America is a vast country with large populations on both coasts. Twice in our history, the federal government has stepped forward to connect the coasts: with the building of the transcontinental railroads and, a century later, through the interstate highway system. Both were enormous undertakings that brought economic benefits to all Americans. No private company or collection of companies could have managed either of these tasks on its own. If you’re looking for a textbook case of why we need government, here it is.
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.
Social Security was a “simple and elegant” solution to the Great Depression, a system of direct relief for elderly people that felt like a pension and was financed by workers and their employers. It has gone on to become the federal government’s most popular program with young and old alike, and the most effective anti-poverty program in American history. If you are one of Social Security’s 68 million recipients—or hope to be as you get older—you can thank government for it.
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.
State and national parks drew more than one billion visitors in 2019. If you are one who loves these places of extraordinary natural beauty, you can thank government for preserving them and making them accessible.