Fake news

by Russ Roberts on November 20, 2007

in Hunger, Media

At first, it seems like a very depressing story (HT: Drudge)

Operators of free food banks say they are seeing more working people
needing assistance. The increased demand is outstripping supplies and
forcing many pantries and food banks to cut portions.

Demand
is being driven up by rising costs of food, housing, utilities, health
care and gasoline, while food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers
are finding they have less surplus food to donate and government help
has decreased, according to Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of
the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

Well, of course. With unemployment in double digits, incomes falling and the economy spiralling ever-downward—

But wait. Unemployment is low. Incomes are rising. The economy is doing well. That doesn’t mean  that everyone is doing well. But is really likely that the working poor in America are suddenly doing so much worse than before that food pantries are noticing long lines of hungry people that they weren’t prepared for?

Maybe the executive director of a group of food banks isn’t the best source of unbiased information. Is government help really down? When did that happen? Food donations down? Why? How did this story get written in the first place? Did a reporter call up a few food banks curious to see how it’s going? Or did Lisa Hamler-Fugitt send out a press release?

And if the story did originate with a reporter, can you imagine the food bank director responding to a question about the state of hunger with the answer–"We’ve got plenty of food. People are doing great. With the economy going so well, demand for our services are down. Have a great holiday season."

I think giving away food is a really good thing. I’m proud that my son and his classmates delivered home-made lasagnas to a local homeless shelter yesterday. I didn’t get to talk to him about it yet, but I suspect his insights into the current state of the hungry are about as reliable as those in this story. I’ll let you know after we talk tonight.

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{ 21 comments }

muirgeo November 20, 2007 at 9:32 am

It's an amazing juxtaposition to see people here at the Cafejustify one truth while questioning the validity of another. Incomes are rising? The economy is doing well? It's true for me. My income is rising, my economy is doing well. Heck I'm not even hungry…oh wait I am hungry it's breakfast time.

Just a question for the people here who claim to be libertarians.
Have the policies over the last 6.5 years leaned more libertarian in general? Is anyone here claiming this "good economy" is a result of more libertarian policies?

It seems to me that the general answer to both questions is yes. And that blows me away because the obvious answer to me is that the economy is a disaster but the overall policies leading to this are anything but libertarian. So I'm always confused by post such as this when it seems to be a claim for justification of something but of what I'm not sure.

Flash Gordon November 20, 2007 at 9:47 am

My wife is a board member of a local food bank. I asked her if there is a shortage of food. She said no. The sources of their supply are the big super market chains, restaurants, and some from the suppliers. Individuals play little if any role. The coffers are full. Maybe the situation is different elsewhere but I'm skeptical. Most of the food banks operate the same as my wife's, getting their food from the same sources.

The Dirty Mac November 20, 2007 at 10:15 am

Muirgeo is right in that the Bush policies have been anything but libertarian. OTOH,the market system has made the availability of food a non-issue in the United States.

If food prices are an issue, one needs to cite the rabid support forbiofuel subsidies by a public that has no concept that such subsidies raise food prices across the board.

Keith November 20, 2007 at 10:17 am

Qoute from muirgeo: "Have the policies over the last 6.5 years leaned more libertarian in general? Is anyone here claiming this "good economy" is a result of more libertarian policies?"

No, the policies of the federal government for the last 6.5 years have been overwhelmingly statist.

No, I would guess that the "this good ecomony" has more to do with lower taxes and the general robustness of the economy as a whole, but increased government spending and borrowing and intervention are now being felt and about to take their toll.

Once the Democrats are back incharge, they'll raise taxes, spend even more, intervene more, and it will be 1979 all over again.

save_the_rustbelt November 20, 2007 at 10:24 am

Russ:

You need to get out of the office more.

The "average" American is doing very well. So says George Bush. Limbaugh. Kudlow.

Like Lake Wobegon, in the Bush economy everyone is above average. Or are they?

Randy November 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

I'm doing okay. If anyone cares to listen I can tell them what works for me. The bottom line is that there's no big super exclusive secret to being part of the middle class in modern America.

