Tag Archives: food stamps

Millionaire Lotto winner on Food Stamps

Lottery winner on food stamps even after $1 million jackpot

By Eric Pfeiffer

People love stories about someone winning the lottery and then giving the money away. They’re less likely to feel fondly about Amanda Clayton, who won $1 million in the Michigan State Lottery but is still collecting food stamps.

“I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn’t, I thought maybe it was OK because I’m not working,” Clayton, 24, told Local 4 news in Detroit.

Back in December, a woman in Washington State fell under scrutiny when it was revealed she was receiving state economic benefits even though she lives in a $1 million waterfront home on Lake Washington.

Clayton, who says she owns two homes and a new car, receives $200 a month in food assistance from the state-issued Michigan Bridge Card, which is meant to benefit lower-income residents in the nation’s eigth most economically depressed state.

Twenty-five percent of Michigan’s residents receive some form of food assistance from the state. The state’s unemployment rate is 9.3 percent, more than a full point above the national average, but has dropped from a 10.4 percent peak in August.

And Clayton isn’t embarrassed about living off the state even though she now finds herself in the nation’s top tax bracket. “I mean I kinda do,” Clayton told Local 4 when asked if she had a “right” to the government welfare.

She certainly doesn’t the fit the mold of other lottery winners we have told you about here at the Sideshow, including the number of repeat winners of the Georgia State Lottery, many of whom chose to donate their initial winnings to charity or family members in need.

Clayton downplayed her wealth, saying she took the $1 million in a lump sump, which meant about half immediately went to taxes. “I feel that it’s OK because I mean, I have no income and I have bills to pay,” she said. “I have two houses.”

Her story has already caught attention locally, where state Republican Rep. Dale Zorn has sponsored a bill preventing individuals like Clayton from taking state financial assistance.

“Public assistance should be given to those who are in need of public assistance, not those who have found riches,” Zorn told Local 4. The bill, which has already passed the state House and has a sister bill in the Senate, would require the state to cross check the names of lottery winners over $1,000 to see if they are also receiving state financial benefits.

And she wasn’t the only one.


Hand out nation: America’s economic troubles are continuing to bite with almost 15% of the US population now on food stamps

One in 15 Americans now officially living in poverty as number receiving food stamps rises 8.1% in a year

By David Gardner

Shocking figures revealed today that one in 15 people in America is now living in poverty.

The number – a record high – is spread widely across metropolitan areas as the country’s economic troubles continue to bite.

And almost 15 per cent of the population are also now on food stamps, it emerged yesterday.

The ranks of the poor applying for food stamps increased by a worrying 8.1 per cent over the past year to make a total of 45.8 million.

America’s economic troubles are continuing to bite with almost 15% of the US population now on food stamps

The increase in poverty is believed to have been caused due to the housing bust pushing many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income.

There now really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners,’ said Robert Moffitt, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University.

‘Recessions are supposed to be temporary, and when it’s over, everything returns to where it was before. But the worry now is that the downturn — which will end eventually — will have long-lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can’t recover.’

Once-booming Sun Belt metro areas are now seeing some of the biggest jumps in concentrated poverty.


1 Mississippi 21.5%
2 New Mexico 20.7%
3 Oregon 20.6%
4 Tennessee 20.2%
5 Louisiana 19.9%

About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 per cent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 per cent or less of the official poverty level.

Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

That 6.7 percent share is the highest in the 35 years that the Census Bureau has maintained such records, surpassing previous highs in 2009 and 1993 of just over 6 percent.

After declining during the 1990s economic boom, the proportion of poor people in large metropolitan areas who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods jumped from 11.2 per cent in 2000 to 15.1 per cent last year, according to a Brookings Institution analysis released on Thursday.

As a whole, the number of poor in the suburbs who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods rose by 41 per cent since 2000, more than double the growth of such city neighborhoods.
Suburban households are less likely to receive SNAP benefits, but usage is on the rise with about nine per cent of households

Poverty for Americans 65 and older is on track to nearly double after factoring in rising out-of-pocket medical expenses, from nine per cent to more than 15 per cent.

