Columnists, Jon Caldara, Politics, Taxes, Uncategorized

Caldara: ‘Free’ school lunch running out of other people’s money

(You can listen to this column, read by there author, here)

Indulge me as I quote a few old dead white guys. Yes, of course, we hate them because somehow, they victimized all of us. But, you know, that whole thing about a squirrel occasionally finding a nut…

Who would have guessed Nobel prized economist Milt Friedman was so right when he said there is no such thing as a free lunch. Quite literally.

With Prop FF in 2022 Coloradans voted to tax rich people to give free lunches to all public-school kids.

Taxing other people is a delightful pleasure. Political minorities are there for us to abuse after all, think cigarette smokers, out-of-towners who rent hotel rooms and cars, and people who make more money than you, the scum.

But a small problem happened on the way to the lunch table. About 40% more families than projected are taking up the offer of free food.

I find it wildly surprising that when you give people free things, they gladly take them.

State schools have been providing free lunches for less than a year and the program is already going bust, $56 million under water. Impressive.

There is a reason the “no free lunch” term was around a long time before Mr. Friedman used it.

Coined in 1942 by reporter and columnist Paul Mallon, it became even more popular in 1966 with Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

The term was used in the 1800s when bar owners would give patrons a “free lunch,” usually a hard-boiled egg and peanuts. Even drunkards figured out while the egg was “free,” the alcohol was expensive. But Colorado voters still haven’t figured it out.

More and more families will be feeding their kids the free school lunch as food prices continue to skyrocket. The program is wholly unsustainable. It was from the start. We all knew it, including those who pimped it.

Will it ever be reversed? Of course not. As Ronald Reagan said, “there is nothing closer to immortality than a new government program.”

But worry not! The Joint Budget Committee in the legislature has appropriated a quarter million dollars to hire a consultant to figure out how to close the funding gap.

The consultant might suggest having the program means-tested, so hideous rich kids don’t get the free meal their parents paid for. Of course, that flies in the face of the whole idea of Prop FF. The free lunch program we had before was means-tested, and therefore stigmatized the “not rich” kids.

The real solution, which I hear is currently being implemented, is making the food taste so hideous that kids won’t eat it. Sure, they’ll go hungry throughout the school day, but that just builds character, right?

The new FAMLI paid  leave act will quickly fall to the same fate. We aren’t even three months into employees taking paid time off and there are whispers of needing to raise the payroll tax.

Dead white guys understood the hazard of people voting themselves free stuff.

Thomas Jefferson purportedly said, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

But a slightly more dead white guy gave a clearer warning. Alexander Fraser Tytler was a Scottish lawyer, writer, and history professor:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”

Odd how, and I’m generalizing here, that those who promote voting themselves largesse today seem the most preoccupied with a new fear of “dictatorship.”

Tytler went on to say, “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

I was luckily raised in the “liberty to abundance” phase of this sequence. I fear we are dangerously close to the “apathy to dependence” phase.

But hey, my kid gets a “free” lunch.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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