If you’ve ever opened a bank account or invested in the stock market, you can thank government for making these everyday investments secure. When did the government get into the business of keeping Wall Street honest and banks sound? During the greatest economic calamity of the past century, the Great Depression of the 1930s. Here’s how the federal government created its regulatory structure, public corporations and banks accepted it, and we have all benefited as a result.
At the start of the Great Depression, 90 percent of farm families had no access to electricity. President Franklin Roosevelt solved the problem with an ingenious system of finance and self-help, and brought modern comforts to millions. We have a similar problem today in large sections of the country that have no high-speed connections to the internet, isolating families and throttling small-town economies. We can thank government for turning on the lights in the 1930s. We’ll need it to step up again a century later.
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.
If you’ve never had tuberculosis, smallpox, or polio, if you live in a healthier environment than your great-grandparents could ever have imagined, if you have reasonable hopes for vaccines for AIDS and Covid-19, you can thank government for these things.
State and national parks drew more than one billion visitors in 2019. If you are one who loves these places of extraordinary natural beauty, you can thank government for preserving them and making them accessible.