A Day in Your Life

Though we usually fail to notice it, government programs and policies improve our daily lives in innumerable ways.

Ask yourself this question: “What has government done for me lately?” If you are like most Americans, you will probably answer: “Not much.” Many people feel like they pay a lot in taxes but don't really get anything back from government. Surveys show that 52% of Americans believe that “government programs have not really helped me and my family.”1  But let’s see if that is really true. Let’s examine a typical day in the life of an average middle-class American and try to identify some of the ways that government improves that person’s life during that 24-hour period.

6:30 a.m. You are awakened by your clock radio. You know it is actually 6:30 because the National Institute of Standards and Technology keeps the official time. And you can listen to your favorite radio station only because the Federal Communications Commission brings organization and coherence to our vast telecommunications system. It ensures, for example, that radio stations do not overlap and that stations signals are not interfered with by the numerous other devices – cell phones, satellite television, wireless computers, etc. – whose signals crowd our nation’s airwaves.

6:35 a.m. Like 17 million other Americans, you have asthma. But as you get out of bed you notice that you are breathing freely this morning. This is thanks in part to government clean air laws that reduce the air pollution that would otherwise greatly worsen your condition.

6:38 a.m. You go into the kitchen for breakfast. You pour some water into your coffeemaker. You simply take for granted that this water is safe to drink. But in fact you count on your city water department to constantly monitor the quality of your water and to immediately take measures to correct any potential problems with this vital resource.

6:39 a.m. You flip the switch on the coffee maker. There is no short in the outlet or in the electrical line and there is no resulting fire in your house. Why? Because when your house was being built, the electrical system had to be inspected to make sure it was properly installed – a service provided by your local government. And it was installed by an electrician who was licensed by your state government to ensure his competence and your safety.

6:45 a.m. You sit down to breakfast with your family. You are having eggs – a food that brings with it the possibility of salmonella poisoning, a serious food-borne illness affecting tens of thousands of Americans every year. But the chance of you getting sick from these eggs has now been greatly reduced by a recently passed series of strict federal rules that apply to egg producers.

7:00 a.m. You go into your newly renovated bathroom – one of a number of amenities that you enjoy in your house. But the fact that you can legally own your own house is something made possible by government. Think about this: “ownership” and “private property” are not things that exist in nature. These are legal constructs: things created by laws that are passed and enforced by government. You couldn’t even buy your home without a system of commercial laws concerning contracts and a government that ensures that sales contracts are enforced. So the fact that you live in your own home is, in part, a benefit of government and the rule of law.

7:01 a.m. Government also helps you own your house in more than the legal sense. On a more practical level, the federal government actually gives you money every year to help pay for your house. It’s called a mortgage interest tax deduction and it is one of the larger benefit programs run by the federal government – amounting to over $60 billion dollars a year. You can also deduct any real estate taxes you pay. These largely overlooked subsidy programs have enabled millions of people to buy their first home or to move up to a larger home than they could afford otherwise.

7:02 a.m. Back in the bathroom. You use the toilet and flush it. Your local government then takes care of transporting this waste, treating it, and disposing of it in an environmentally responsible manner – all without a second thought by you.

7:20 a.m. As you are getting dressed, a glance outside the window shows some ominous clouds. You check the weather on your TV. All these weather forecasts are made possible by information gathered and analyzed by the National Weather Service, a government agency. Every day, on your behalf, it takes in 190,000 weather observations from surface stations, 2,700 from ships, 115,000 from aircraft, 18,000 for buoys, 250,000 from balloons, and 140 million from satellites – all just to help you plan what to wear and make sure you don’t get stuck in a snow storm. And oh yes, this agency may save your life with its hurricane and tornado warnings.

7:30 a.m. Before you leave home, you take your pills to control your high blood pressure. But how do you know that this medicine is safe or effective? Without the testing required by the Food and Drug Administration, you wouldn’t. And without the vigilance of the FDA, you could easily fall victim to unscrupulous marketers of unsafe and worthless medicines.

7:45 a.m. You put a couple of letters in your mailbox. For less than the price of a cup of coffee, a government employee will come to your house, pick up the letters, and have them delivered in a few days to someone on the other side of the country. A pretty good deal.

7:50 a.m. You and your child walk across the lawn to your car and arrive without getting dog poop on your shoes. A small but welcome achievement that is made possible now by a local law that requires people to clean up after their pets. Also, the reason your neighborhood is not plagued by stray cats and dogs is that your local Animal Control officer is on the job dealing with this constant problem.

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