Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s fine and novelistic account of his childhood, paints a glum portrait of real poverty in Ireland. The McCourt family was forced to survive mostly on a pitiful dole and charity from the St. Vincent de Paul Society. No matter how kindly charity is intended, it is by nature humiliating. And the dole was paltry.

It’s safe to bet that nobody in the book grew up with the goal of living off the dole and handouts for the rest of his or her life. As Jeffrey M. Jones notes in the Hoover Institution’s mag, the boxer whose life was made into the movie Cinderella Man felt the same way:

“The movie Cinderella Man, released last year to critical acclaim, recounts the true story of Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock’s inspirational rise from impoverished journeyman to heavyweight champion of the world. One striking aspect of the movie is its portrayal of desperation, hardship, and hunger during the Great Depression. Forced to choose between sending his children to distant relatives and filing for government relief, Braddock accepts the aid. His pain and embarrassment at being unable to provide for his family make for some of the most heart-rending moments of the film,” writes Jones.

Well, that was then, and this is now: Today many people regard receiving food stamps not as a humiliation but as an entitlement. We’ve made it that way. At one point, there were food stamp ads in the New York subway. They were designed to show that even ordinary, middle class folks might have to resort to food stamps in a spot of trouble.

Jones argues that the food stamp program, begun on a modest scale in 1939, when banks and business were failing all around you, dropped and then revived in the Kennedy administration, was fine for times when no work was available. But that is not the case now.

Oh, and here here’s something even liberals might appreciate:

“A second crossroads concerns the effectiveness of food stamps in meeting the nutritional needs of the poor. The dilemma is that advocates of federal food programs do not want to see food stamps reduced in any way; they are thus forced into the ridiculous position of insisting that hunger is on the rise, when, according to former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, ‘The simple fact is that more people die in the United States from too much food than of too little.’ Upward of 70 percent of low-income adults are overweight (many are in fact obese), and adolescents from low-income families are twice as likely to be overweight as other adolescents. Additionally, some Agriculture Department studies have shown that food stamps may actually contribute to overeating, although the evidence is mixed.

“The health problems associated with being overweight or obese are well documented. Thus, every effort should be made to support nutrition education and determine the most effective ways to positively influence the diets of program participants. The FSP has stepped up nutrition education efforts since the early 1990s. More than $192 million was spent on such programs in 2003, but their effectiveness is unclear. One idea under consideration is “green stamps” — a proposal that would set aside a portion of each individual’s benefit to be used only for purchasing fruits and vegetables. Other researchers are studying the link between food insecurity (where not all members of a household have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle) and obesity among low-income persons. In the end, the prevalence of being overweight and on food stamps should bring geater scrutiny to the efficacy of federal food relief.”