Fifty years ago the federal government created the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio and gave them the mission of educating children and informing adults over the public airwaves. PBS went on to become the most trusted institution in America, one offering resources rivaling those of great museums. It delivers its acclaimed programs coast to coast at no cost to viewers and small cost to taxpayers. Here’s how two government-supported organizations educated and informed millions at the flick of a switch.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan told a joke. “The nine most terrifying words in the English language,” he said, “are, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It was a good joke, and Reagan, a veteran performer, told it well.
But Reagan’s joke raises a question for us today: What HAS come from the government that helps us be healthier, more productive, and better educated . . . or makes our lives safer and fairer? This website will look for specific things local and state governments and the federal government have done to help most of us.
Some of these will be obvious, like national defense, fire protection, and the courts. Some, like the 30-year mortgage and nuclear waste disposal, may surprise you. (Well, whom did you think would assume the task of guarding highly dangerous materials that could threaten us for a thousand years?)
The point isn’t to defend all that governments have ever done but to add a little perspective to the cynical belief that government always favors insiders and, when it doesn’t, is inept or incompetent. In fact, you may be surprised as you read these entries to find governments are at work everywhere in your life, doing precisely the things you want them to do and doing them surprisingly well.
On a regular basis, we’ll add examples of government programs that have helped most of our citizens. The entries will explain why government was asked to do this work, how the programs were created, and describe the results. We’ll have links so you can dig deeper for yourself. In each case, we’ll tell you which governments—local, state or federal—deserve the credit. (You may be surprised in some cases at how mixed the credit is, which means that federalism really does work.)
Not convinced? Great. Click a link and read on . . .