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.
A scientific breakthrough occurred in 2003. It was the mapping of the human genome, which is creating medical advances that will touch every human on earth. The indispensable partner in this great discovery was the federal government. What did the government ask in return? You may be surprised to learn. And delighted.
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.
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.