Poverty increases are also anticipated for the working-age population because of commuting and child-care costs, while child poverty will dip partly due to the positive effect of food stamps.


The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest in five weeks, government data showed on Thursday, in a hopeful sign for the struggling job market.

Initial jobless claims totalled 397,000 in the week ending October 29, down from a revised 406,000 claims the previous week, the Labor Department reported.

The claims number was lower than the average analyst estimate of 401,000, and provided a positive reading on the depressed job market ahead of Friday’s October jobs data.

It was the third time in six months that weekly initial jobless claims have fallen below 400,000.

Last week’s reading was the lowest since September 24, when claims stood at 395,000.

But applications need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal sustainable job growth.

They haven’t been below that level since February. Applications have been above 400,000 for all but two weeks since March.

The figures come a day before the government releases its October jobs report.

Analysts expect employers added 100,000 net jobs, nearly the same as the 103,000 added in September. The unemployment rate is expected to stay at 9.1 per cent for a fourth straight month.

Employers have added an average of only 72,000 jobs per month in the past five months. That’s far below the 100,000 per month needed to keep up with population growth. And it’s down from an average of 180,000 in the first four months of this year.

And with one in 15 in poverty, more than one in four of working age are now tapping food stamps.

According to Department of Agriculture figures, worst hit were people in Mississippi, where more than 21 per cent were recipients.

One in five residents in Tennessee, Oregon, New Mexico and Louisiana also depended on the hand outs – formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – to eat.

Officials fear the numbers may swell even more in the coming months as people battle financial hardship and record unemployment.

But one reason for the rising number of recipients was that many states have waived requirements limiting the assets food stamp applicants could own, said the Wall Street Journal.

The number of food stamp users exploded after the recession hit in late 2007 and has continued growing even though the downtown is officially supposed to be over.

Researchers from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire estimated that the percentage of Americans receiving food stamps increased by 61.2 per cent between 2007 and 2010.

Reliance on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programme was very high among single parents, rising ten per cent.

In 2010, 42 per cent of single mothers and 25 per cent of single fathers relied on the stamps. In rural areas it was ever higher at one in two single mothers.

States also made changes to make it easier for residents to tap into the program, such as waiving requirements that limited the value of assets food stamp recipients could own.

This is believed to have been caused due to the housing bust pushing many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income.

There now really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners,’ said Robert Moffitt, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. ‘Recessions are supposed to be temporary, and when it’s over, everything returns to where it was before. But the worry now is that the downturn — which will end eventually — will have long-lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can’t recover.’

The institute also found that 14.6 per cent of rural households were relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme in 2010.

Suburban households are less likely to receive SNAP benefits, but usage is on the rise. About nine per cent of suburban households received SNAP in 2010, up from 5.4 pe rcent in 2007.

Jessica Bean, a vulnerable families research associate with the Carsey Institute, said she thinks rural residents have traditionally been less likely to collect SNAP benefits because they live in remote areas where it’s hard to access social services and are more concerned with the social stigma.

In a rural area, she said: ‘When you go into the grocery store and you pull out your food stamps card, everybody knows you.’

Just one in ten married couples with children are using the government-funded food benefit.

Read more: SOURCE

Anticipating the Coming Convulsions as the Welfare State Dies

by Kurt Schlichter

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It’s already happening – the liberal dream of a perpetual social welfare state where deadbeat liberal constituencies feed off of the work of productive conservative citizens in perpetuity is dying. There’s no doubt about that; the only question left is how long and hard the process will be as the hideous leviathan the utopian liberal establishment has created convulses and dies.

It’s going to die hard. And ugly.

The collapse is well-underway in Europe – Greece has gone from the cradle of democracy to a cesspool of union-fueled mobs – but America faces the same trauma. As the contradictions inherent in the vision of a societal plan based on the notion that an ever-expanding pool of Democratic-voting serfs sucking the wealth away from the mostly Republican-oriented producers who labored to create it become more apparent, the reactions and rear-guard efforts of the terminal liberal elite will grow more extreme.

