Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Giving thanks: A citizen’s guide to Thanksgiving

Editor’s note: Look familiar? This post originally appeared on 11/23/2010.

In my family, probably like yours, one of our Thanksgiving dinner traditions is to go around the table and say what we are thankful for. It’s an important reminder of how lucky we are to have our friends and family with us.

Odds are, no one mentions the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — let alone the local departments of planning or health. But these public institutions – along with many others – actually have a major impact on our 21st century Thanksgiving celebration.

While it would take too long to list everything that makes Thanksgiving possible, here are some of the big ones to remember as you gather around the table this Thursday:

  • Do you work on Thanksgiving Day? Chances are you don’t, or if you do you’ll be compensated at a higher rate. Say thanks to the federal government, which declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1941.
  • Traveling to see family? Thank your local, state and federal governments for everything from the street you grew up on, to the interstate highway system, federal air travel standards and safety precautions, and tax subsidies for every mode of transportation.
  • Good to see grandma and grandpa? Remember that they can eat pretty well year-round – no cat food, thank you! – and get high quality medical care, thanks to Social Security and Medicare.
  • Do you watch football or the Macy’s Day Parade? Give thanks to the Federal Communications Commission, government-enforced NFL player contracts, and taxpayer subsidized stadiums for these television bonanzas.
  • Walking off the meal with a stroll around the block? Give yourself and your neighbors a pat on the back for paying taxes for the sidewalks, and thank your state, local and federal government for enforcing poop and scoop pet laws, and zoning requirements that allow your neighborhood to have clean air and quiet streets.
  • Last-minute trip to the store? Government-mandated car safety standards, city snow plows and salt trucks, and well-maintained pavement make it all possible.
  • Getting ready to cook? The factories and farms that produce your food have been inspected by the Food and Drug Administration. Happy to have a free range turkey or know the ingredients in that canned cranberry sauce? The government requires industry to provide true and accurate information to consumers.
  • Preparing the meal? You’ve got potable water coming from the faucet thanks to water safety standards. And if you’re cooking with gas or electricity, thank your government for building hydroelectric dams, managing the extraction of coal and gas, and ensuring that a bonded contractor did the installation in your house correctly with a required safety inspection.
  • Taking it easy by eating out or ordering a pre-made meal? Food safety standards for cooking and storage have been established by city and county governments, with workers required to receive food safety certifications. That means your meal should be fully cooked with safe ingredients in a clean kitchen, free from hair and disease.

These are just a few things our government does for us not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of our lives. Our infrastructure, safety standards and rules were made possible by the generations before us, who invested time, hard work and money into the success of their communities and our country.

Our government helps make Thanksgiving relaxing, enjoyable – and easy to take for granted. So, when it’s your turn to say what you’re thankful for, just remember the government – and its citizens – that helped to make it all possible.

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