The federal government helps businesses protect their innovations and creative works through patents and copyrights, and their reputations through trademarks. Why does it do this? For the same reason state and local governments protect citizens’ ownership of cars and homes. It ensures peace and prosperity. What’s new is that the federal government’s role in protecting “intellectual property” is growing. And businesses are all for it.
The Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service is losing billions each year, partly because of changes in how we communicate and partly because of bad laws. But the trouble really began in 1970, when Congress told the Post Office to start acting like a business. Turns out, the Postal Service isn’t a business, and most Americans would be outraged if it ever acted like one.
Consumer Product Safety
In 1972 the federal government created a new agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and gave it an impossible task: make hundreds of thousands of consumer products, from children’s sleepwear and bedding to hand tools and recreational vehicles, safer. Here’s how the CPSC succeeded by focusing on the most troublesome products, keeping a watchful eye on others, and using a “trust but verify” approach.
Until the 20th century factory, railroad, and mine work was nasty and brutish, and the lives of workers were frequently short. Gradually, governments brought humane processes and healthier working conditions to the private sector. Here’s how they did it in three large waves of reform.
Food and Drug Safety
The human lifespan has doubled in the past century, and a big part of the reason is that we have safer, more effective drugs and cleaner processing of meat, poultry, and vegetables. In the United States, ensuring these things belongs almost exclusively to the federal government. Looking back, what’s surprising is what a struggle it was to get reasonable food and drug regulation. But now that we see the results, let’s take a moment to thank government for them.