North Dakota Republicans take food from children while adding to their own plates

It is an evident truth that, whatever may be the rate of increase in the means of subsistence, the increase of population must be limited by it, at least after the food has once been divided into the smallest shares that will support life. All the children born beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons. It has appeared indeed clearly in the course of this work, that in all old states the marriages and births depend principally upon the deaths, and that there is no encouragement to early unions so powerful as a great mortality. To act consistently there- fore we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality ; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations.^ But above all we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases ; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased from 1 in 36 or 40, to one in 18 or 20, we might probably every one of us marry at the age of puberty, and yet few be absolutely starved

When Thomas Malthus wrote that, he was convinced that population growth would inevitably outstrip our ability to produce food. He was wrong, of course, but more than that his solution was eugenics based on the assumption that poor people were the problem, and the solution was to deliberately make their lives worse so they’d die faster. Once upon a time, I might have written that, since we’re more than capable of feeding everyone on the planet, we have  outgrown this misguided and murderous idea. Unfortunately, I think it’s as popular as ever, particularly among those to whom Malthus’ recommendation would not apply. They also seem to love the perspective that poor people are sub-human, and more like livestock to be controlled, than actual people. I don’t know whether capitalists actually believe it, but they all adhere to the dogma that because “anyone can make it” under capitalism, that means that the poor chose their lot in life by not working hard enough. Poverty, under this ideology, is itself proof of unworthiness, and the only way to make people better is to punish them for being bad. They tend to avoid saying as much, but it’s pretty clear when you look at their “solutions” to societal problems.

The newest version of this old idea is probably longtermism/effective altruism, which basically holds that because rich people are “doing” all the important stuff like trying to colonize space, they need to be able to do whatever they want now, because it will make life better for the trillions of humans that will live out in space some time in the future. Poverty, child slavery, workplace death or injury, disease, global warming – none of it matters “in the grand scheme of things”, because Elon’s gonna make us interplanetary. This same self-importance seems to be prevalent throughout the ranks of the rich, including politicians.

This post isn’t about all of that, but I wanted to try to provide some context for the fact that North Dakota Republicans just shot down a free school lunch program – for feeding hungry children – and then gave themselves an increase in their own free lunch program:

Just over a week ago, North Dakota lawmakers voted to prevent giving free school lunches to low-income students. Then, on Thursday, they voted to increase the amount of money they get to spend on their own lunch.

On March 27, the Senate narrowly rejected a bill, which had passed the House, guaranteeing free school lunches to K-12 students in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.


On Thursday, the Senate voted 26–21 to pass a bill to raise per diem meal reimbursements for state employees traveling within the state, from $35 to $45.

Republican Assistant Majority Leader Jerry Klein told local outlet InForum that state employees should be getting a higher sum because inflation costs have made meals more expensive. Klein voted against giving students, whose parents are also being squeezed by inflation, free school lunch.

“I thought today’s vote was very self-serving,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan told InForum. “How can we vote for ourselves when we can’t vote for children?”

The effort to give low-income students free school lunches for the next two years would have cost just some $6 million, a relatively small price to pay to ensure children don’t go hungry. While the Senate failed to pass the bill, the House is not giving up quite yet, reattaching the provision to a broader school funding bill.

I think that every person running for political office should be made to spell out what they believe society is for. Why are we doing all this? If literally feeding children is not the problem of the government, then what is? For some, it seems like it’s literally just there to serve the whims and interests of the rich, and to keep everyone else in line as the rich destroy everything. These politicians, and all others who oppose free school lunches, are actively choosing to harm the development of children in ways that will likely affect their entire lives. They’re also choosing to weaken the immune systems of poor children, and to make it much, much harder for them to succeed in school. The resources absolutely exist, but whatever these “leaders” view as their responsibilities, feeding starving children isn’t on the list.

I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, US politicians in both parties work to inflict and maintain malnutrition in poor children all over the world on a daily basis. and have done for decades. Honestly, they’ve been working to ensure people go hungry in the U.S. as well, from the enforcement of racial poverty during and since segregation, to the continuation of environmental inequality, to the continual assault on any government program that seeks to improve life for the working class.

Writing about this feels a bit like writing about the train derailment in East Palestine. This isn’t a new problem, it’s just that sometimes reporting on it catches national attention for a little while. This stuff is going to keep happening. It will not stop until the people organize enough to make it stop. There are absolutely politicians who are doing what they can to make the world better, and that work is worth acknowledging. The school lunch program has been attached to another education bill, and maybe the press about this glaring hypocrisy will shame some people into changing their votes, but the resources of the wealthy are on the side of those who want children to go hungry, and unless we take away the power of the wealthy, they will never stop trying to consume everything and everyone to for their own enrichment. Is it eugenics? It’s hard to say what’s going on inside a person’s head, but the actions we can see sure read like those of someone who shares Malthus’ disdain for the filthy poors.

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  1. Alan G. Humphrey says

    I also don’t know what goes through the minds of the oligarchs. Maybe the old monied within their bubble, their conservative values derived from a view that their place is ordained by divine powers, think they mustn’t go against what is obviously (to them) beyond their will to change. The first generation rich shouldn’t be in that kind of bubble, yet…

    On longtermism/effective altruism, I don’t see how these supposedly brilliant minds have missed the only, absolutely required, step to arrive at their alleged goals. Educate all children, and I mean every one of them everywhere in the world, to the highest level possible, and see hundreds each of [insert long list of real geniuses] pour forth into the world. They would have a much better chance of solving our problems than the navel gazers have imagining that kicking cans farther down roads while hoarding their cash is a solution.

  2. says

    At least from the point of view of the tech billionaires, the goal is to keep enriching themselves till the world falls apart, and the ride it out in their luxury bunkers. They don’t see us as actual people – more like zombies or NPCs in a video game.

    As to educating the children, they do want that, they just don’t believe in educating all the children. They believe in the meritocracy, which means they believe that rich and middle-class children are more likely to be the smart ones. They also believe in competition, which means that they believe that the current systems of scholarships and grants and testing do a decent job of sorting people, and marking out the ones who actually matter.

    As for the rest, they need people to extract raw materials and turn them into products, and most of that work doesn’t require education. Further, they don’t want those people to think too much about why life is the way it is, or how it could be different.

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