Are Food Riots Coming to America?

“wwwgggaarraaarrr” – Chewbacca

A few weeks ago, during the shutdown, there was a “glitch” in the EBT system (debit cards used in the food stamp system). At first, it appeared that folks would be left without use of their EBT cards. Then, when some stores decided that they would allow EBT use despite the problems, they were picked clean by throngs of card wielders. (Either the food was “free” because there was no record of the transactions, or the card balances were effectively infinite as there was no way to check.)

The glitch was eventually fixed and things returned to normal (you know, the “normal” in Obama’s America where 47 million people are on food stamps). But just this week there are new warnings of potential trouble ahead. It seems that the food stamp program will lose something on the order of 6% of its funding beginning in November. Some, including Margaret Purvis (head of the Food Bank for New York) are hinting that there could be riots. (Sidebar: while Purvis hints at riots based on people not having enough food, the recent EBT maelstrom came not from hunger, but from a dramatic price cut to effectively zero.)

I suppose it is possible. Most of the ingredients are there. The economy is struggling. The rich are getting richer and the poor and working class are struggling (hat tip to Ben Bernanke on that front … as well as president Obama and his reckless double-down on George Bush’s failed economic policies). Unemployment is high and is concentrated in inner cities (which also have a high density of food stamp recipients). The same ingredients that many of us thought could lead to riots after the George Zimmerman verdict are still in place, and can be just as dangerous this time around.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I think there will be widespread riots at this juncture. I’m just noting that there are some issues out there which could fuel discontent.

That said, I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that only in America do we discuss the prospect of riots if food assistance programs are dropped from $668 to $632 a month (for a family of four; it’s $200 to $189 a month for an individual). I’ve been to places in the world where a family of four lived on $2 a day … with no riots. And this wasn’t the horrible places of the world (e.g., the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India – where one million people live in one square mile of swampland) but a rather nice Nicaraguan mountainside.

Perhaps Purvis has it wrong. Riots don’t stem from hunger alone, but from injustice – whether real or perceived. On that lonely Nicaraguan mountainside everybody is poor and hungry, so there’s little point in rioting about it. But here in America some folks are extremely wealthy, whether due to hard work and diligence or due to government patronage and crony capitalism, and some folks are poor (by comparison). That’s a good place for the sense of injustice to percolate, especially if the modest amount the poor are given for food is reduced.

Maybe we should start by a very public display of taking away some of the perks of the wealthy – like access to no-bid contracts from the Obama administration, or first access to newly printed money, the great wealth transfer from workers to wealthy. Maybe that would be a good place to start.

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