.) claimed that the program is fraught with “rampant waste and abuse.”  Rep. Stephen Fincher (R. Tenn.) went biblical with the out-of-context quote, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  And in a town hall meeting, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R. Ok.), argued that most aid programs for the poor should be eliminated.  “The food programs are designed to take care of people who can’t work, not won’t work.  And we all know those people that won’t work, right?  They’re abusing the program, and we’ve got to get them off of it.”

The legislation itself reinforces the beliefs expressed in the foregoing comments.  It permits drug testing of SNAP recipients, despite the fact that several courts have ruled unconstitutional similar provisions covering applicants for TANF benefits.  And, for good measure, it makes lottery winners ineligible for benefits. I suppose gamblers should not be feeding at the public trough.

The Republican criticisms have not been burdened by the facts.  SNAP is one of the most efficient government programs, with fraud accounting for only 1% of expenditures, less than the rate of fraud in farm subsidies and far less than the abysmal record in the defense industry.  The program’s error rate is 3.8%, compared to 4.7% in the federal crop insurance program.  The recipients of what amount to less than $1.40 per meal are not the able-bodied; 83% of SNAP benefits go to households having a child, an elderly person or a disabled person, and 61% of recipient households have gross annual income not exceeding 75% of the federal poverty level.  But why has the program grown so much over the last six years?  The best answer is one I used to hear from my kids when responding to a perfectly dumb question: “Well, duh, Dad.” With the financial collapse of 2008 and the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression, there are now almost 47 million people living in poverty in this country.  The math isn’t difficult.

The lack of a factual basis for the Republican demand for benefit cuts leads us back to Mr. Bauer.  The Bauer Theory is not about poverty, but about the impoverished.  The program cuts are not aimed at reducing poverty; they are rather a statement of moral condemnation.  Poverty is not about a lack of jobs or educational deficiencies or structural inequality.  It is a product of indolence, irresponsibility and immorality.  Under the theocratic political philosophy now dominating Republican policy arguments, poverty is proof of moral decay to the same extent that material wealth is proof of moral righteousness.

We are becoming a nation of prigs.

111 thoughts on “SNAP and the Bauer Theory of Behavior Modification”

  1. “…our naughty bits are largely irrelevant here.”
    Largely, but not entirely?

  2. Might need a lot of crow pie for the prognosticators here. Time will tell.

  3. Well, let’s remember that our naughty bits are largely irrelevant here. No one need resort to fisticuffs in the parking lot to win anyone’s favors.

  4. RTC,

    Thanks. And I agree that one thing the Obama election showed is that the electorate in general is far more to the left than pretty much anyone in Washington cares to acknowledge or think about. That divide has been widening since the ’70’s, but its roots start right after Eisnehower. That is the major disconnect in American politics – there is no one representing liberalism today and corporatism (neo-fascism) has consumed both major parties.

  5. And thanks for you take on 3rd party politics. You just earned the tenderfoot duopoly merit badge. And, be careful about your analysis of what the Obama elections said. Crow is not real tasty, I’ve eaten some in my day.

  6. RTC, I am an old man. I am a faithful man. Never cheated, never will, w/ 37 years of marriage. I was the first to welcome Juliet here. I consider her a sister of sorts. Ironically, I had a sister who abhorred conflict. She would bury her head or run to avoid it. She went to her grave that way and her inability to deal w/ conflict, a natural part of the world and not inherently bad, was maybe part of her cause of death. Mary suffered from a couple serious auto-immune diseases, the causes of many auto-immune diseases are cloaked in mystery. I happen to think that the heart disease, stress, autoimmune, etc. is part of our being taught that things like competition, conflict are bad. THEY ARE NOT! They can be bad. But, they are often good. Competition brings out the best and worst in us. So, do you eliminate competition to do away w/ the bad. Well, the nanny’s of our culture campaign to do just that. It’s simply wrong. You foster the good in competition. That’s just my opinion.

  7. Nick,

    I’m not sweet on Juliet. I just appreciate her razor sharp wit and respect her views like most everyone else here. We’ve all seen you blowing kisses and I imagined you sucking in your gut with every line you type in her direction.

    BTW, you keep insisting on third party politics. That’s unworkable in this country. The battle has to fought in the primaries; by the time we’ve reached the general election, there’s not much to pick from.

    We keep hearing Repubs worried about being “primaried” from the right, Democrats are going to have start looking out from the left. As it is, Democrats insist they have to constantly shuffle to the right in order to win, saying in essence, “Vote for us, because we’re not as bad”. The primaries are the time to put an end to that.

    In my view, Obama showed that the electorate truly is much further to the left on issues in this country than the Corptocratic party wants us to believe. That he deceived us matters not, if we keep searching for that candidate who will deliver on their promises. (Elizabeth Warren)

  8. Gene,

    Nice. Very helpful, indeed. Thank you.

    I am all about the grey areas, if not the grey matter. Alan Watts, btw, one of my favorite authors.

    With my friend, I have instinctively argued backwards in the past from points of agreement. Problem is, he’s also arguing back to his core beliefs. I think he enjoys having his beliefs challenged. Incidentally, he often seems just to the right of Ilya Somin. Is this a function of shared natural heritage or is Somin a victim of binary thinking? (You don’t have to answer that.)

