Every 10 years, the Census offers a finely detailed portrait of America. Using its data, planners and scholars can see where we’ve been and where we’re headed. But others, including investors and business executives, have come to depend on this “gold standard” of demographic research. Here is the story of the Census, and why only government could produce something of this scale and quality.
In the 1970s the federal government began testing appliances for energy consumption and requiring that the results be posted on dishwashers, laundry equipment, heating and air conditioning equipment, and the like. In the 50 years since, this testing and regulation system has saved consumers hundreds of billions of dollars and reduced energy use dramatically. It’s another way government quietly works to make your life better.
It took a quarter-century for America to establish the minimum wage in 1938. It quickly became one of the most popular things governments do. So why hasn’t Congress raised the minimum wage in more than a decade? Because economists are divided about its impact. But the reason citizens support a higher minimum wage may have nothing to do with economics. It may be about fairness.
A big reason the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 did not cause an economic collapse is because of unemployment insurance, which tided families over until the economy began its revival. Actually, this isn’t anything new for unemployment insurance, which has served as an “automatic stabilizer” for the American economy since 1935. It’s also a good example of how states and the federal government work together.
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.