If you're ever in the situation where someone says, "Oh, you're so negative, you criticize everything, tear down everything, but you don't actually have any ideas," the right response is the Every Child Fed program (get in a few centuries ahead, and be viewed as a prophet by all your surviving friends in memoriam.) That's the point at which many/all anarchists fail--they actually don't have anything to say but "State sucks." Not just anarchists, but most everyone else who complains about, say, "western culture." What would they put in its place? Socialism, run by who? Full democracy via instant facebook voting for policies? Who gets to suggest the policies that bother everyone with instant voting alerts?
All fun stuff, that, but I'll skip ahead to the right answer: ECF. And ECF gives rise to lots of tangental issues that provide lots of other fun stuff to think about, too. We'll do that, but we'll start with ECF.
Every Child Fed
So, what would you suggest we do? The best answer, always, is the most humane: Every Child Fed. Instant worldwide establishment of a mortally-enforceable policy that caloric sustenance is a basic human right for any human. Now, the cruel Darwinist assholes, a.k.a. Objectivists/Libertarians/etc., would prefer that poor people starve rather than rich people have to share, which is why we only say every child fed. Little helpless kids, who couldn't possibly be of use in the factory system. The age point might be arguable, but we're going, first, for the essence of the policy.
Granted, maybe the next John Galt could fend for himself as a brutally-tough, street-smart five-year-old (only by stealing from those who actually work, but that's a separate subject)--but even John Galt the infant couldn't survive as a thief. So Every Child Fed keeps alive future John Galts and Tony Starks, for those who desire such presences. The Randian objection, of course, is Market-Style Evolution: those whose deoxyribonucleic acids are superior will have superior children who deserve food, but those whose DNA is inferior, and who need to be expunged from the gene pool, will be unable to provide for their children, which children will then starve, improving the species by their deaths. That's the pop-science preference for inferior children--death--ergo modern social and economic policy. It's about what they call evolution, people. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you want a decent world where inferior children shouldn't go extinct, you have to be willing to give up on big business' rationalization for eugenics.
Moving back away from that touchy subject--ECF. The policy we must advocate upon any point of demand is ECF, so that children are fed. The rationalizations are obvious, if you're not into pop-evolution: human decency requires that we not let children starve as long as we are not ourselves starving. Nothing should be more important, to this species, than preserving its weakest members to save everyone the potential for their future development. When challenged on any policy point, say, "Every child, everywhere, should be fed." That beats any other policy argument ever spoken in the western world.
Nuts and Bolts
How does ECF work? Well, unfortunately, it requires a state--an organized endeavor of human beings marshaling the use of managerial techniques and patenting the use of force. By whatever name, some kind of organization has to ensure that the calories are made available, and that no one is prevented from having them. It's easily done; we have hundreds of governments doddering around the planet, spending hundreds of trillions of dollars encouraging their citizens to shoot one another. It would be an incredible savings, even in the first year, to set up distribution and service warehouses every few square populated miles. We could cut back a little bit (just 1%, or so), on military budgets. Or, even, school budgets. If you're wedded to "education policy" in any way, ask yourself: should we be paying for teachers and books when some children are literally starving to death? What prevents lifelong education and engaged citizenry more: lack of access to teachers, or lack of access to life? So yeah, cut back on a few drab cement administrative buildings and books, and we can afford ECF, even without touching military funds. Easy peasy. So fucking cheap it's not a rational point of discussion to say it couldn't be done.
But then, how do kids get there? Similarly easy, from a policy-making perspective: stop a kid from getting four-times-a-day access to ECF, and there's a police response. Equally cheap to pay for; we could cut back slightly on parking ticket enforcement. Dozens of governments have legions of people canvassing the globe in search of pirated DVDs and cannabis sativa, hassling kids for skipping school, and spending billions of dollars checking birth certificates and passports to verify what "country" a person is a "citizen" of. Simply issue a few thousand departmental memos, and suddenly, the worlds' uniformed thugs are vigilantly ensuring that all kids have access to ECF cafeterias. They're following up on reports of sicko parents who lock kids in the attic, religious bastards who won't let the kids go eat because of menu disagreements, and hungry perves who lurk outside the centers to lure kids into their vans for a little illegal play. By and large, though, even assuming all of the latter things happened, kids can go into these cafeterias when they're hungry, swipe an ID, and get their basic meal. Child starvation drops to statistical zero.
Positive Side Effects
Simplistic, idealistic crap, yes, but do consider the positive side effects. Consider them in a postmodern light, though--what's in it for me? Presume that the kids' lives don't even matter. Maybe we're the President of the United States, or the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, or the head of a university, or some other heartless entity who doesn't care about children suffering to death. Even so, there are side benefits to ECF.
