What Government Does For You: Rural Edition

On Monday, I had a chance to read an entry at Government is Good that did a very nice job of countering libertarian claims about the evils of government by laying out all the invisible ways that government benefits USians on an everyday basis. As I read, though, it struck me that the list assumes an urban or suburban audience; some of benefits (like zoning laws that prevent neighbors from keeping chickens) simply don't apply to rural people.

So what are the benefits of government for rural citizens? The libertarian argument often finds receptive soil in rural areas, where the necessity for government can seem less pressing than in areas of high population density. It's pretty obvious in a city that you need government to manage things like sewage treatment and clean water, but it can be harder to see the need for government in the country.

But the rural vote isn't inherently conservative, nor are rural needs always best served by private enterprise. My midwestern farmer grandparents were staunch FDR Democrats precisely because they saw how much government had made a difference in their lives. If it had been left up to private corporations, for example, I doubt very much that they would have ever been able to benefit from electricity--it was government that made rural electrification possible. And there are plenty of other ways that government still plays a role in rural lives.

Do you have a farm or garden? Chances are that you benefit from research done at publicly-funded universities. Land grant universities, in particular, have long played a key role in supporting agricultural science in the United States. And the research done at those universities is made available to the public. My grandfather used to get free publications from Purdue University's extension services; today I surf the internet for publications from a wide variety of states, from Florida to Nebraska. When you're trying to combat bacterial wilts and vine-boring insects, those publications are lifesavers. And they don't come from for-profit universities.

Once you've harvested your bounty, you might want to preserve it. Fortunately, the government is there to provide guidance on safe food preservation, whether that is via freezing, drying, or home canning. Even if you get your guidelines from Ball or another for-profit corporation, those are based on guidelines researched and published by government institutions.

What about leisure and fun? If your kids are in 4-H , then you have the government to thank. If you want to visit a national park, you have the government to thank. (Same goes for state and county parks). And if you enjoy fishing or hunting, then the state DNR probably plays a role in your life, managing wildlife populations so they aren't hunted to extinction, as they were in the days before government stepped in.

Finally, the original piece enthused about not having to put up with your neighbor's chickens, thanks to zoning laws that keep livestock out of residential neighborhoods. But zoning laws can work for rural folk too. Regulations about land usage, for example, can keep developers from buying up rural acreage and turning farming neighborhoods into subdivisions. So if that morning rooster call is a feature, not a bug, in your life, then there's a good chance government plays a role in that as well.

What other ways does government--county, state, or federal--benefit rural USians? Feel free to share in comments.

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