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What the Devil won't tell you

Shellfish reform can teach morals to poor

Novel economic theory could be Arizona's new front in war on poverty

Warning: The following column includes a level of snark that may be unsuitable for some readers.

The state of Arizona has again gotten national ink for shredding the social safety net, with a piece this week in the New York Times detailing just how lawmakers intend to fix the economy by cracking down on the poor.

So who doesn't see the next front opening in Arizona's War on Poverty?

Arizona has long liked to stay on the cutting edge of this assault, so shellfish reform can't be far behind.

You may have read about the rampant abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by at least one person in California, who bought lobster on what taxpayers know as "food stamps" and then got himself on Fox News. This is a scandal with legs, more than a crustacean. Yes, taxpayers are footing the bill for the poor to gorge themselves on the kind of food hard-working Americans save for special occasions.

Kansas and Wisconsin have snapped (get it?) into action and passed legislation to put an end to this abuse and protect taxpayers from the generational gluttony of consumption perpetrated by the poor. The crab in the ointment here is that these laws require the feds to provide a waiver and none of this kind have ever been granted.

Shellfish reform would seem to be thwarted by the "Poverty/Crab-Boat Complex" controlling government today.

However, there is another way to reform the way the poor shop. It is a free-market model already in use worldwide. It's a simple way to discourage the food stamp recipients from buying things like lobster, crab leg and that high-end seafood "Swiss Cheese," that Kansas and Wisconsin tried to ban through their shellfish reform efforts. I think the free-market model could work in places such as Wisconsin, Kansas and Arizona.

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It's an idea whose time has come to put an end to the poor's spa treatments, first-class flights to the Seychelles and gorging themselves on shellfish whenever the spirit moves them.

Basically what I'm referring to is a tax. It's a tax that would reform how the poor acquire shellfish and other luxury items. Big windfall for government? No. Not a dime goes to the government. Revenues goes instead to private corporations and helps out the under-represented and under served shareholders of those corporate stocks. It's a way for the takers to give back to the makers.

Here's how it would work. Make a list of food the poor don't deserve. Lobster and crab leg are good examples. Tax them. Tax both at say 500 percent per pound compared to a pound of generic peanut butter. Then fix the benefit to a set amount per person per week.

See how this works? Loafers on tax dollars would feel the immediate consequence for their irresponsible actions. They would be hoist on their own petard, covered in drawn butter. Were the poor to try to get out of a store with lobster for one meal, then the "lobster tax" would mean slim pickings for the other 20 meals that week. Were they to have to fork over half of their weekly benefit for a big packet of crab leg, they would then be forced to get by, eating peanut butter on white bread for the other 20 meals with the other half of their benefit.

Revenues from this tax, which I will call "pricing," would then be distributed to private businesses and profits would be posted on earnings reports, which the free market could then convert to higher stock prices. Not a single school gets built with this money, directly. Theoretically, the rising share prices could lead to some capital gains tax revenues that could be converted into public education or farm subsidies.

It's time also to face a couple difficult truths that get to why the poor are poor and why so few of the rest of us can get ahead. It's not because of the lingering effects of recession or natural distributions of income inherent in a market economy. It's not because the state is poorly led and local economic development efforts have failed. The poor are poor because they are immoral, as Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, was cited saying in the Times:

"I tell my kids all the time that the decisions we make have rewards or consequences, and if I don't ever let them face those consequences, they can't get back on the path to rewards," Ward said during debate on the budget. "As a society, we are encouraging people at times to make poor decisions and then we reward them."

Which would you rather have, reader? A job, a life and prospects for the future at $3,000 per month or no prospects and no future at $1,000 per month on the taxpayer dime? Well, as Ward points out, of course we would all choose poverty.

In fact, a full 1,600 families among the 170,000 loafing without a job are going to be kicked off the welfare rolls in July 2016, because they exhausted the endless cycle of one year's worth of welfare benefits. That is 0.93 percent of the unemployed in Arizona. Those 1,600 families include 2,700 children for a total 4,300 people. They could almost but not quite fill AVA Amphitheater, which is almost but not quite among the 10 largest concert venues in the state.

That the poor are poor because of bad choices may explain why employers seek to: 1) Refrain from hiring the unemployed — period; 2) Run applicant's credit scores to not accidentally hire a bad-choice maker and 3) Pre-screen applicants for any conviction above a minor traffic offense as to not reward with gainful employment drunk drivers, misdemeanor offenders or felons years after their infraction. Sure, okay, plenty of Arizonans and Tucsonans too, on food stamps do work and others on welfare are in job-training programs. However, if they made better choices they too would have gone to med school like Ward did years ago.

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This theoretical "Pricing Model" will help teach them Morality 101.

Dictating what the poor can and can't buy is a typical well-meaning approach from people like Ward. However, it nannies them into a dependence on government without asking them to live by the consequences of their actions. I would advise they not go down that rabbit hole.

By pricing some products higher than others, and fixing a benefit amount, the poor are taught good morals like stretching a buck and delayed gratification. If they wanted shellfish, they could get it. They would just have to learn austerity to afford it and to stop doing whatever they want whenever they want.

If we were to think ambitiously, beyond merely shellfish reform, the pricing model could be used as a big old stick against the poor across the economy even affecting bad-decision makers in low-wage jobs (see: why did the choose not to go to med school?). No more $50,000 Cadillacs or luxury cruises without having to suffer financial consequences the rest of us deal with daily. All consumption could then go straight to the folks like the good people at Walmart (not the workers, they made bad choices or they wouldn't work there), who clearly need it most. The Walton heirs made good choices. They chose to be born to Sam Walton.

It's uncomfortable truth of our time that middle-class workers are working harder and harder without being able to get ahead because the money has been horded by the idle few. Ward deserves credit for diligence against the one percent holding the state back. No, not the 1 percent who own everything and arrange the economy to their liking but the one percent of the unemployed whose poor moral choices hold denying the rest of Arizona the American Dream.

I can hear what you are saying: "Prices already are in place across every economy in the world."

That's typically naive and doesn't pass the smell test. If the poor were already being punished for their bad choices, the hungry-child lobby's billions upon billions of dollars would have by now drowned out the critics and demanded justice. That front has been silent, which would suggest the laughable argument that the poor have no great lobby to defend them. Further, that would mean that Ward and the Legislature's efforts were nothing more than sadistic efforts of misdirection. No. The food bank crowd is far too powerful to let something like that just happen.

It is this one percent's insatiable need for food and shelter, plus their love of shellfish, that needs to be kept in check to move Arizona forward. Pricing would be a great step in the right direction. Let it start with shellfish reform.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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