Social Security was a “simple and elegant” solution to the Great Depression, a system of direct relief for elderly people that felt like a pension and was financed by workers and their employers. It has gone on to become the federal government’s most popular program with young and old alike, and the most effective anti-poverty program in American history. If you are one of Social Security’s 68 million recipients—or hope to be as you get older—you can thank government for it.
Cities began building playgrounds in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way of getting young children out of traffic and older ones away from delinquency. In time, the physical spaces were joined by recreation programs organized by nonprofit organizations. Today, it’s not only children who use America’s publicly owned playgrounds, athletic fields, parks, and streams. Tens of millions of adults do, too. And for our access to inexpensive recreation, we can thank government.
Cities created public hospitals in the early 1800s as places the poor went to die. In the late 1800s, their roles changed dramatically as the practice of medicine changed. Since then, other kinds of hospitals have emerged, but large public hospitals still play essential roles as caregivers for the poor, centers for advanced trauma care, and providers of public services like poison-control centers. Let’s hope you never need the care these hospitals provide. But if you do, you can thank government for making them available.
Public education was based on three tenets: that every child should be in school until adolescence, that schools should be free to attend, and that government should pay for them through taxes. And behind the tenets was the belief that our political and economic systems depended on citizens who could read and write. The results have been historic, as literacy has spread today to nearly every adult. For this monumental achievement, you can thank government.
State and federal courts are the bulwark of our freedoms, and the belief in public trials before our peers presided over by impartial judges runs deep in our history. But the courts are also essential to business as enforcers of contracts and defenders of intellectual, financial, and physical property rights. We have never expected anyone but government to play these roles, and for our judicial system you can thank government.