Recently, two Wal-Mart stores in Louisiana, in the towns of Springhill and Mansfield, had their shelves raided by ravenous shoppers descending like the first ones through the door on Black Friday. However, this was not Black Friday, and the shoppers were not looking for deals on video game consoles, TVs, computers, and toys for the young ones. It was a swarm of lower-income people clearing out the food sections.
Everyone knows computer glitches cause problems. Some are more devastating than others. Healthcare.gov is currently a shining example of how glitches can ruin (millions and millions of) people’s day. In this case, the food stamp administration system was at fault. Normally, those on food stamps have a set limit for how much they can spend using their food stamp cards in much the same way as a debit card, one can only spend how much money is in the account to which the card is tied.
On this particular day in Springhill and Mansfield, the system was not showing a balance remaining after a purchase with the cards. Wal-Mart decided to allow the transactions anyway, probably figuring that they would soon have the problem fixed. Unfortunately, the kindness of Wal-Mart backfired: As soon as the loophole was discovered, people began picking up food to buy, and in one case, a woman who had an actual remaining balance of $.49 tried to spend $700 on food.
The event raises an interesting point. Those trying to take advantage of the error probably reasoned that they were not doing anything ‘wrong’ since those the system had a glitch, and the error lay with those responsible for administering the system. The problem with this thinking is that it assumes the proper working of the Food Stamp system defines what is right and wrong; if the system had been working correctly, it is not much of a stretch to say that no one would be allowed to spend over their balance.
In what some fellow shoppers at these Wal-Marts described to a local TV station as “plain theft,” the sickness that plagues some of those who sold sub-prime mortgages is not unfound in the poor. The desire to have what is within reach is strong for nearly everyone. Who can say that if they were presented with a situation to take advantage of someone or a group of people without their or anyone else’s knowledge they would pass on such an opportunity?