Stop digging!

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2011

They say that the first rule of holes is that if you find yourself in one, stop digging.

With Congress and the president deadlocked over a plan to raise the United States debt limit to yet another record level, and with the United States spending, according to the Office on Management and Budget, almost 50 percent more than it takes in each year, average Americans could be forgiven for turning to the rule of holes as a simple expression of what our leaders should do regarding the financial crisis in which the nation finds itself.

The second step in getting out of the hole might be, “Call for help,” or “Get a ladder,” or “Have someone throw some dirt back into the hole until you can climb out on your own.” But if the first step is not, “Stop digging,” then all of the other possible solutions are at serious risk of falling short.

Email newsletter signup

We were reminded of the rule of holes recently when we heard of a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, which found that two different parts of downtown Suffolk are “food deserts.”

A food desert, for the uninitiated, is a census tract with a preponderance of low-income residents and without easy access to a grocery store. Such areas, according to USDA, have a higher incidence of obesity than others. No one is sure whether there is a causal relationship between obesity and living in a food desert or merely a correlation. Surely, there will be another study to help solve that mystery.

Does the U.S. Department of Agriculture improve Americans’ lives? Is there a true constitutional mandate for the federal agency? If there is no constitutional mandate for the USDA, does it even matter whether its work improves lives?

We’ll leave those broad and debatable questions aside and home in on a simpler one: How could this food desert survey be anything but a waste of taxpayer money? Folks don’t need the federal government to tell them how close they live to the nearest grocery store, and it improves nobody’s situation for Uncle Sam to cluck his tongue over the fact that they can’t easily get to that store. It’s not as if (we hope) the federal government is going to start paying for transportation to the grocery store so that people can buy broccoli and cauliflower, instead of Fritos and beer.

But considering the history of profligacy among government agencies, perhaps that’s exactly where officials are headed with the results of this study. And meanwhile, the steam shovels are working overtime in the gaping hole that is the American public deficit.