Building codes show us how governments make our lives safer while reducing costs for everyone. They do so one construction project or remodeling at a time, so their impact is nearly invisible. Until, that is, you look at statistics on fire safety, energy usage, or water consumption over time, where you can see that government has made enormous progress but done it quietly, steadfastly, at scale, and often in collaborative ways.
It’s a small but important way state and local governments make your life safer: They inspect elevators. Actually, though, this is not a small task because there are 900,000 elevators in America, making them the nation’s most common form of public conveyance. A century ago, when governments got into the business of inspecting them, elevators had frequent and horrifying accidents. They don’t now, and you can give some of the credit to the governments that inspect them.
With few exceptions, every time you travel on a street, road, or highway, you are on something built and maintained by a government. These are enormously expensive and land-hungry investments, but without them, modern life and a modern economy would be impossible. So, next time you walk, bike, or drive on a city street—or catch a bus to work—give some credit to government for making your journey possible.
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.
If you have never had to use an outhouse, walk ankle-deep in garbage, or endure incredible stench, you can thank local governments that created massive sewer systems, bought landfills and built incinerators, and fielded an army of sanitation workers to make our lives healthier.