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Black Markets in School Cafeterias

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Tags Big GovernmentEducationHealthInterventionismPrivate Property


Congress and the First Lady teamed up to impose the "Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act" on school children across the country, but news of unintended consequences abound.

You would think that if you were imposing your will on an entire nation of children that you should subject yourself to the same treatment for a year or so as a kind of experiment. Such was not the case with the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act. The Act imposed Draconian requirements to reduce salt and sugar and to require the serving of more whole grains and vegetables among other things. This might sound like a good idea to some, but most kids hate the idea.

School children have started to sneak salt, sugar, and pepper into schools to try to make the government food palatable and tasty. They are even buying and selling the stuff, effectively setting up black markets, or what one bureaucrat called a "contraband economy" on school grounds.   

Another unintended consequence is that many children have dropped out of the school lunch program entirely, with one million dropping out in the first year alone. Such children pack their own lunches or get checked out of school to eat at home or a fast food restaurant.

Perhaps the most dramatic consequence has been the sheer wastage caused by the law. Children who stay on the school lunch program simply eat what they can stomach and throw away all the unappetizing items. You can think of mountains of whole grain biscuits and broccoli being thrown out in the trash as a result.

Some people think that giving back more control to the local level would help, and sure, it might help a little. But local control was also a problem. Plus, I never heard anybody boasting about how good the food was at their public school cafeteria. Just the idea of government serving meals to children on a regular basis sounds like a terrible idea to me.



Contact Mark Thornton

Mark Thornton is a Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute and the book review editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He has authored seven books and is a frequent guest on national radio shows.

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