We are already seeing the liberal elite lash out in anger and frustration at what is a perfect storm of failure. Glenn Reynolds, the legendary Instapundit, chronicles the daily disintegration, while the brilliant Mark Steyn’s cheery new book, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, drops on August 8, 2011 – I’ll race you to Amazon to get a copy.

As the three components of the liberal establishment – the media, the unions and politicians – rage at the dying of the liberal light, the insanity meter will swing far into the red. It’s already begun. The Tea Party has dared to speak the truth, and the uncomfortable realities it has pointed out have destroyed the bogus consensus that has allowed the debt Titanic to sail giddily on toward the iceberg. That’s why the establishment response is to demonize the popular movement. We’re “terrorists” or “lunatics” or, bizarrely, “hobbits.” Our crime is telling the truth.

Never mind that the Tea Party candidates were absolutely clear about their debt crisis solution when running for election – the voters spoke. Apparently, the only polls that matter get taken around the tables at Manhattan and Georgetown dinner parties – and, oddly, the results are always unanimous in favor of a “compromise” that tries to shore-up the crumbling status quo.

The problem with the Tea Party is not what it does – at best, right now, it can only make a moral and political case; it does not have the numbers to make anything happen without non-Tea Partiers joining it. The problem with the Tea Partiers, in the eyes of the liberal establishment and the pet moderate GOP enablers, is that it dares to point out the indisputable truth that must be hidden at all costs: That the social welfare state is unsustainable and will collapse.

But the demonization campaign does not seem to be working as expected – amazingly, the Tea Party caucus was able to provide the missing spine to the go-along/get-along gang running the House and present a primary-based incentive to the collegial Senate Republicans who have to face the voters next year and don’t want to join booted squish ex-Utah senator Bob Bennett in his new sinecure as the MSM’s go-to, slam-the-conservatives, pseudo-GOP nobody. While the resulting deal was terrible, it was still a massive humiliation for the liberal establishment. They are not in a forgiving mood, and it’s easier to hate on the Tea Party than face the fact that they’ve driven us to bankruptcy.

So when demonization doesn’t work, government lifers like Senator Kerry advocate silencing the opposition. One might think that a United States senator demanding that the media refuse to report the views of his political opponents because too many people are accepting them might stir some outrage in the media. But then, if you did, you probably might believe in unicorns, leprechauns and global warming as well.

Instead of a chorus of outrage at this creepy fascism, the media elite seem to think this is a great idea. But that should not be a surprise. The media – at least the old media (call it the MSM) – is dying, killed off not only by technology that allows conservatives to evade the gates it used to defend to prevent the political discourse from being contaminated with ideas that challenge its foundational liberal premises. It is grasping at a life preserver, trying to take in a few more lungfuls of air before it sinks under forever.

With the establishment politicians far “out of their depth” in response to the coming crisis, watch for more moves by the Left not to resolve the situation but to kill the messenger. Do not put it past the elite to actually try again to limit debate using law and/or regulations. They still salivate at the notion of killing off conservative radio by resurrecting the Orwellian Fairness Doctrine, and the government at one point argued that it had the right to criminally prosecute citizens for publishing a book critical of politicians until it backed down. Note that the MSM strongly supports these forays into fascism – not surprising since they think that the Constitution that allows conservatives’ voice to be heard is a “problem.”

But it will be impossible to regulate conservative opposition out of existence – not just because of the First Amendment but because the coming reckoning will be so severe that it can no longer be swept under the rug. Yet, rug sweeping will become their next strategy. Playing off the demonization tactics, they will continue to attempt to engage moderate – read “squishy” – Republicans toward some sort of “compromise” that will give them just a bit more time before everything comes crashing down. Watch for this when the “Super Commission” comes back with its plan. Their goal – get past November 2012 then hopefully use the crisis to their advantage to turn the ship of state even harder to port.

