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.
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.
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.
Cities began building playgrounds in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way of getting young children out of traffic and older ones away from delinquency. In time, the physical spaces were joined by recreation programs organized by nonprofit organizations. Today, it’s not only children who use America’s publicly owned playgrounds, athletic fields, parks, and streams. Tens of millions of adults do, too. And for our access to inexpensive recreation, we can thank government.