Sometime in the past, perhaps a month ago, I was involved in a discussion of what, if anything, the government did that was beneficial for the common man and was not an explicitly delegated power derived from the Constitution. Then today, there was a discussion on reddit concerning that very question, and I found the comments to be enlightening. The parent-est thread of the conversation can be found here. First, the challenge was made to name government services that make government a "dangerous good" rather than a "necessary evil". The list initially created included:
- Rural electrification/Tennessee Valley Authority
- DARPA (the Internet?)
- The National Weather Service
- US Geological Survey
- Pell grants
Those are some pretty solid programs, eh? And yet…
- Rural electrification/Tennessee Valley Authority Lots of rural ares are not under TVA or other rural electrification plans. My Grandpa remembered his dad paying $700 (in 1930's money) to a nearby utility to run power to their farm. Of course the farm was just outside of Minneapolis so there was a utility to pay. For that matter my house has power from a co-op formed because a bunch of farmers decided they wanted power and made it happen.
- DARPA (the Internet?) There were other private networks. Remember fidonet? Any could have grown. Of course the government being behind DARPA with big money was a large factor, but something would have happened. Science fiction has been full of stories that assume a world (universe) wide network.
- NASA The only one here that you can make any claim at all about doing something that we wouldn't have without them today. At what cost though? If we had spent the money NASA has got over the years on genetic research we could have dragons instead. Nobody has been to the moon in my lifetime (and I'm 34), at least with dragons I could go to the circus and see them.
- The National Weather Service Most TV and radio stations already have their own weathermen. Without the NWS they might actually have to know something about weather, instead of looking good. Considering the "weathermen" in my area this would be an improvement
- US Geological Survey There are lots of private maps.
- Pell grants There are plenty of private scolarships.
Government has done some neat things. However most would have happened anyway. All come at the cost of some other neat thing.