But that’s a fool’s errand. The DC establishment can ignore math, but math won’t ignore it. There is simply not enough wealth that exists or can be imagined into existence through borrowing to support the redistributionist utopia they seek. Greece is a harbinger of the future. The EU will cobble together a bogus bailout that will keep the Hellenic rowboat afloat just a bit longer before it is swamped, but Zorba best learn to swim because it is going under.

Then the other failed states of Europe – Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal – will collapse too, taking with them Europe’s banks and our banks along with them. The only reason we won’t fail first – S&P did not act too early but, rather, far too late in downgrading the US – is that Europe’s social democratic elite is even more delusional than ours.

It’s over. The system must crash and reboot. The choice is a hard landing or a harder landing.

The prescription is clear to anyone looking at the situation, except for the establishment that will not see it because to admit what must be done and embrace it means to wave goodbye to its members’ power, prestige and position. We need to slash spending to less than the revenue we take in – the difference going to pay off the $14 trillion-plus tab. And we need to do it now, not in some hazy future where some other Congress will have to make the tough calls – though reality may just make them for it.

That means a radical return to Constitutional government where the federal government goes back to what it was formed to do – those things set forth in the Constitution and nothing else. The relatively easy part will be zeroing out the cowboy poetry slams, largely unwatched government TV networks and creepy shrimp-on-a-treadmill study grants.

The hard part is the entitlements all of us were promised and none of us will ever see. It means repealing Obamacare, but moreover returning the responsibility for health care to where it belongs – the individual. The same with retirement – Social Security is a ponzi scheme and everyone knows it.

Government student loans, farms subsidies, corporate bailouts, food stamps, Section 8 housing – none of these are federal responsibilities. These should be eliminated not only because they are counterproductive, ineffective and soul-crushing for recipients but because if we don’t do it on our own terms fiscal reality will do it for us cold turkey. And let’s not forget eliminating vast swaths of federal regulations – something that will both free up business and have the added benefit of dumping hundreds of thousands of government loafers off of Uncle Sam’s payroll.

There is a major change coming, and it could get ugly. Union members will do their masters’ bidding with the support of the MSM, threatening violence and maybe committing some. Look for well-planned and carefully-coordinated “spontaneous” mass marches on public buildings by scores of public employee union slugs demanding we keep subsidizing their retirements at full pay at age 50.

Fortunately, again as observed by Glenn Reynolds, the present crop of union activists aren’t the hardscrabble blue collar bruisers of the storied past. Today, most seem to be skinny green tea-sipping public school teachers, naggy Department of Weights & Measures diversity officers, or massive welfare-dispensing office drones clad in form-fitting purple size-XXXXL SEIU t-shirts that were made in China. Not exactly a fearsome crew, unless you’re between them and a muffin.

The Tea Party did not cause what will be a brutal reckoning. It only pointed out the truth and said, “No more” – an unforgivable crime to the people who caused this disaster and want to keep milking the system for as long as possible. The key to getting through the coming trauma – and it will be traumatic, as the social contract the liberals unilaterally imposed is rewritten by an implacable reality – is for the productive citizens of the United States to stand firm and stand fast. In other words, just the way Americans have gotten through every other crisis we’ve faced before.

America’s greatest days need not be in the past. Guided by the Founder’s vision and the principles of the Constitution, we will find that they lie ahead, over just one more hill.


Extreme Couponing: Desperate Economic Times Call For Desperate Measures

Extreme Couponing: Desperate Economic Times Call For Desperate Measures

Even in the midst of a horrific economic decline, there are tools that all of us can use to make the most of our limited resources. This includes doing some things that many of us never imagined that we would do. A couple of months ago I never would have imagined that I would be doing an article on coupons. But in these desperate economic times you have to look for any economic edge that you can get. Did you know that it is possible to get $500 worth of groceries for less than 10 dollars? I didn’t know that either until I started watching a show called “Extreme Couponing” on cable television. I was amazed as I watched person after person get over 95 percent off on their groceries. Personally, I have always thought that clipping coupons was a waste of time. Sure, you might save a few bucks, but I really didn’t think it was worth the time or the effort. Well, my opinion has changed. There are a growing number of people out there that are using coupons to provide all of the groceries that their families need almost for free. In an economic environment where incomes are going down but food prices continue to go up, “extreme couponing” is a financial weapon that virtually anyone can use.

