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Keep The Bird

I like PBS. I watched Cosmos as a youngster and it filled me with wonder and helped fuel my love of science. I thought Julia Child was a hoot, and she helped inspire my love of cooking. Sesame Street wasn’t around when I was a kid, but my kids loved it and I enjoyed watching it with them.

PBS has been in the cross-hairs of conservatives for as long as I can remember, and as a small L libertarian I agree with some of their arguments on a purely philosophical level. Government’s job should be preventing and punishing force and fraud, providing for the common defense, and little else. There is no valid constitutional justification for Big Brother sponsoring Big Bird.

I’m also certain that PBS could survive in the free market. If the funding were pulled tomorrow, they’d be able to make up the difference with increases in public contributions and corporate sponsorships.

Having said that…going after PBS is stupid. It’s not stupid because PBS is a valuable resource. It’s not stupid because PBS can survive on its own. It’s would be stupid if PBS showed nothing but a 24/7 video feed of a goldfish bowl. With one dead goldfish floating in it.

It’s stupid because the amount of money we’re talking about is trivial.

The feds gave PBS $445 million last year. That works out to about .01% of the federal budget. Cutting PBS would be like draining a swimming pool (a pool of debt) by bailing out a sippy cup of water and shouting, “Look what I’ve accomplished!”

Compare the cost of PBS to just one useless federal department – the Department of Education. Put in place by the lovely Jimmy Carter, the Department of Ed has sucked down hundreds of billions of dollars over the decades and accomplished nothing except impeding advancements in education and shutting down hundreds of college athletics programs. Their budget for this year is nearly $70 billion dollars, including a $1.7 billion dollar increase from last year.

If we eliminated the Department of Ed, just shut it down completely, we’d save about $70,000,000,000 this year. And next year. And the year after that. As a side effect, we’d have 50 states experimenting with the best ways to provide education; 50 real life laboratories we could all study and learn from.

If, instead of cutting PBS, we doubled their budget, then denied DoE’s annual budget increase, we’d save nearly a billion dollars.

If we eliminated the DoE and gave one year of their funding to PBS, it would fund them at their current level for 153 years. During that time we’d save the $10.7 trillion dollars we would have wasted on the DoE. (The actual number would be quadruple that, given the tendency for federal agencies to double in size every ten years or so.)

$445 million is a lot of money in raw dollars, but it’s a trivial part of our federal budget. It’s a rounding error. It’s piddly. If we focus on eliminating the piddly, that’s all that will get done.

It will give brief bragging rights to a few political weasels. They’ll hold up a few sippy cups and proclaim, “We cut PBS and the Piddillydiddly Department and the Federal United Committee Keeping Allergy Labels Legible and saved a billion and a half dollars! Whoop De Doo and Hooray for us!” Meanwhile, the pool is overflowing and the citizens are drowning in the debt.

I’ve only discussed the budget effect of eliminating just one large, useless federal agency. Now expand that to the hundreds of large and mid-sized agencies we could do without. Let’s fix the federal budget by eliminating them first.  Afterwards, when there’s just a puddle left at the bottom of the pool, we can debate on how badly we need to get rid of it.

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9 Comment(s)

  1. But. Shutting down hundreds of college athletics programs is a good thing.

    ptah | Oct 6, 2012 | Reply

  2. Dave,
    I believe you are missing the point. We should eliminate funding of All unconstitutional expenitures, including the Department of Education AND funding of PBS. The purpose of levying taxes is to provide for the operation of The Federal Government’s legal responsibilities and nothing else. Not the Dept of Ed, not PBS, not the EPA, not the DOE, not foreign aid, not alternative energy, not the Arts, not Subsidies, not welfare, not social security, not medicare, not medicaid, not Obamacare, nothing that is not one of the enumerated powers of the federal government. If we eliminate funding of all the extras, we can balance the budget and pay off the national debt and reduce the burden of government on the american people.

