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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rights vs. Wants

My middle daughter just started a job as a cashier at a local supermarket. She has noticed a few things that were rather eye opening:

Many people who paid with Access Cards or money from the WIC program often times were buying things that seemed fairly luxurious, such as steaks and crab legs.

These same people often had children who were grabbing handfuls of candy while they themselves talked on cell phones.

These same people were often buying packs or cartons of cigarettes.

Now before I get too far afield, I know that the above referenced programs do have guidelines for what can and can not be purchased. You can't, for example, claim that tobacco is a vegetable (although I heard Frank Zappa once say during an interview that tobacco was his favorite vegetable) and you can't buy soda with your WIC check. It's a mute point though, because I contend that if you don't have the money to buy your own food, then you shouldn't have the the money for things like candy bars and smokes.

I know, I'm being harsh, but so be it. There is no "right" to crab legs. Certainly there is no right to crab legs with my tax dollars.

I say with some pride that my daughter views things like crab legs as being a luxury. That makes me think I've done my job well as a parent. While not perfect, at nearly 18 she sees the paradox of "hey, both my parents work very hard, but yet we don't always have things like this; how come others who are supposedly poor can buy stuff like this?". It's a comforting thought for me, as growing up we genuinely didn't have a lot. Were we "poor" in the strict sense of the word? Probably not, but I did grow up in a housing project and there were never many luxuries. My children have more than I did growing up, but they still do have a sense of perspective. That's a good thing.

Anyway, it all boils down to this: in this country we confuse "right" with "wants". I am sure that those who are poor "want" a cell phone. Who doesn't want to be able to talk to family and friends from wherever you are? Phillip Morris would like me to tell you that smoking is a "time honored tradition partaken by generations of Americans" or some verbal spew like that, and damn, if you forget little details like LUNG CANCER then that too sounds mighty appealing. Buy those things (along with other little ditties like beer, gambling, pornography, etc.) aren't required for sustenance. They are "wants". They are extra. They are rewards (although EMPHYSEMA doesn't seem like too great of a reward to me) for working hard and sustaining yourself and your family. Our compassionate government does provide for programs so that people can meet their basic "needs" because we believe that everyone has a "right" to not genuinely be hungry in a country as prosperous as our own.

Common sense folks. I know that you can't legislate common sense and I know that it would be virtually impossible to enforce no-smoking rules for Access Card recipients, but maybe we should examine more closely the rules for these programs. If someone wants to slowly kill themselves by smoking then I shouldn't be helping to pay for it via freeing up their available cash with an Access Card.

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