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.
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.
Sidewalks were invented in big cities in the 1800s as a way of separating people from the filth of streets. They found a second use in the 20th century as a way of separating pedestrians from automobiles. After World War II, sidewalks declined in popularity, only to rise again in recent decades along with urban trails. Throughout, governments have been the key to pedestrian access.
Farmers markets have caught on in big cities since the 1970s, and a major reason is that governments have subsidized and facilitated their growth. Why? Because farmers markets create “positive externalities,” benefits that are much greater than their costs. They bring neighborhoods together, improve health, and make city life more affordable and enjoyable. And they’re another way government improves our lives.