Nearly 228 million Americans have a driver’s license. They are legally required for driving a car, of course. But they are also the most commonly used form of identification, accepted for everything from boarding planes to cashing checks. How did state governments get in the business of testing and licensing drivers? Why not local governments or the federal government—or, for that matter, private companies? It’s a story of law, history, scale, and role.
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.
State and federal courts are the bulwark of our freedoms, and the belief in public trials before our peers presided over by impartial judges runs deep in our history. But the courts are also essential to business as enforcers of contracts and defenders of intellectual, financial, and physical property rights. We have never expected anyone but government to play these roles, and for our judicial system you can thank government.
If you’ve ever needed a police officer in an emergency or could imagine needing one in the future, you can thank government for making her available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Only governments can provide comprehensive solutions to common problems, solutions that combine trained and equipped personnel, public infrastructure, and regulation. Cities have done this with fire safety and, as a result, the risk of death or homelessness by fire has been reduced to a fraction of what it was in your great-grandparents’ days. For this, you can thank government.