Where Government Succeeds

Government succeeds in much of what it does.

We cannot thank government, or the New Deal in particular, for all of the great gains in safety, income, health, education, and more that have taken place in the U.S. over the last 80 years.

Much of the thanks goes to changes in values and culture, advances in science and technology, the creativity of millions of individuals both obscure and famous, and the contributions of numerous private organizations.

But government deserves much of the credit. The New Deal in particular--the "House that FDR Built" and subsequent leaders enlarged--especially deserves a big share of that credit. Absent the specific policies that the New Deal writ large put in place over 80 years, the people of the United States would be poorer, sicker, and less educated.  Our society would be shabbier. Our economy would be far less dynamic and wealthy.

Some of government's most spectacular successes include:

1. Social Security: Proposed by FDR and enacted by Congress in 1935, the Social Security program delivered its first payment of $22.54 to Ida May Fuller of Vermont (shown in the photo above) on January 31, 1940. By 2015, Social Security provided 39.5 million retired workers a total of $53 billion, an average of $1,335 per month. For most of America's elderly, it is the major source of income.

2. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control: Founded a year after FDR's death in 1946, the CDC has successfully controlled, contained, and even eliminated many health threats. Its seven decades of achievement include: (A) control of malaria, typhus, and cholera epidemics; (B) closing in on the eradication of smallpox; (C) closing in on the possible eradication of polio; (D) combating malarial transmission in the United States; and (E) management of antibiotic-resistant infections, birth defects, and a number of chronic diseases. 

Thanks to CDC's work with physicians such as the inventor of the polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk (shown in the sidebar photo), the U.S. has been polio-free since 1979.

3. Interstate Highway System: Starting in 1956, the U.S. government funded approximately 47,000 miles of roadway, enabling individual drivers and truckers to travel far more quickly from city to city across the vast distances of a continent-wide country.

These are just a few of government's many successes. In dozens of other areas--national defense, law enforcement, fire suppression, public health, drinking water, sewage treatment, garbage disposal, building inspection, natural resource conservation, parks, local roads, bridges, transit, airports, water ports, planning and zoning, worker's compensation, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, day care, K12 schools, higher education, libraries, coinage and currency, money supply, environmental protection, worker protection, consumer protection, investor protection, scientific research, and international commerce, and more--government at the local, state, or federal level provides Americans with genuine benefits.

We expect genuine benefits, of course, in exchange for the taxes we pay. Frequently, government delivers what we pay for.

Yet just as it would be foolish to ignore the fact that American government often succeeds, it would be equally naive to pretend that government is successful all the time.

In a great many areas, government has missed the boat, fallen short, or done harm. Continue reading ->