Vintage Government

"Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level...Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city's rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads...Fires took a dozen lives a day. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was 'roasted.'"

It's obviously not Somalia - not with a thousand trains a day and newspapers. And China has lots of trains still, I believe, but no, not China.

This is Chicago, 1893. The quote is from Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City.

This is America, a country that is just beginning its growth of large cities. An America changing rapidly from rural to urban. And government is still very small. Regulations are practically non-existent. And corruption? We think Afghanistan is bad?

Luckily people came along and tackled some of these problems, one by one. Railroads, even if there were as many as there were in 1893, would no longer have a 19th century kill rate thanks to safety regulations. There are still fires, but thanks to building regulations and a publicly financed fire department, they do not take "a dozen lives a day."

In very recent days I have seen calls for a reduced role for government help during natural disasters. As if private enterprise and community efforts will do all that is necessary. Well, sometimes they will, sometimes they won't. And sometimes they can't.

But if we're talking about returning to the good old days of untrammeled enterprise and small government, you can be certain that, sooner or later, heads will roll.