Yes, not everyone can take it to the extent that many of these “extreme couponers” do. There are some women that spend 40, 50 or even 60 hours a week on their couponing. Most people cannot afford to do that.

But even if you just spend a couple of hours a week you can still save significant money. At a time when many family budgets are tighter than ever, saving 50 or 100 bucks at the grocery store can mean a world of difference.

Not only that, but “extreme couponing” is a great way to build up your stockpile of emergency food. Everyone should have enough food in their homes to feed their families for at least a year. Unfortunately, many people don’t have that kind of money. That is where “extreme couponing” comes in.

If you are willing to put a little hard work in, you can build a stockpile of emergency food for pennies on the dollar.

Extreme couponing is not complicated and thanks to the new TLC show it is becoming extremely popular. The following is how a recent article on MSNBC describes these “extreme couponers“….

Hard-core couponers are in it to win it — for free, if at all humanly possible. They plot their grocery-store trips with the precision of military commanders. They load up three or four shopping carts at a time. They test the mettle — and the congeniality — of cashiers by having them tally dozens of discounts on their behalf.

And what do they get in exchange? Hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise for as little as $5 to $10, the applause of onlookers — and a surge of adrenaline that can be downright addicting.

If you have never seen the show, you should check it out at least once. The following is a very brief preview of “Extreme Couponing”….

Yes, people are actually doing this. In fact, some of my readers are actually doing this.

On a recent article entitled “Inflation 2011: Honey – They Shrunk Our PayChecks” one of my regular readers named Maria shared that her and her circle of friends have adopted extreme couponing as a way to fight back against the bad economy….

In the last six months, I have seen a complete attitude adjustment in many of our friends and family. As a result, a resource sharing group has formed amongst us. We share work, ideas and tips on everything from budgeting to gardening. All of us have curtailed the “luxuries” like gym memberships, expensive clothing, latte’s and mochas from those expensive little stops on the way to work, dining at restaurants, first run movies at the theater, and a myriad of other little things.

Our latest discovery is the world of couponing. Anyone interested in dramatically cutting their household and grocery expenses should take a serious look at TheKrazyCouponLady.com and read their book, Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey. I never understood how couponing could make a difference until I read this book. Our group now looks at coupons almost as a tax free source of income, because it is saving us hundreds of dollars a month…no exaggeration.

I admit, I am not as diligent as the others about using coupons, but even with my minimal efforts I saved 60% on my meat purchases last month. That was huge for my family of 6. Our home is out in the country near a rural community, and the only grocery store in town is Safeway. I never shopped there before, because it was too expensive. I drove into the big city once every three months to do our grocery shopping at the “discount” stores. Now, using coupons on sale items, I can shop at the local Safeway and save more money on food and gas.

Sadly, this extreme couponing phenomenon will not be around forever. As thousands more pile on to the bandwagon, it is inevitable that food producers and retailers will start changing the rules. So take advantage of extreme couponing while you can.

Look, I never imagined that I would be recommending that people should start clipping coupons. But when any of us are presented with solid evidence that we are wrong about something, we need to be willing to change.

Personally, I am not an expert on coupons.

Thankfully, there are some people out there that are, and they have shared their knowledge for free on the Internet. The following are some of the best extreme couponing sites around if you are interested in learning more….

*The Krazy Coupon Lady

*Tips From a Mom of 3

*Coupon Geek

*Saving with Shellie

*Couponing 101

*Jill Cataldo

*My Frugal Adventures

*How To Shop For Free With Kathy Spencer

*Clippin\' With Carrie

*Money Saving Mom

People are always urging me to write more about solutions. Well, extreme couponing is a solution. A lot of us men might not like the idea of “extreme couponing” because it may not seem like a very “manly” thing to do, but the truth is that it works. In these desperate economic times, you have got to do what you have got to do. Today, one out of every four American children is on food stamps. An increasing number of children are falling into poverty. If it takes clipping coupons in order to survive, then that is just what we are going to have to do.

