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.
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.
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.
Cities created public hospitals in the early 1800s as places the poor went to die. In the late 1800s, their roles changed dramatically as the practice of medicine changed. Since then, other kinds of hospitals have emerged, but large public hospitals still play essential roles as caregivers for the poor, centers for advanced trauma care, and providers of public services like poison-control centers. Let’s hope you never need the care these hospitals provide. But if you do, you can thank government for making them available.
The creation of dependable clean water systems is one of our greatest and least recognized urban accomplishments. Unrecognized, that is, unless something goes terribly wrong. But such incidents are exceedingly rare, and hundreds of millions of Americans can trust the safety of their drinking water. For this, we can thank government.