Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Nothing dear, you're not qualified"

One of the early scenes in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life depicts a hospital birth. The focus of the doctors and nurses and administrators all clustered around is on all of the fancy equipment and even the financing of said equipment ("we lease this back from the company we sold it to, and that way it comes under the monthly current budget, and not the capital account!"). What they're not particularly interested in is the young woman. Anyway, at one point, as the doctors are making sure that everyone knows his or her own part in the process, the woman on the gurney asks, "What should I do?" And the response is, "Nothing, dear - you're not qualified."

For some reason, I was reminded of that by this story1 out of Chicago...
Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"

At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," Carmona said. "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception."
I suppose we should be grateful that they even make exceptions for medical issues and allergies, but I don't see why we'd assume that will remain the case. After all, if the school is omniscient enough to provide for the children without problems better than the parents can, how much longer will it be before they decide that they can care for the parents with problems better than parents can?

One more itsy-bitsy step on the road to totalitarianism. We've gone from schooling for those who can afford it -> schools for everyone who wants to go -> mandatory schooling for all. We've gone from schools not feeding kids -> schools making lunch available to kids -> schools making "free" lunch available to kids -> schools making lunch mandatory for kids. (Thinking about following the history of school health -> sex ed -> condoms -> ??? to a similar and logical conclusion is ... unsettling...)

"If we can just put the right programs in place," cry the Utopians, "we can perfect the human condition, and make a heaven of the earth!" But they don't know what they don't know, and are likely - very likely - to do far more harm than good2. Even in the exceptionally unlikely event that the school were to actually serve a lunch that was both a) nutritionally sound and b) tasty enough that the kids would eat it, that does not come close to justifying the infringement on parental rights and responsibilities that this mandate represents. It is appalling.

Every overstep of government power begins this way. "Her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices." Of course it is. It's trite and cliche to say that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," but it's certainly true that the road to totalitarian government is. Every encroachment on freedom and liberty starts with someone wielding political power in pursuit of some greater good. And it may do some good for some population, but it almost invariably does some unintended harm to some other population at the same time. And, in the process, it enables the next bit of power transfer from individuals to government. It doesn't go all at once, just a little bit at a time, and the causes are always "good ones." It's "for the children" or "for women" or "for minorities" or "for the elderly." And they never even consider the possibility that they might be, you know, WRONG. "Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," says the principal. Well, that's almost certainly true for some of the students, but it's equally almost certainly false for others. But it's obviously too expensive to treat everyone as an individual, so everyone gets the same. Better, worse, more appropriate, less appropriate, none of that matters - everyone gets the same.

FDR didn't set out to sell a program for transferring massive wealth from grandchildren to their grandparents, but that's what Social Security is. LBJ didn't (at least nominally) set out to destroy the black family, but that's been one of the significant end results of the "Great Society" programs which incentivize out-of-wedlock births and essentially punish marriage. Those programs were started with noble intentions ("taking care of the elderly" and "support for women with infant children") but the damage from the unintended consequences have dwarfed any good that they might have done.

And that's going to be the case in Chicago's school lunch mandate, too...

1Hat tip to Tom Naughton for the link to the story...

2Everything that the Federal government knows about nutrition and promotes about nutrition is wrong. Everything that we've been told about how to eat is wrong. The food pyramid is upside down.

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