As mentioned above, all of this exposure on television is going to mean that “extreme couponing” is not going to be around forever. When too many people start jumping on a boat it is inevitable that it is going to sink.

But while this tool still exists, why not use it?

In particular, this is a great way to build up your emergency food stockpile for a fraction of the cost.

So what do all of you think about extreme couponing? Do you think it is a good tool? Do you have other tools that you would suggest for saving money in this tough economy? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts below….


The Psychology of Food Riots

EVAN FRASER is Canada Research Chair in Global Human Security at the University of Guelph. ANDREW RIMAS is Editor of Improper Bostonian.

They are the authors of Empires of Food: Feast Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilization

Last week’s mass protests in Tunisia were less a symptom of economic malaise than of a society fed up with its broken dictatorship. Should the other autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa be afraid?

The year 2010 was a tough one for the global food system. Wildfires, fueled by record temperatures and a summer drought, burned away much of Russia’s wheat harvest, spurring the Kremlin to halt exports. Throughout the fall, commodities prices skyrocketed. The United Nations panicked and called an emergency summit in September. World food prices rose to a record high in December 2010. So far, 2011 has not been much better: in January, food prices were identified as one trigger for Tunisia’s unrest as well as for riots across much of northern Africa, including Egypt, a country that depends heavily on Russian grain. It seems that a food crisis along the lines of the one in 2008, when rioters in dozens of countries furiously protested the price of grain, might again be in the works.

Assuming a connection among rising prices, hunger, and violent civic unrest seems logical. Many commentators have emphasized it, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who warned of mass starvation and other “dire consequences” if food prices were allowed to rise too high: “As we know . . . those kinds of questions sometimes end in war.” For its part, the UN emergency summit last fall concluded with a reminder of the pledge taken during the 2009 World Food Summit: Countries must “refrain from taking measures that are inconsistent with the [World Trade Organization] rules.” In other words, the UN reaffirmed that free trade and increased agricultural production are the best means to achieve food security.

Clash of Civilizations

But for all the noisy media coverage and declarations by senior policymakers, few people have remarked on the actual motives of those who, in 2008, destroyed property in Argentina, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Peru and brought down Haiti’s government and are currently causing havoc in Tunisia and across the Middle East. After all, food riots have occurred throughout history but have not usually correlated with hunger or food prices. For the most part, the planet’s 700 million-900 million hungry people have suffered in silence. And price volatility does not necessarily lead to screaming crowds, either. There are many more examples of people accepting volatile prices than rioting over them. So there is more to the protests than the logic of the pocketbook. A key psychological element — a sense of injustice that arises between seeing food prices rise and pouring a Molotov cocktail — is missing.

It is not yet clear how big a role food riots played in the toppling of the Tunisian government. But if history is any guide, Tunisians’ feelings of being cheated were more important than actual food prices. Take Cameroon’s experience in 2008, for example. That year, this West African nation suffered one of the most serious and protracted food riots in the world, and scores were left dead after the crowds eventually dispersed. Remembering the crisis, Alexander Legwegoh, a Cameroonian academic and an expert on urban poverty and food security, and Bernard Motuba, an accountant who left Cameroon for Canada, said that it was not just bills that caused the violence: expensive fuel drove taxi drivers to strike and then, anger over merchants’ profiteering on staple products broadened the protest. “The government knew a group of merchants was taking advantage of everyone and that this would grow to a political crisis.” Yet, according to Legwegoh and Motuba, as the protesters’ numbers swelled, the size of loaves of bread for sale in the markets shrank while their price tags remained the same.

For the most part, the planet’s 700 million-900 million hungry people have suffered in silence.
Beat some sense into you!