Delinquency, greatly reduced. Adults worrying about kids' futures and thereby diminishing their own economic performance for their host country, greatly reduced. Kids unable to focus on education and future careers, greatly reduced. Dead bodies and human waste needing to be removed from the streets, greatly reduced. Corpses floating in canals, reservoirs and rivers, greatly reduced. Truancy, trespassing, petty theft, greatly reduced. Grand larceny, assaults and batteries, greatly reduced. Hungry child soldiers being impressed into armies for the promise of food, greatly reduced. Diabetes, obesity, etc., greatly reduced as hungry kids don't turn to sugar corps. to fill aching bellies.
So, as in all other things, the libertarian bullshit fantasies would actually be improved by ECF. Just like when you tell libertarians, "But if you paid taxes to invest in ghettos, the reduced African American crime rate would actually save you money in prison taxes in the long run," ECF counters their points. Granted, they're not going to make the connection, and this isn't a guide to how to fix libertarians; the point is for you to recognize it as the ideal first step. All this stuff will be hashed out in the centuries ahead, with the business community getting no more rational in its arguments, and later on forgetting how wrong it was.
Back to now, the menu. Three meals a day is ridiculous; it's Henry Ford's idea of human eating, conjoined to all the other fun we're having in the Gilded Age (e.g., what we traditionally think of as the Gilded Age, minus its "end," which never happened, plus the 20th and 21st centuries). Diet-enthusiasts know about "grazing," and how it's better. We'll just start with four meals a day as our ECF starting policy point.
Meal 1, 4AM to 10AM: oatmeal bowl, with or without slivers of local meat; tofu patty; carrot cake (not actually carrot cake--one of those cheap, non-tasty, but painfully healthy patties with 40-odd kinds of condensed fruits and vegetables, not necessarily containing carrot at every center, but the name will stick).
Meals 2 and 3, 10AM to 4PM & 4PM to 10PM: rice bowl (standard rice quantity with slivers of local vegetables and/or meat) and treat (salty, sugary gelatin hunk that will get removed after a few years because it turns out to cause alimentary sclerosis in extremely rare circumstances, which a couple bastards knew ahead of time, and their memories will end up disgraced).
Meal 4, 10PM to 4AM: hell soup (informal tag for the soy-broth sodden veggie-rice chunk blend that's more of a casserole, really, but which drips a lot. Not because anyone's a tofu freak, but because we're going for cheap basics, and also a little because the first upper dispenser vents look a little like horns.) and treat.
Yeah, easy, and way less than a buck per day per kid, and so cheaply offset by the 95% reduction in your local Health & Human Services, Department of Festering Corpse Removal that it's a tax savings even without considering the reduction in liquor-store robberies for breakfast cash. All organic, 'cause it's produced and transported under guard (guard needed for the first few generations of transitional period), at designated centers within each zone, and all local (/shudder) 'cause it's cheaper. No one really wants to eat there as a preference, but so many people find that it's easier than the whole store and store and prep thing that they find themselves there more often than they'd planned, even in the transitionary period.
The Facilities & The Policies
We say "meals a day" even though the service time is not standard; a "meal" is akin to "one admission ticket, one trip to the counter." Each under-18 kid's little ID swipes 'em in once during each period, cumulative trips if they missed an earlier one that day, but no rollovers beyond each 24 hour period.
Guarded--at first--production centers (call 'em "farms" for the sentimental), one per zone, regularly attached to each service center. Service centers: no parking, walk or commune only, multilevel cafeterias with bank-style deposit windows. Swipe your card, get a tray. Under-18 only inside, age- and sex- segregation available by request ("I'm, err, not comfortable eating with all guys...thank you. Oh, thank you." Or, "Uhhh, my Mama says I hafta sit in the kids room"). Reverse-movie-theater policies, backed by onsite security (which security rather quickly comes to know the temper of its associated community): no leaving with inside food or beverages, escorted out if you throw cake at your neighbor, etc.
Again, it all seems pie-in-the-sky, but have you ever been on a U.S. military base? With far worse production and distribution networks, far more extensive security issues and membership issues, far more convoluted menus and policies, these places maintain a worldwide network of hundreds upon hundreds of 24-7 kitchens constantly serving millions of people. Not only is Every Child Fed an immense savings of money, it's an immense savings of human time and energy--forget all the benefits, it's just a much, much easier way to accomplish what we already accomplish in our own clunky ways. Sure, most kiddies would prefer to eat at home, where the food is often tastier, but the available safety net of the local ECF Center is such a nicety you can scarcely imagine it from here.