Russ Roberts November 20, 2007 at 11:44 am

Muirgeo and Save the Rustbelt,

The facts are that the overall economy appears to be doing very well. Of course, that doesn't mean everyone.

And I know it's hard to believe, but we really don't try and shoe every fact into our worldview here at the Cafe.

George Bush is not a libertarian. He has increased government spending dramatically and thereby raised taxes not cut them.

That doesn't change the fact that the economy is doing well.

When lots of things change at once (reality), it is often difficult to explain events with one causal factor, say Bush's economic policies. So I don't give him much credit for what's going on and I don't blame him for what's going poorly.

If you have some facts about the poor that we don't know about, or about the economy as a whole, please share them.

muirgeo November 20, 2007 at 3:52 pm

Once the Democrats are back incharge, they'll raise taxes, spend even more, intervene more, and it will be 1979 all over again.

Posted by: Keith

I suspect once the Democrats are back in taxes will be raised on the wealthiest, spending will be less then with Reagan, Bush and Bush 2 and it will be spending that actually helps the economy and the average American not just administrative cronies. Likewise I suspect in the big picture they will intervene less (ie spy less, torture less, wage war less, use the judicial branch for political purpopes less, have less signing statements ect..).

And if past history is any clue on the future the number living in poverty and going hungry will decrease and the economy will be better and more stable then the present.

steep November 20, 2007 at 5:39 pm

…once the Democrats are back in taxes will be raised on the wealthiest, spending will be less then with Reagan, Bush …

muirgeo, please learn the difference between "then" and "than". It would make reading your comments much easier.

… taxes will be raised on the
wealthiest …

Yes, the wealthiest 95% of wage earners.

brotio November 20, 2007 at 11:01 pm

Muirgeo asked a question on this site? It would be nice if Muigreo answered some of the questions that have been asked of him in the last four months (quack quack quack). What gall.

Bill November 21, 2007 at 1:58 am

Mr. Roberts, I found your post too be incredibly poor. You have just lost a reader, and here is why:

You seem to not be able to even acknowledge that a food bank could possibly be low on food. Indeed, on reading a news report that there was such a shortage, you dismissed said report as "fake news." You then mention, quite irrelevantly, that your school-age son recently donated a lasgna, and that he would know as much or more about foodbank supplies as the executive director of a foodbank.

The article you linked to attributed the information to several sources. Granted, maybe they all made it up, but what would their motivation be for doing so, and what evidence do you have that would even suggest they did? While I agree that a director of a food bank has an incentive to exaggerate to bring in more donations, that hardly makes it likely she's lying, and it certainly makes her no less credible. And who else, other than a director of a foodbank, do you think should be interviewed for a story about the amount of food that is in a foodbank? You seem to seriously suggest your son as being an equally good candidate.

You then correctly noted that unemployment is relatively low. However, the article specifically mentioned that the working poor are in need due to increased fuel and health care costs.

Furthermore, below is a link to a remarkably similar article about South Carolina foodbank shortages. How many more such reports would you like to see before you will consider that these stories are not "fake."

http://www.scnow.com/midatlantic/scp/news.apx.-content-articles-BTW-2007-11-20-0013.html

vidyohs November 21, 2007 at 9:24 am

"So I'm always confused"
Posted by: muirgeo | Nov 20, 2007 9:32:59 AM"

You'd do better trying to tell us something we all don't already know.

vidyohs November 21, 2007 at 9:27 am

"Mr. Roberts, I found your post too be incredibly poor. You have just lost a reader,
Posted by: Bill | Nov 21, 2007 1:58:39 AM"

Is this one of those hypocritcal George Clooney type statements, "If he wins I'LLLLL move to Canada!"

Goodbye Bill, don't let the keyboard hit you in the butt as you exit.

vidyohs November 21, 2007 at 9:44 am

Mr. Roberts,
Thanks. Your comments are dead on the money and you are absolutely correct in being skeptical and here is why.

First, nowhere is there any testimony in the story that those who were accessing the free goodies at the food bank were actually needy. Would people take advantage? Of course, they will and they do.