    I’m just sayin’

    Brian | Oct 6, 2012 | Reply

  3. I’m with you Brian, 100%. But we need to go after the big money-sinks first. Once we get rid of them it will be easier to get rid of the smaller ones before they have a chance to grow into bigger ones.

    Dave Hitt | Oct 7, 2012 | Reply

  4. I agree that PBS would survive, but the quality of programming would quickly dive to that of the lowest common denominator. We already have a perfect example of what happens when you privatize a government-sponsored educational TV program: TLC. TLC used to be run by NASA. It was privatized, and now TLC is as synonymous with Learning as MTV is synonymous with Music: not at fucking all. When was the last time you actually learned something from The “Learning” Channel? I mean, learned something besides the fact that “Honey BooBoo” thinks she’s a fish, sometimes?

    I think the problem here is that programs like Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Square One, etc. are and were inarguably GOOD for kids. Mister Rogers taught me how to be a decent person. Sesame Street did as well to some extent as well as how to sound out words, basic counting, etc. Square One made sure I was never afraid of math (it didn’t make me GREAT at it, but I’m not afraid of it like a lot of people are). Now, these programs did a lot of GOOD, but the problem is the market doesn’t really give a hoot about what’s good for people. It only cares about what MAKES MONEY. And what makes money is not always in everyone’s best interest.

    But I think there’s also a good point to be made about who gets to decide what’s good for people? It’s easy to look at the state of TLC and PBS and say “well, Sesame Street is good and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is bad.” That’s two extremes. But the world doesn’t work in extremes.

    Right now, PBS has and continues to put out valuable programming for children and adults. I think the argument could be made that if it were beholden to corporate sponsorships and ratings it probably wouldn’t have, and we’d probably see yet another channel that just caters to the least common denominator of our society just to make money. You see it everywhere. TechTV was awesome, but it didn’t make money, so it became G4, and became awful, but now it makes money. There’s something to be said for being free of the “shackles” of market pressure when you’re creating good art.

    I guess the only argument I can put out in support of PBS is that it’s worked out pretty well so far the way it’s been going. Whether or not that continues depends entirely on the people in charge of the station. That’s kind of the way anything works, really. Socialism can be great if the right people are in charge, and Capitalism can be a nightmare if the wrong people are in charge, and vice versa. It all comes down to who is in charge.

    Brian | Oct 8, 2012 | Reply

  5. Oh and there’s a great quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson on this:

    Cutting PBS support to save the budget is like deleting a text file off your 500 GB hard drive to save space.

    Brian | Oct 8, 2012 | Reply

  6. Conservatives could care less about the money, the real issue is defunding a liberal organization. Remember PBS has gay characters on Sesame Street, which is for kids. 3 seconds on google leads me to an article that begins with “There is a government-funded Satanic-Homosexual propaganda program aimed squarely at America’s impressionable toddlers and preschoolers!”

    It’s not the money.

    Jeff Jakubowski | Oct 9, 2012 | Reply

  7. You’re right, Jeff. If Fox News weren’t commercially successful, and relied on government funding, at least half of the people complaining about PBS would insist that the funding for Fox was necessary to provide a counterpoint to the liberal media bias.

    If PBS has a liberal bias, it’s barely detectable. They may be confusing it with NPR, whose bias is more noticeable (although fairly mild, in most cases).

    Dave Hitt | Oct 9, 2012 | Reply

  8. What gets me is that to far-right conservatives, anything that ISN’T a mindless repetition of Reagan quotes is “liberal bias.” Julia Child is a liberal show because she doesn’t begin every episode with a speech promoting laissez-faire capitalism. Sesame Street is liberal because Oscar the Grouch never educates children about the gold standard.

    To the far-right, you are a liberal extremist simply for not constantly promoting their point of view, sort of like those Christians who claim they’re “persecuted” because some people stopped sucking up to them.

    Brian | Oct 13, 2012 | Reply

  9. Great post Dave, and good comments all. PBS funding should be eliminated, but only after all other non constitutional federal programs have been axed.

    Bennett | Oct 19, 2012 | Reply

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