Trunk tight. Cheap. Easy to understand. Easier than de-segregating the American military, done worldwide with the swoop of a pen, and with state military force to back up the human right. Try to form a political faction that shuts down your local center, and end up in jail, your picture and ID emblazoned on the local intranet's "Wanted to starve your children!" list. No more buying a home within half a mile of a park, pervert.
The Free Rider Response
This really gets useful here. The other stuff is all cool, in some ways, but still looks like idealistic crap. The point of considering ECF in 2014 is not idle fantasy, but to learn to hone our goals and expectations. We do that by considering the "free rider" problem, and how ECF would have to adapt to it.
What is "the free rider problem"? It's the traditional greedy bastard ("libertarian") response to any kind of nice idea: if you offer a free ride, so many people will take advantage of that ride, without giving back, that the system will break down. Offering welfare, for example, means that everyone will immediately stop working in order to use welfare. Nach, that has never happened in all of the previous human histories of state assistance, but it's the most common selfish objection to any kind of social safety net.
Remember "There's no such thing as a free lunch"? That's the non-Confucian maxim of such people, who perhaps don't remember being fed lunches by their parents when they were 2-year-old pant-shitters.
We're not here to counter them, though, but to use that viewpoint to develop our own hopes and dreams. There are such people in the world, remember? A lot of them. There are people who will sit on the couch, take charity from someone else, and never get up and help out--ever. They'll leech endlessly, stealing money and time and food from those who think hard and work hard, never giving back, and occasionally, dragging other people into the abyss with them. That's a problem with charity, whether personal or social--the lazy, selfish sickness of those willing to debase themselves.
The tricky issue with such people is that they usually have an excuse. They feel that they do actually work hard, but no one appreciates it, or that they are the only ones with bad luck, so it's not their fault, or that they were wronged somehow in the past by the people/situation they're taking advantage of, so that makes it okay to take advantage. Luckily, that's not most people, but it is enough people that we all instinctively understand the free rider problem: if you share your wallet with others, eventually, someone will steal money. If you offer free food, some people will drop every aspect of personal responsibility, and let your hard work provide for them--forever.
Free riders are problematic not only to those who provide--because they are taking advantage of a program meant to help people who would be unable to get food otherwise--but because enough of them would necessarily destroy any system of generosity. The traditional libertarian argument about national health, or food stamps, or American "welfare" payments, is that it will encourage people not to work because they can succeed without working. Not only is this a bad incentive, but if enough people took part in it, everyone would starve. If every single person on the planet (or enough of them) decided to stop producing food because food was free, then there would (literally) not be enough food, and we'd all starve--and it would ultimately be the fault of those stupid and idealistic enough to be bleeding-heart generous and give food away.
That take on humanity--that it would willingly go extinct rather than working to provide for itself and others, and that it would debase itself by living on handouts when it was capable of doing otherwise--is erroneous, and we'll deal with it elsewhere. This is the humanity-loathing idea that people crave lonely, parasitic existences of survival at the expense of others, which is to say, Market-Style Evolution--we do only what we need to seek pleasure and maintain genes. That can be dealt with elsewhere. What we need to accept for the purposes of ECF is the truth that there are people like that, and a lot of them: the world has a lot of free riders, which is why ideas like Objectivism and Market-Style Evolution are so popular: they provide a deep philosophical appeal to people who, deep down, actually are the selfish, resource-gobbling creatures that they claim all species are.
What we'll do here, below "the free rider response," is study the ways that free riders would react in response to the Every Child Fed program, and how that response would have to be dealt with in order to protect the program. What we'll see as the picture develops is that, in order for Every Child Fed to actually work, it would have to gradually become Everyone Fed--and Everyone Housed, and Everyone Cared For. The associated, generalized maxim is that decency and life, like their counterparts selfishness and vileness, are creatures that grow in order to survive.
Free Rider Problem #1: Carry Outs
The biggest free rider problem at ECF's inception was dubbed "carry outs," involving people over the age limit getting food using child mules. Hunger and poverty occurring outside ECF facilities motivated adults to urge children to bring them food from ECF centers. Adults, of course, could not enter the centers to eat, but they could use their greater physical power, or social connections, to coerce children into smuggling food out of the service centers, and to adults.