I live in Houston and when the Katrina "refugees" hit this town they had their hands out crying "FEMA get your butt down here and give me……" So FEMA showed up and wrote checks for two thousand dollars to "refugees'……only it turned out that a substantial number of those checks were written to local scammers who got in line and pretended……oh no, can it be so? And, take a guess as to what those checks were being used for? Food, no. Housing, no. Galleria jewelry stores, yes, River Oaks salons, yes. Neiman Marcus clothing, yes.
OOOOOOOOOOH the plight of the needy. Proof that FEMA handed out a lot of checks is not proof that they gave it all to the needy.

My skepticism on this story is exactly the same. Just because there are people showing up in numbers taking the free goodies does not lead an intelligent person to draw conclusions based on that information alone.

Bye Bye Bill! See you around the blogosphere….well probably not.

Living in Houston since 1989 has been an education on greed and welfare. I have witnessed first hand a vast number of people using the state issued welfare card, "the Lonestar Card" (that functions exactly like the "bank cards" do today) to purchase lottery tickets and other luxury goods, tobacco, booze, to name two, a practice strictly forbidden and both the users and the seller know that full well. How needy are people who buy lottery tickets with my money?

We also have a program here with the acronym WIC that is supposed to assist needy mothers in buying food for their children, and items in grocery stores are marked as WIC eligible, milk, cheese, are two such items.

I have expereinced being in a checkout line and watching people with enough gold hanging from their necks and arms if converted to cash could rent them a decent home for years, using the Lone Star Card and the WIC certification to buy groceries cheap. then I have watched them leave the store and get into a late model expensive car and drive away, all while being dressed in clothes that cost well into the range of what could only be called "rich".

So, it all fits into this tale above. Just because the foodbank is giving out lots of food does not tell us anything but that the food bank is giving out lots of food. To draw any kind of other conclusion we would have to know so much more.

muirgeo November 21, 2007 at 10:41 am

"I have witnessed first hand a vast number of people using the state issued welfare card, "the Lonestar Card" (that functions exactly like the "bank cards" do today) to purchase lottery tickets …"

What vidyohs? You don't use YOUR government issued checks to by lottery tickets, XXX movies and booze??? Sure you don't…watch it man I'm payin for that stuff.

vidyohs November 21, 2007 at 3:00 pm

muirduck,
point to the penny you think you contributed and I'll be glad to hand it back to you…….and that is a far better deal than you have ever got from the stupid congresscritters that wrote the laws and guided the armed forces in offering contracts to free men and women.

But then you said it all in your own words when you said, "I am always confused."

brotio November 21, 2007 at 11:13 pm

Vidyohs,

Am I correct in my assumption that you're retired military and that Muirgeo resents you receiving a pension that you earned because you object to the government giving him a pension that he didn't earn? Is that what spawned the drivel about 'government issued checks'?

Thanks,
Brotio

muirgeo November 22, 2007 at 12:09 am

Yes Brotio, vidyohs lived for 20+ years under the complete cradle to grave socialistic system that is our military. I completely support the military systems and those who contributed and benefitted from it. What I don't support is massive hypocrisy of some one telling me everyone else who receives some support from the government undeserving and is a socialist when they themselves benefitted and will benefit till the day they die from a government program and a government check.

brotio November 22, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Muirgeo,

Congratulations! You finally answered a question!

Thanks for admitting that you despise Vidyohs because he knows the difference between EARNING a pension and welfare.

I've known for a long time that you believe that all money belongs to the proletariat and that it's up to the dictatorship to determine the best allocation of that money. Thanks for illustrating so succinctly how correct I am.

Methinks November 23, 2007 at 6:38 pm

vidyohs lived for 20+ years under the complete cradle to grave socialistic system that is our military.

And here I stupidly thought that the military doesn't accept infants and you have to actually do something to earn your military pension. Silly me. Apparently, the military – in which I never served – is supposed to be providing me with socialism cradle to grave.

ian July 7, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Hi ,
I quite enjoyed reading the various pages of your blog. But i note that you haven't contributed for quite some time. Hope you are O.K.?

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