In the 1970s the federal government began testing appliances for energy consumption and requiring that the results be posted on dishwashers, laundry equipment, heating and air conditioning equipment, and the like. In the 50 years since, this testing and regulation system has saved consumers hundreds of billions of dollars and reduced energy use dramatically. It’s another way government quietly works to make your life better.
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.
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.
Since World War II the federal government has researched, regulated, and managed nuclear production and disposal. If you’ve benefited from nuclear power and nuclear medicine but never lived in fear of radiation poisoning, you can thank government for it.