A basic result in microeconomics is that giving welfare recipients cash is better than giving them vouchers or food stamps. Allowing individuals to choose how to spend the money rather than have a choice imposed on them leads to individual welfare being maximised. But there is a very slight complication – the people who get taxed to pay for the cash benefits are excluded from the analysis. A taxpayer might be happy to pay something to prevent a welfare recipient from starving to death but may not want to pay for their substance abuse. Don Arthur draws our attention to an actual situation like this.
A sixty-five year old store clerk in New Hampshire was fired last month for refusing to sell cigarettes to a twenty year old using an EBT card. The man’s foster mother came in to complain, and eventually the store management fired the clerk.
So far so good. But then the young man wrote an op-ed defending himself:
Is that okay, I wonder, as tears well in my eyes reading commentators describing people like me as social parasites. Ironically, the same people obsessed with individualism and the free market seem to need to tell individuals how to spend their money. Why do people who are sick or unemployed need to justify their spending habits, simply because they are in receipt of support from their community (transferred via the government in the form of cash)?
Ahem. Whose money? Well a member of the New Hampshire legislature responded.
The debate forming here is not focused on whether or not you are a smoker or what you do with “your money”. Rather, it is centered on whether or not the tax payer dollars you receive should be spent on non essential items– which cigarettes certainly are. Indeed, at the heart of the debate is the very question of whether or not those tax payer dollars are truly yours or whether or not the tax payers who provide them are entitled to some say in how they are spent …
Jackie Whiton, age 65, had worked as a cashier at the Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough, N.H., for years. But then a couple of weeks ago she committed a firing offense.
She refused to allow a welfare recipient to use his EBT card to buy a pack of smokes.
How dare a taxpayer say no to a member of the non-working class?
Back to our young smoker.
Is every taxpayer I encounter entitled to a rundown of my medical condition, shelter expenses, etc.?
To be fair – no. He shouldn’t have to justify himself to each and every taxpayer – that would detract from his efforts to find a job – but it isn’t unreasonable that he have to justify himself to somebody. This whole ‘pay me money to live the life I choose because I have a ‘medical condition’ [or insert any other excuse]‘ is starting to wear thin. Now I’m happy to believe that smokers are a persecuted minority; but I’m not happy to accept that the state should levy taxation to provide welfare to an individual with a ‘medical condition’ so that he can buy cigarettes.