“Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher,” Justice Louis Brandeis famously pointed out in his Olmstead dissent. “For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.”
When the government acts like a banana republic, the people will behave as though they live in one. Juxtaposing the chaotic footage of EBT cardholders conducting a legal looting at a Louisiana Walmart this past weekend with the constant cable-news loop of lawmakers conducting a legal looting of future generations affirms this. Both demonstrate the perils of letting one set of people spend another set of people’s money.
“I saw people drag out eight to ten grocery carts,” Springhill police chief Will Lynd told ABC News. “It was definitely worse than Black Friday. It was worse than anything we had ever seen in this town.” The catalyst for the food riot was an EBT computer shutdown in 17 states. Rather than shut off EBT purchases, the Walmart allowed EBT purchases without reference to account limits. The store, rather than the government or the EBT cardholders, will now make up the difference between the amounts on the cards and the amounts at the cash register.
The police chief observed one customer leave with $700 in groceries and most others simply abandon overflowing carts once informed that the government’s computer system had come back online. The devastation left in the food frenzy’s wake evoked the visual of Mad Max set in a Stop & Shop. “There was no food left on any of the shelves, and no more meat,” Chief Lynd explained. “The grocery part of Walmart was totally decimated.”
The post-apocalyptic supermarket scene in Springhill, Louisiana, resembles the surreal scene in D.C. these past weeks. Sure, the folks in Walmart may have sported more tattoos and spoken coarser language than the folks in Washington. But the crowd in the box store and the crowd in the capital share a basic outlook: easy come, easy go. Neither works for the funds. So, neither shows restraint in spending it — think Senator Mitch McConnell’s $2 billion dam (the account he spent from was overdrawn, too).
When you aren’t responsible for earning the money you spend, you’re irresponsible in spending the money another has earned. The principle of relative scarcity, prompting most to value the money in their pockets, doesn’t mean anything to people whose money comes cheap. Whether it’s Paris Hilton embarking on a shopping spree with daddy’s credit card or Senator McConnell putting a dam on the national credit card, “frugality” strikes the ears as a foreign word.
The problem for EBT holders in the other sixteen states where the computer glitch occurred was that storeowners forbade purchases when left without the ability to check card balances. At a store in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where 75 percent of customers pay with EBT, the Boston Herald’s Howie Carr reports that the proprietor simply closed up shop. Welfarians everywhere but Walmart inveighed against the injustice. Washington similarly imagines its problems stemming from a lack of unchecked spending authority. It never occurs to them, despite a $17 trillion debt ticking constantly upward, that their unchecked profligacy is the problem.
Americans appear to the rest of the world the way the Walmart shoppers touting one EBT card and seven carriages look to the rest of America. The world has turned so far upside down that when Communist China lectures free-market America on its fiscal imprudence, honest Americans can’t help but admit that they have a point. In downgrading U.S. credit from “A” to “A-,” Dongong, China’s version of Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s, explained their assessment: “The fundamental situation that the debt growth rate significantly outpaces that of fiscal income and gross domestic product remains unchanged.”
Attention Walmart shoppers: It is later than you think.