There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Breakfast

In the context of massive federal welfare programs, “free” breakfasts for school kids in Colorado may seem like a minor issue. But the Colorado debate over breakfast welfare reveals the fundamental principles at stake regarding forced wealth transfers in general.

These are the basic facts, as reported by the Denver Post. The Colorado government faces a budget shortfall of around a billion dollars. Unlike federal politicians, state legislators cannot spend money they do not have. In this context, three Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee voted against spending $124,229 to provide around 56,000 children with “free” breakfast, “though more than 270,000 children are eligible for free breakfast and lunch outright.” Without the additional subsidy, the children must pay 30 cents for breakfast.

(According to my calculator, spending an additional $2.22 per child would finance about seven extra days of “free” lunch, so the numbers make no sense to me. Nor does the “untapped balance” mentioned by the newspaper square the figures. However, my purpose here is not to get to the bottom of the figures but to address the moral issues involved, so I’ll take the figures as reported.)

Now two of the Republicans on the committee are thinking about changing their vote and allowing the additional subsidy to go through. Republican Cheri Gerou told the Post, “We are not looking to starve the children of Colorado. We care about the children.”

Democrat Cherylin Peniston told the Denver Daily, “Being able to provide breakfast each day for our neediest kids is an important function of government.”

So, according to these popular media accounts, providing “free” breakfasts is an essential function of government, and anyone who opposes the program hates children.

On the contrary, those who truly love children want to protect their right to live their own lives and control their own income when they become adults. Those who value the education of children want to convey to them the importance of individual rights to individual autonomy and happiness and a healthy republic.

The educational function of the “free” lunches is to indoctrinate children into the primacy of the welfare state.

A government that can force today’s adults to subsidize “free” breakfasts for other people’s children can force tomorrow’s adults to devote their entire livelihoods to the state on the alter of egalitarianism. Nothing is more important for the future of today’s children than preserving liberty.

Nobody is stopping anyone in Colorado from voluntarily donating a portion of their income to pay for the breakfasts of anyone they please. But don’t try to force other people to hand over their earnings and pretend that’s morally virtuous. It’s not. It’s the moral equivalent of theft.

The only legitimate function of government is to protect individual rights. Forcibly seizing people’s income to subsidize other people’s breakfasts violates individual rights.

In economic terms, there’s no such thing as a free breakfast. A breakfast that is “free” for some parents seizes wealth from other parents and single adults.

That adequately summarizes the basic moral issues involved; however, I also have some questions about the particulars of the program.

1. Of the 270,000 children who supposedly desperately need the “free” breakfasts, how many of their parents spend their own money on any of the following: cigarettes, booze, fast food, expanded cable, outings to bars, regular trips to the mall and cinema, video games, an extra family vehicle, or extra cell phones for the kids?

2. How many of those parents, whose children legislators so desperately want to “help,” are forced by federal, states and local politicians to pay sales taxes on food and other essentials, payroll taxes to subsidize people with much greater resources, and property taxes for the education of other people’s children?

3. How many of those parents have been unable to find work because of the union-empowering wage controls of the left?

4. Why do reporters for the Denver Post and Denver Daily News believe they are doing their jobs when they completely ignore all of the additional issues mentioned above?

Update: I’ve thought of a couple of other questions.

5. State Senator Shawn Mitchell points out on Facebook, “A federal FREE meal program feeds school kids in poverty. For families who earn more, there’s a 30 cent copay.” So how much are those families actually making?

6. How many of those families also receive food stamps?


Income Eligibility

Ben DeGrow January 26, 2011 at 10:23 AM
To answer question #5: income eligibility for federal “Reduced Lunch” (or breakfast)—those students who would be obligated now to contribute the 30-cent copay currently picked up by the state—is for a family of 4, between $28,665 and $40,793 (130-185% of federal poverty line). The figures change depending on the size of the family. See page 3 of

Ben Degrow