When’s the last time the US led the way in policy?

I was just reading this great little tidbit from Matt Yglesias on a fairly sophisticated road taxing system being tested in the Netherlands where Matt wrote,

At this point, it just strikes me as fundamentally unlikely that bold policy innovation is going to come out of the sclerotic United States.

What a great point. The US still does some things arguably better than other countries, but we also do plenty worse. Our scientific output is great. The new products and ingenuity from IT are fantastic. Our health care, even after health care reform is weak compared to other countries. Our transportation priorities are certainly lame (cars only!). So we have this whole mixed bag of things, like I’m sure many countries do. But what policies helped enabled those great things to happen? And when were those policies implemented?

Looking back, I see that the US led the way with environmental policy (wilderness areas, clean air act, etc.) up through about Nixon. After that, policy changes were a bit more impotent, but we still benefit tremendously from this foresight.

What else? When was the last time the US enacted some new, substantial, policy that changed things for the better, and did so before any other country?

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