The real culprits, then, were retailers who stockpiled grain in hopes that prices would continue to go up. This speculation spun Cameroon’s food system further out of control and bred hatred. Motuba describes the food merchants as “cutthroat business guys who don’t give a damn about people.” When the government sent inspectors to grocery stores and warehouses to auction off any illicit surpluses, the public cheered. Prices had not returned to their earlier levels, but a seeming restoration of justice helped calm the rioters’ tempers, whose fury, according to Motuba and Legwegoh, had been rooted more in a feeling of exploitation than a fear of starvation.

Moral outrage is a common theme in the history of food riots. In fact, the story of the food riots in Cameroon aligns neatly with that of the 1917 food riots in New York City, which managed to bring commerce and retail to a standstill in February and March. That year, Marie Ganz, a New York housewife organized food protests, storming the Waldorf-Astoria and launching a citywide boycott of grocery stores. In her memoirs, Ganz painted a vivid scene: “Cart after cart [of produce] was overturned and the pavements were covered with trampled goods. . . . Onions, potatoes, cabbages flew through the air, and in each instance the target was a ducking, wailing peddler, whose stock had been ruined beyond hope of recovery.” The reason for the excitement was a sudden jump in grocery prices — 30 percent in a matter of weeks. But what kept Ganz and her contemporaries on the streets was the perception of wrongdoing. “The day of the profiteer had come,” Ganz wrote. “Surely a thousand women, perhaps twice that many were in that mad struggle, long-enduring wives and mothers who had resolved to bear the oppression of the profiteer no longer.”

Ganz’s anger, too, echoes events from the early eighteenth century, when hundreds of food riots caused tremendous commercial and social damage across England and France. Until then, an ancient law called the Assize of Bread had set the price of wheat, determined the quality of flour, fixed bakers’ fees, and obliged farmers to sell grain in easily accessible markets rather than at their farms, where merchants would have had a buyers’ advantage over the urban poor who could not travel.

As a food system, however, the Assize of Bread was expensive, and although it kept grain prices stable, it also squashed the energies of enterprising middlemen and entrepreneurial bakers. As such, it ran counter to the logic of Adam Smith and his fellow economic rationalists, one of whom argued, “Let corn flow like water, and it will find its own level.” Smith, in particular, believed that instead of helping the poor, such interference with the market damaged food security. If during a bad harvest year, for example, the government kept prices artificially low by preventing merchants from stockpiling food, then there would be no incentive to store grain or reduce consumption. This would only lead to greater hardship later in the year when food grew even scarcer. In a free market, prices would rise and merchants with surpluses would retain their stores. Hoarding would be considered a virtue when the merchants eventually released their surplus into the shopping bags of a needy public (for the right price).

Theoretically, this made sense. But rioting mobs are not economically rational. England’s and France’s slow shift from the protection offered by the Assize of Bread to the market-driven efficiency of laissez faire economics in the late 1600s and early 1700s coincided with the tail end of the Little Ice Age, which was spoiling harvests worldwide. The combination of volatile production and the replacement of welfare policy with free-market principles convinced many that unscrupulous merchants were profiting from hunger. In his description of the large-scale food riots that erupted across England and France at this time, the historian E. P. Thompson cited contemporary correspondence to show that the object of the crowds’ anger was not high food prices so much as the ethical wrong of profiteering.

In 1768, an anonymous country gentleman wrote a letter to the British Parliament commenting on this moral factor. While denouncing the rioters for causing havoc, he argued that food, coming from God through the sun, rain, and soil, is ontologically different from money. Merchants, he asserted, must be wary of profiting too greedily from the trade of food abroad while the English were suffering. His message and that of Ganz’s housewives, the Cameroonian mobs, and likely that of the Tunisian and Egyptian protesters is that food riots are ultimately caused more by the perception of profiteering and less by the actual prices on the shelves.

Policymakers today must be mindful of the psychological causes of food riots when they discuss the correct mix of trade and protectionism that will safeguard our food security. If they simply embrace the efficiency of the market, public feelings of injustice may cause more trouble than the volatile price of food itself.