Government shutdowns are (thankfully) rare and tend to lead to a lot of calls to economists: what happens to the dollar on the international market? How do military towns and towns that rely on National Park tourism survive? Will companies screech to a halt while they wait for the FDA to get back to business? In the meantime, we might take this opportunity to remember the myriad ways in which all Americans are dependent upon the government.

Most people don’t realize they benefit from government programs.

Writing last year, Mettler asserted 96% of Americans benefit from 21 specific government programs (not including those that affect all people equally, like road maintenance). These include “submerged” benefits (like tax breaks for mortgage interest) and direct benefits (like Medicaid). In Table 3 of the second citation, she shows that even some 44.1% of those receiving Social Security benefits answer “no” when asked if they “have used a government program.”

The government is instrumental in innovation.

Fred Block and Matthew Keller sum up some of their research in a Scholars’ Strategy Network brief on government as the main driver of innovation. Using data from R&D‘s annual top 100 breakthroughs list, in 2006 they identified 88 winners with some government support, 77 of which relied on federal dollars and 42 of which came directly out of federally-sponsored labs. They also focus on a program started by Ronald Regan’s Administration that, today, provides up to 6,000 loans ($2 billion or so) annually to small businesses trying to commercialize new tech.

It’s Columbus Day! In 1492 he sailed the ocean blue and—well—historians, sociologists, and even web comic artists have been reminding us for a while now that he didn’t really “discover” America, so much as find the native peoples who were already living there. So, how does the narrative of Columbus day (or any other story in our history textbooks) keep coming up the same way year after year?

Columbus’ voyage isn’t the only historical story we tend to get wrong in the classroom.
These stories aren’t just mistakes, though. They represent political controversies that have raged in the American history curriculum for years.

In a recent report from Al Jazeera America on his first major interview, Pope Francis raises concerns that the Catholic Church needs to change its political priorities if it doesn’t want to “fall like a house of cards.” He argues that the church is focusing too heavily on “narrow” issues like gay marriage and abortion when it should be fostering a more inclusive message. Is this a new and necessary direction for Catholic politics in the United States, or just a flash in the pan?

Pope Francis may be right about church collapse. Many Americans choose not to affiliate with religion for political reasons.
It also isn’t just political. Narrow theological views on issues like gender and sexuality have an effect on who comes to Mass every week.
This isn’t the first shift, though, new leaders and changes in society have a long history of altering the church’s politics.
Plenty of organization for change can emerge from the church’s membership as well. Not all the discontented leave!

A recent report from the New York Times tells us that Washington may be loosening the leash on mortgage lenders, but a range of research from sociologists over the last five years suggests that there were actually multiple problems that led to the 2008 housing crash, and they weren’t all about financial regulation alone.

Modern mortgages arose when homeownership was politically popular.
Politicians often used economic policy to “punt” unpopular political conflict.
Subprime lending didn’t just take advantage of the poor—it was also a racial problem.