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.
The most transformative technology of our era started out as a government project and was supported mostly by government funds until it was discovered by businesses in the 1990s. Here’s how the internet became the preferred way of connecting computers and creating an online world, why this government creation beat out private competitors, and what it tells us about the role governments play in economic development.
In the 20th century a remarkable partnership between the federal government and the states and localities transformed American farming by teaching farmers about new crops, methods, and technologies. Imagine what something like cooperative extension could do in the 21st century for people living in cities and suburbs. Here’s why this government program worked so well in the past, and why it might be a model for our times.
Weather Forecasts and Storm Warnings
The National Weather Service has created a huge infrastructure of radar, satellites, ocean buoys, aircraft sensors, hurricane-hunting airplanes, and volunteer storm spotters to keep us aware of changing weather conditions and warn us of approaching storms. These forecasts and warnings are growing more accurate by the day. So what does the government charge for this life-and-death service? Nothing. Public safety is one reason we have governments.
Every 10 years, the Census offers a finely detailed portrait of America. Using its data, planners and scholars can see where we’ve been and where we’re headed. But others, including investors and business executives, have come to depend on this “gold standard” of demographic research. Here is the story of the Census, and why only government could produce something of this scale and quality.