This scheme was a great one for the crooks behind it. The production costs of the food were zero, because the ECF program provided it. All you needed to do was threaten a kid to eat their 4 meals a day, but smuggle out as much as they could hide in their clothes--everything non-liquid made the trip salvageable. Utensils stolen in bulk could later be repackaged and sold back to the ECF program for a profit, and if you could keep your mules alive on just stimpills for a few days in a row, that was all the more food they could not eat inside the center, and smuggle out to you.
Many of the adults who participated in ECF theft (and certainly almost all of the children) were not loathsome of character; many were simply trying to survive. Selling extra food to starving adults, many of whom had just become ineligible for the program, kept entire underground economies alive, and saved thousands of lives. Even for those not at risk of starvation, reselling ECF food turned a nice profit. In the profit-economy, opportunities such as "free food" and "cheap labor to bring it out of the centers" was an unavoidable consequence.
The Birthday Problem
The next free rider problem was the birthday one--namely, having a birthday. Once you hit 18* (*the local equivalent thereof), everyone knew you were off the program, so people would go to extreme lengths to fool the system, and continue getting meals as long as they could. Kids wouldn't usually see the problem coming themselves until they were 12 or 13, but as they approached that fateful day of "no more meals," most of them realized that death, or the camps, lay in their near future.
What kinds of responses did we see, then, from these rational actors? Well, women would bind their breasts, walk with disguised hunches, use extra-chirpy voices, and toy with what makeup they had available, all to try to appear still-just-seventeen. Men would attempt partial shaving (to appear as though they didn't have adult beards), go on starvation diets to try to limit physical development, hang out with younger groups of kids, or just try to fight their way in.
None of the above helped, though, without ID fraud. Wrist chips were forged; they were extracted by unlicensed surgeons, and put in by street doctors you could never quite track down afterward, when some 19-year-old lost a hand and died of amanatis; people threatened, cajoled, bribed, and whored, just to get scanned into the service centers for another few weeks' or years' worth of meals. Birth and death registry fraud abounded, as criminals fabricated entire lives and backgrounds in order to turn a 17-year-old into a 16-year-old who still had 2 years of free food left, and entire security industries had to be developed to verify, protect, and account for the people who were eligible to be served.
People who died during the early ECF times were particularly valuable, because anyone who died under 18 could be "replaced" by a hungry 22-year-old in search of a pre-existing entity. Kids would often protest that, because ECF saved money each time someone died before receiving a full 18 years of benefits, it was only fair that those benefits be assigned to someone else. Hundreds of magistrate courts had to be set up across the globe to handle arguments between individuals and medical facilities about when someone had actually been born--those who wouldn't turn to computer hacking simply argued that the nurse had "written down my time of birth wrong," and that they'd actually been born one year later.
Thugs would lurk outside the centers, or on known travel routes, to warn children about their upcoming birthdays, and to begin to suggest various ways they could work their way into the system. The transition to adulthood, and the loss of that ready source of food and water...
The Train Robbery Problem
An old-world problem plagued the ECF centers, too. In a situation where only some people have food stockpiled, and others are hungry, conflict will arise. Regular, drab, old-fashioned attacks on food convoys, farms, warehouses, and the service centers themselves abounded. Any hungry adult knew exactly where the food was stored, how it was packaged, and what was on the menu any given day. It didn't take long for farms to become, essentially, military bases, subject to worker checkpoints, and rife with expensive administrative fraud. Managers who "mistakenly" sent a truck in the wrong direction could feed a neighborhood--at the same time as they lined their own pockets, got a security team killed, and substantially increased future operating costs.
The Shelter Problem
A great thing about ECF centers was the shelter they offered. During those 3-4 meals a day, kids were out of the sun, out of the rain, out of the hot, and out of the cold. The centers had clean running water, functioning toilets, security guards to prevent social harassment, and if you had a medical emergency while eating, an onsite nurse. Naturally, some kids wanted to be there all the time. Particularly those that didn't have beds.
For the homeless, then, the centers became more than cafeterias--they became homes. Kids would try to hide out in the hallways, the bathrooms, behind out-of-service serving carts...everywhere. The motivation was profound, for people who, after dinner, would be sent to sleep on a filth-strewn street, subject to gang violence, and at risk of not surviving to come back for breakfast.
To response to this problem, ECF had to increase security. Operating costs went up, as additional personnel had to check the service centers hourly to be sure someone wasn't trying to sleep in a forgotten corner, or wasn't using a bathroom stall as a place for a nap. Food-service staff had to time cafeteria use, to ensure that kids weren't lingering over their meals for 6 hours just to be able to stay inside.