    I am surprised that you should be up so late taking the time to respond here, and again, I thank you. I’d also note that your posts recently have been particularly fine. Your response to Tony C. on Sunday regarding things you would change was inspired. You should think about pulling together a collection of your wall entries and call it something like “Posts From the Past”, or “Post Scripts”. It’d be bookmarkable.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. OS,

    The idea of Juliet as doormat makes me giggle. The only way she’d be a doormat is if she dressed up as one for Halloween. 😀

  10. RTC,

    Polar thinking, or binary thinking, is a tendency to see things black or white, all or nothing. It’s in part a function of the human tendency to attempt to quantify, which can be useful when it doesn’t run amok, but deadly when it does. The universe is analog, shades of grey that are hard to quantify. In the words of Alan Watts, “Nature is all squiggly.” Very few things in nature are binary in nature. Even in particle physics, there is positive, negative and neutral. And a lot of other things that are shades of that. Binary thinking leads to oversimplification which in itself is a form of logical fallacy. It often leads people to adopt extreme view points, like “all government is bad” or “selfishness is a virtue” or “there is no God but mine”. It’s the trap of either/or. It is also a form of the fallacy of the excluded middle and the fallacy of simple/single cause. It is also a function of language. Language in the West tends to operate on ideas of fundamental opposition (male/female, hot/cold, etc.). Our language encourages binary thinking.

    People who are locked into this kind of thinking, we now know from research, tend to have a smaller, less active part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Among the many tasks the ACC performs in the brain is error recognition, which in turn works with pattern recognition, which in turn works with the ability to understand and integrate complexity. People with these smaller ACCs tend to be more conservative politically, less adept at integrating new information into existing paradigms, and less comfortable with complexity and uncertainty. They also usually have larger, more active amygdalas – the part of the brain that (in conjunction with the ACCs cognitive processes) controls the fear response. Since they fear what they don’t understand and understand less than they could under complex and uncertain circumstances, they tend to oversimplify. This results in an overall higher error rate when faced with complex and/or uncertain information. This is why your friend, who excels at a fairly certain science – horticulture, is limited in his ability to understand the complexity of the interrelationship between politics, law and society where each topic on its own is complex but the interactions increase that complexity by orders of magnitude. Next to medicine and theoretical physics (maybe astrophysics), social engineering at scale is probably one of the most complex areas of study we know. He probably wouldn’t be good with quantum mechanics either.

    That being said, there are other things that can lead to binary thinking. Trauma or psychological disorders like sociopathy, psychopathy or delusion. It can be caused by a number of things and not necessarily under conscious control. But it is a logical trap. Nature rarely works in straight lines. It works in curves. And while both can carry information, one is a construct rarely seen naturally and the other is nature’s standard operating procedure.

    And those kinds of people can almost never break free of it.

    That doesn’t mean areas of agreement cannot be found. Faulty logic can on occasion lead to factual conclusions, but it can also ignore critical information and lead to very wrong counterfactual conclusions. For example, my father is a binary thinker. We disagree on politics quite a bit, but on subsidiary subjects – like the illusion of choice a two party system presents – we agree but our logic in reaching that conclusion is very different. To be honest, his is rather simplistic and when I try to explain the nuance of my more complex argument, it usually leads to trouble.

    As a practical matter, I often find it easier to argue backwards with these kinds of people. Start with a conclusion and argue back to cause. Also, arguing from the side works well. Work from an analogy they can agree with you on to the specifics you disagree upon. Both of these tactics can cause them to question their thinking and possibly change their mind, but either way, you’ve softened the disagreement by couching it in agreement. Disclaimer: these tactics may not work on everyone. Some people are more logic proof and complexity resistant than others.

    I’m sure I could think of something else to say, but it has been a long gruelling day and, honestly, I’m getting tired. Thanks for asking and I hope you find some of that useful.

  11. Juliet,
    I cannot imagine you being a doormat for anyone or anything. I see you as one of those strong women I admire.

  12. Gene,

    Thanks for the commentary. This is actually a situation I’m going through presently with my best friend. Allow me to vent. My friend is Ukrainian, came here maybe fifteen years ago with his mom. He’s done well for himself; wicked smart, hard working, and a load of fun to be with. He purchased five acres in Northern central Illinois and planted a vineyard and started making his own wine. In fact, the guys got amazing horticultural skills – grows all kinds of stuff.

    I love hanging out with him. We drink beer, his wine, and a concoction he calls polanka – lethal stuff – and we grill and eat food, food, food, and food, and laugh our asses off. Eventually though, he gets into politics. He knows I favor Democratic politics and he asks me why I’m a communist and away we go. At some point he slaps a pistol down on the table and says, “Robert”, (um, if my name were Robert), “you’ve got to fight for your freedom”.

    His point is that the Russian Communists were a thoroughly rotten, abusive form of government, therefore all government is evil. I argue that the American form of government is a different animal, that we have safeguards, rule of law, blah, blah, blah….

    Among all his friends and family, who are the typical Fox Snoozers, I’m known by any number of derisive terms. It gets discouraging after a while, so I’ve pulled back.

    Anyways, could you expound on the binary trap a little bit more. I don’t know what that means and I’d like keep trying understand my friend.

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