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.
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.
If you’ve never had tuberculosis, smallpox, or polio, if you live in a healthier environment than your great-grandparents could ever have imagined, if you have reasonable hopes for vaccines for AIDS and Covid-19, you can thank government for these things.
If you have never had to use an outhouse, walk ankle-deep in garbage, or endure incredible stench, you can thank local governments that created massive sewer systems, bought landfills and built incinerators, and fielded an army of sanitation workers to make our lives healthier.