By the same token, center users started to feel harassed. Those who ate slowly, rather than gobbled their food, began to feel that they were "being watched," and getting "hurried" by the security personnel, who were only trying to make an honest effort to prevent abuse of the facilities. It became less fun and relaxing to use the place, because you needed to be an efficient, careful automaton, get your meal in, then get out, lest someone come over to ask you meaningfully, "Are you doing all right, Miss?"
A small problem, but one blown up in the media, was how many meals a child would receive per day, and how many calories per meal. Many a pun was abused in the service of portion-size arguments; a minor scandal erupted when a certain news outlet spread the story that some centers were allowing chubby kids to "make as many trips as they liked to the line" per visit. The one visit, one trip rule discussed at the beginning of this blog post was established in response to the latter complaint, even though the problem wasn't ever nearly as big as some claimed.
The program's response to all these problems was to add additional layers of personnel to deal with the problems, which made the program more expensive. Ironically, it became more exclusive, too, as all that oversight served to create regulations that could be selectively enforced by local staff, harassing undesirables away from the program for mere technical violations, and further perpetuating existing prejudices. Every Child Fed was still dozens of times cheaper and safer than former food policies, but many of the cost increases were exactly the things that the program had been designed to prevent.
Which led to the only right answer: everyone needed to be fed. If everyone could be fed, then there was no "competition" between your 17-year-old self and your 18-year-old self. Caloric reassurance for everyone saved so much money that it made even ECF's first year look like a ridiculously expensive capitalist plot. Now, being human was enough to be admitted. No more wrist chips, no more birthday checks, no more "which center is nearest your home, ma'am?" Fraud disappeared entirely, because there was no more gain to be had from fraud. Everyone, everytime--so simple, and so cheap. All the criminals immediately lost their jobs; the streets cleaned themselves up, and everyone enjoyed things, except when the occasional rare wacko started throwing his tray around, and had to get tackled by security.
Every so often, a fat dude would go back for seconds, then thirds, then fourths--but giving every fat dude in the world as much as he wanted to eat proved to be nearly a hundred times cheaper than constantly monitoring every line, or carefully weighing and measuring ounces and molecules per-packet.
Diet-fad-followers take note: in fact, Everyone Fed eliminated most obesity, and not just because the standard food was pretty bland. Scientists later determined (after years of ponderous analysis) that obesity had been caused by subconscious fear of future scarcity, and had been a creature of "abandonment-potential communities"--the preferred academic jargon for societies that existed prior to ECF.
Everyone Housed and Cared For
Just as with food, the "shelter" and "healing" issues proved more cheaply met holistically. Nearly a century of work proved, beyond even an un-reasonable doubt, that guaranteed housing (as comparatively bland, clean, and wholesome as center food) not only eliminated the problem of camping-out in cafeteria hallways, but solved the lion's share of all other preexisting species problems, as well. (To the ire of many long-time critics, a hybrid sort of capitalism proved the most efficient economy to exist on top of those programs, provided it was hobbled such that it only existed above and beyond the basic plan of food, shelter, and healing--which rather eviscerated it into something entirely different, to many scholars, who continued to object to the nomenclature even generations after the "hybrid" label was first added.)
What does all this teach us? If you're here, you probably know that small investments in "social welfare" are not only a really cheap and efficient way to run society, they're also "morally right." If you're inclined to be contemptuous of humans, and imagine a magnified free-rider burden (e.g., you're fiscally conservative, Republican, libertarian, eugenicist, Objectivist, et cetera), then you know that social welfare only weakens a nation/species by allowing the unfit to survive, and placing an undue burden on the strong.
What the ECF situation teaches is that, if you're interested in doing things that are morally right, or that will "fix" the current set of human problems, then you have to make a complete solution. Feeding just every "child" only gives rise to problems of supply and demand, inclusion and exclusion, and security monitoring, which is likely to lead right back into the type of situation we have now. While pushing for ECF is still a good thing, so far as thought experiments go, it shouldn't be the end goal, however nice it would be in practical effect for billions of actual people. Sure, it's the first form that will eventually be tried, because those who advocate for ECF will claim that it's the "only way" to make some changes, and that starting small is better than nothing. That's the same lesser evil argument that ultimately supports evil. What ECF really stands for is "starving adults." Sure, children need more protection, but if we're going to do the right thing, why not just do the right thing? ECF is a tool of negotiation with the heartless (who might be swayed from their tough, realistic, macho fiscal positions by the thought of children starving, even though they would merely sniff in contempt at the thought of 18-year-olds or 50-year-olds starving); it is not a complete end goal.
The dream of structural change we're circling here is the effecting of systematic love and caring--things that shouldn't be bounded and classified. Next time around, don't forget what ECF taught us.