Professor Simon Wren-Lewis is doing invaluable work on Mainly Macro. Today’s (December 10) article responds to critics of his attack on ‘small-state’ thinking – in particular a commenter who tried to rubbish his claim that the rise of food banks indicates a failure of ‘welfare reform’, using Lord Freud’s argument that there is limitless demand for free goods, and another who said there was no need for food banks other than to show that their creators are concerned for the poor and oppose austerity.
Prof Wren-Lewis writes [all boldings mine]: Well perhaps it is because I’m an economist (even a macroeconomist) that I would never make such silly economic arguments. How many times has [the first commenter] been down to the food bank to get his free food? It costs nothing after all, so it would be pointless for him not to at least see what they had on offer. Actually for most food banks you cannot just turn up – you have to be referred by another charity or by a local job centre. But still, if it’s free, why doesn’t he get himself referred by some obliging charity? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind pretending to be hungry – after all he is suggesting lots of other people do just that.
The less important reason why most people do not go to such efforts to get free food is that it is not free – you have to spend time and effort to get it, and that is a cost. For most people this cost far outweighs any benefit. In fact it is quite possible that the only group where the cost does not outweigh the benefit is those who would go hungry otherwise. The more important reason is that most people are quite ashamed to get food from a food bank, or to pretend they are hungry when they are not just to get a few bags of free food. Economists are allowed to take account of such feelings, even if sometimes they fail to do so.
Once you understand this, there is no need for [the second commenter]’s rather contrived explanation of why people run food banks. They run them because it helps people who would go hungry otherwise.
This excellent article performs a valuable service, debunking yet another fake claim by supporters of the Coalition Government’s disastrous ‘long-term economic strategy’. Please give it a visit, and then use its arguments wherever you see or hear the claims of Lord Freud or the two commenters being put forward.