On an online forum I frequent, someone recently asked if the members thought it was OK for someone whose family receives food stamps to spend money to get a facial. Berefit of things to blog about recently, I thought I'd bring that question, and my thoughts on it, here.
First, yes, I absolutely think it's OK for someone who is receiving food stamps to get a facial. I believe that those who qualify for government assistance should receive it, and taking it doesn't make them any more in need of my (or anyone else's) monitoring their spending than not taking it would. So whether or not you get food stamps makes absolutely no difference, to me, in whether or not you should get a facial. You are in charge of your money and how you spend it.
The response to that from the right (and much of what passes for the left, honestly) is that if someone has money for facials, then they should leave the food stamps for someone who "really needs them." I call b.s. on that. The truth is that nearly everyone in the U.S., even those who are constantly preaching and bragging about their frugality, has luxuries. Our standards for receiving assistance are plenty low enough without trying to cut out anyone who spends any money on anything that we don't consider necessary, especially when that consideration is so subjective. For example, that facial money could be spent on cable, or zoo admission, or cigarettes, or books. All of these things would be serving some of the same purposes the facial does--relaxation, a feeling of brief luxury, entertainment. Would they all be subject to scorn? Is it really possible that we believe that someone whose income is low enough to qualify them for government aid deserves none of these things, ever?
Speaking of "deserve," I think that's part of what this debate is about. The idea that that the poor deserve only subsistence. I reject that notion. Everyone deserves more than subsistence. And given the extreme luxury in which the majority of this country (myself included) lives, it is extremely hypocritical for us to spout about other people's wastefulness. Chances are very high that we ourselves are wasteful, but we have much more trouble identifying our own wasteful natures than those we see, especially when we see ourselves as somehow subsidizing other people's spending, as we do in the case of recipients of government dollars.
Clearly, I think I deserve luxuries. I spend a stupidly huge portion of my income on them. Why, then, would I think anybody else doesn't? How small and miserly would I have to be to begrudge other people the things I think are nice and fun and pampering just because they have less disposable income than I do?