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.
Air and water quality are not where they should be in America, and we have not yet halted climate change. But the air in our cities is much clearer than it was 50 years ago, dangerous chemicals have been eliminated, and urban rivers no longer catch on fire. For these things, we can thank government and learn how it accomplished these things.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 demolished segregation in the South and took steps toward righting the terrible wrongs visited on African Americans. For these reasons, we should give thanks to the federal government. But these two laws also offer us important lessons today about why and how governments take historic actions—and how government actions can remove barriers to changed hearts.
Public transit didn’t start out as a government service. For more than a century, it was a for-profit industry that government assisted and regulated. When ridership declined and corporations abandoned the business, governments stepped in to keep transit alive. Why? Because buses and trains help cities work better. They also make urban life more affordable and appealing.
Medicare is the second-most popular federal government program, behind only Social Security. Retirees love Medicare, and workers don’t mind paying taxes to support it. So how was this popular, effective, efficient health insurance program enacted? After a bitter, partisan political battle accompanied by warnings that government health care would bankrupt the country, ruin doctors, and bring about an end to freedom. If you enjoy Medicare coverage today—or hope to have it one day—you can thank government leaders for ignoring the hysteria and enacting Medicare 55 years ago.