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.