I read somewhere a little while ago that some economist, decades ago, made the suggestion that rather than all sorts of welfare programs, when it comes to redistribution of income we do precisely that. If, say, you think a family of six ought to make $36K a year (a number I picked because, according to the government, it's 120% of a poverty-level income), then cut them a damned check for however much the difference is between what they make and $3,000/mo. This would in theory obviate the need for all the back-door welfare programs like food stamps and Section 8 and Medicaid.
Not being an economist, I can't actually tell you how that would stack up against our current program, so far as money goes, but it would certainly be a lot more honest, wouldn't it?
Of course, not even the most progressive of Leftists would ever agree to that. And not just for fear the Republicans would go ballistic at the wealth redistribution. See, it's not about helping people, not really (and make no mistake, I put the Left and Right in my crosshairs on this one). It's not about principle. It's about power. For both sides of the aisle.
For illustration of my point, let's look at food stamps. Just Google "buying junk food with food stamps" and you'll have 159,000 results to wade through. People are scandalized at the thought of folks using SNAP cards to buy "potato chips, cake, and HoHos." In California, at least (and I think elsewhere), legislation was introduced earlier this year to ban the practice. I've seen absolute vitriol spewed online because someone saw a woman buying a bakery birthday cake with food stamps. The horror! I got into a verbal tangle with a woman a couple of years back when Texas temporarily allowed hot (deli) food to be bought with food stamps. This was because of the thousands of people displaced by hurricanes--c'mon, if you're staying at the Motel 6 how the heck are you supposed to cook dinner? But that woman seemed personally offended by the idea. But most of the people who support food stamps will say they are only trying to look out for those poor folks' kids.
Public housing is another issue. MikeW has chronicled the problem with Wilmington's ban on possession of handguns in public housing. There was an article in this past Sunday's paper on an upcoming ban on smoking in our public housing. Most progressives I know would be happy with both bans. Neither, of course, is enforceable in a house someone owns. Were it not for government involvement, another element of power would be lost.
You could tell a similar story for every last government "entitlement" program that's geared toward low-income folks. I've seen some women who get WIC complain that they push breastfeeding too hard and others complain that they push early weaning. (It's entirely possible they do both simultaneously, by the way.)
Am I truly suggesting a literal redistribution of wealth? Eh, not so much. I'm more complaining about the lack of honesty. I really think conservatives are worse about this than are progressives, by the way. Most liberals are pretty above-board about the whole protecting you from yourself thing. If you want to control the lives of a large portion of the population, at least admit to it, mmkay?