Pride and The Grocery Store

April 8, 2010  |  

By Charles Payne, CEO & Principal Analyst

There isn’t much economic data out this week so we have a chance to look at data you don’t hear much about. It is amazing when we hear about how rich and great this nation is and it’s explained that we can afford to clip profits and whack rich people for their earnings because it’s simply the right thing to do. Yet, this notion of robbing Peter to pay Paul seemed more compassionate back in Sherwood Forest than in a nation that sees self made millionaires minted throughout each day. In America, people would rather fish than have someone fish for them, especially if they weren’t born into a welfare family and welfare mentality. For now, Americans don’t like handouts no matter how well meaning. And, I’m talking about Americans on the receiving end of those handouts.

Yet, we all have to eat. With that in mind, I’m proud to live in a nation that feeds its hungry (and take care of the sick as well despite the nonsense that makes it seem like people die in the streets of America), but I’m even prouder of a nation that provides opportunities for people to feed themselves. Our government has given up on the notion that our system of capitalism, or the American people themselves, can find ways to fill up their pantries. When I was growing up as a teenager my happiest days were those when we went grocery shopping. To fill the cabinets and refrigerator with food felt so blessed. It made the house feel safer, it gave me more confidence, and it filled me with pride. That pride came from knowing my mother worked hard to provide the food, and there were times when I worked and chipped in, too.

These days too many Americans are getting their nourishment through the government food stamp program. In fact, the number of Americans on food stamps has soared above 40,000,000. Just think about that number for a moment. It’s simply frightening. Just a week ago it was reported that U.S. farmers are going to plant 88.8 million acres of corn this year, and that will be an all-time record. Soybeans will be planted on 78.1 million acres of land, down 2% from an all-time record. Part of that corn crop is going to new fuel standards that demand ethanol be a greater percentage of gasoline blends. The soybean growth has been driven by demand from China. Last year, only 53.8 million acres were devoted to wheat, the smallest amount since 1970. America is the breadbasket of the world but 40,000,000 people can’t afford this bounty.

I think that it’s more than a shame; it’s an indictment of a system that seems to prefer its citizens to need government. I’ve marveled all my life at how the will of people can be slowly taken away from them. Water boarding known terrorists is a no-no but slowly making people wards of the state is seen as compassion. Whether a hunter or gatherer, the nature of humans is to go out and find food. Many take it for granted and maybe don’t feel great when they walk out of a supermarket with a basket of food, but the day they have to wait for the mailman to come by before they can go grocery shopping it awakens that primal sensation of achievement.

Since February 2009, the number of Americans on food stamps is up more than 8.0 million. That is a horrific number. We’ve seen spikes in recent years, for instance after that tough 2005 hurricane season, but nothing like this.

In the meantime, I don’t think that this is data point that will become part of the monthly reports to be analyzed and ripped apart. But, I can’t think of a better way to judge the performance of our government and the Administration’s policies. Job numbers can be manipulated and are up for interpretation, when people can’t feed themselves or their families the interpretation is clear…the focus at the top must change. Just move out of the way, stop sucking up resources, and stop demonizing businesses and watch how many people find their way back to the grocery store to spend the money they made at work.

Heck, it wouldn’t take them long to take it for granted. That is a sign of success.

Charles Payne is the CEO and Principal Analyst of Wall Street Strategies . This post was republished, with permission, from his company’s column, WStreet Market Commentary.

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