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Food Stamps (Democracy 3)

I can’t decide what effect a food stamps policy like this:

Should have on the happiness of socialists. Which of these sounds like a socialist view on the issue:

“Food stamps are awesome, as they are, by definition a redistribution of wealth, and reduce poverty and thus are something socialists want”
“Food stamps are teh evil, because they merely paper over the cracks caused by low wages and a regressive tax system. They patronize the poor in the manner of soup kitchens, rather than providing them with worthwhile jobs”.


I just can’t decide. I’m in the UK, where we don’t have this policy, and I’m not used to hearing the debate. What do you think?

16 thoughts on Food Stamps (Democracy 3)

  1. For people interested in poverty reduction or mitigation, food stamps are considered a half measure. Most would prefer cash transfers.

    The real support for food stamps comes from grocers and processed food industries. Pushes to limit food stamp purchases of foods like soda or chips (pop or crisps) run into lobbyists from Pepsi et al.

    For example, in many US states food stamps can now be used to buy bake-at-home pizzas. This pleases the dairy industry, pizza shop owners, and (perhaps) the poor. But it looks like largesse to many others.

    1. Absolutely — thus your in-game socialists (provided you’re not dividing them into sub-groups) are more likely to dislike food stamps and call for different measures… Unless the food stamps are used in tandem with some other wealth- or food-redistribution reform.

  2. Indeed, I’ve already added an effect where farmers (who in a wider sense represent the food industry) approve of food stamps :D

  3. By my standards as a person accused of being a socialist rather than a seriously hardcore one, I’d tend to agree with Will. Food stamps are better than nothing. However, they enforce negative dynamics, marking the poor person out as different (and “a scrounger” to a lot of views) and something like the universal minimum income would be preferred.

    So I guess the effect on socialist happiness depends what the levels of poverty and inequality are like in your simulated country? If they feel it’s a needed stopgap it will please them that at least people are thinking of the poor a little bit, and thus they might be able to build on that sense of responsibility? But if they feel the country is already capable of doing better…

  4. I’m not sure that modern food stamp programs are as alienating as they used to be. They come in the form of a prepaid debit card these days, so it may not be at all obvious to other shoppers when they’re being used. Like Wil said, some conservative elements like to criticize the fact that some of the things you can buy with food stamps are not bare bones, but I think from a Socialist position, that’s a feature, not a bug. As long as the poor people in the program are buying reasonably healthy, reasonably cheap food, it’s a win.

    And a big part of the benefit of food stamps is not to adults, but to their children. I’d suggest that poverty should have a big negative impact on education, and for food stamps (and subsidized school lunch programs, if you have them) to partially mitigate that.

    The politics around food stamps are a bit complicated in the United States, since it’s a federally funded program administered at a state level. It has strange supporters, as it’s pushed at the national level by the left wing (who want to provide a safety net even in the parts of the country where there’s little or no state or local support) and at the state and local level by right-wing governments (who love it because it’s free money for their constituents, without them needing to raise taxes themselves). I’m not sure you can capture this in Democracy 3 unless you create a system that can simulate a more federalist system than you have in the UK.

  5. We don’t have food stamps, but we do have milk tokens. They seem to be much more restrictive in who can have them and what they can be used for though (oddly enough not just milk, but unhealthy foods are completely ruled out).

  6. I think that if the government isn’t very socialist (with respect to aid for the poor), then most socialists would be in favor of a food stamp program, viewed as a step in the right direction. A few hardcore radical socialists might oppose it as not enough. If there’s already a lot of support for the underprivileged, then it might be viewed more harshly.

    This is similar to how same-sex civil unions was viewed by liberals in the US in, say, the 1990’s. It was hard to imagine a federal government allowing same-sex marriage, so federally recognized same-sex civil unions would probably have made a lot of liberals very happy, and only a very small group of extreme leftists would be unhappy at missing a chance for a stronger law. I believe that today, the proportions would be different.

    There’s another issue with how people in the US view food stamp programs. We’re all very used to the program, and many conservative voters would probably be upset if someone tried to abolish the program completely. Occasionally you hear about someone who wants to “reform” the program, but that’s about it. Back in the early days of the program, I imagine that this was not the case. I don’t know if your system takes into account the effects of a long-standing law, but it’s definitely a factor on how people view the system now.

  7. That’s a very interesting point. it would be doable to model the ‘general acceptance’ of any law or policy that grew over time, making it that much harder to change. Hmmmm

  8. Steve B, I would politely argue that the prepaid food stamp cards are noticeable, at least to the other people in line. Most states have stylized the cards with rousing pictures of state history or moral values. In Oregon the cards are emblazoned with “Oregon Trail” iconography, which has led to few jokes juxtaposing self-reliant pioneers with unemployed people buying Cheetos.

    There is also some evidence that food stamps do contribute to increasing obesity rates.

    But, as Steve B mentioned, school lunch programs do certainly help students improve their test scores. And subsidized school lunches go hand-in-hand with food stamps in the U.S.

    One interesting thing is that food stamps have divided farmers. A lot of traditional farmers see food stamps as subsidies for lazy city people, while organic and hip local farmers are eagerly jumping on board with new programs to funnel food stamp money to them.

  9. If there is an option to change the value and popularity of this policy during different economic and poverty and equality circumstances- then this policy would be a fantastic addition to the game. If this policy was enacted during tough economic conditions when poverty was high it would be seen as the government being pro-active, redistributing wealth and so on, yet if the economy was doing well socialists and the poor wouldn’t value it as much because they would think that more could be done than simply go- ‘here’s some help with your food bill’ when they could be implementing policies to benefit their wages or creating better paid jobs or better forms of welfare and welfare distribution through the tax system. Also the rich and capitalists may get more pissed during good economic times that their money was being wasted on such schemes.

    Another thought- have you considered food banks or charities and the volunteering sector for democracy 3. You could maybe have a chart (THE Same as you do for poverty and equality) to show the rise in food banks and charities having to aid the poor. The higher it is the socialists, liberals and the poor are pissed off. Could be connected to wages, gdp, inequality, poverty etc.

    I notice also you are creating minority groups and young people- good idea! How about linking the theme of youth unemployment and black and minority groups up with the job market. So you could have policies which counteracted youth unemployment which they supported, and maybe some positive discrimination and quotas to close inequalities etc. A few policies for youth and minority employment which would work well i feel.

    I know you can’t do everything but i think there are some good policy ideas for you to implement. Thanks

  10. There are a few, and I expect to add a lot more changes to effects on a per-country basis as people start playing the game. For example, I get the impression that the attitudes of religious folk to gambling and alcohol varies massively between Europe (not bothered) and the USA (fairly opposed).

  11. Yes. When do you think this will be released? And will this be released on Steam as well? I’m glad to support you in the Democracy series.

  12. Try to look at foodstamps from a different perspective. I actually come from a country that had some sort of food (but not only, also petrol, alcohol etc) stamps policies in the 80s, which I vaguely remember. This was a mechanism of rationing of goods for the internal market (while some of these goods were exported to increase income to the country’s budget). I think that UK had some sort of these ‘stamps’ during WWII. My point is that the system may be used for social purposes but in former communist countries a similar system was used (not only during war) to shape consumer habits (mainly because of product supply chain shortages) and limit the overall consumption. This could be a nice twist in the game to use the same mechanism for different purposes eg. in a crisis situation.

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