Unfortunately I haven’t posted in a while. Bad! Bad Jon! But something I’ve seen recently has lit a fire under my posterior and I guess I kinda had to vent. So what better opportunity than on my own Libertarianism for Normal People blog!
That thing that’s sticking in my craw is the recent online campaign to save public broadcasting (most notably Sesame Street), which is set to be cut under the Trump budget. I’m now seeing people with an “I <3 PBS” graphic on their Facebook profile pictures. Ugh.
Why does this bother me so much? I guess it’s the five top arguments I hear from people who want to keep PBS and NPR going into infinity. Their positions are not only weak, they show that people in the modern age have very little capacity to think as rational adults. Let’s take a look at them.
1. “You’re going to KILL Big Bird!” This is the most popular argument I’ve seen, which actually began during the 2012 election when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he would cut PBS from the budget, adding, “And I love Big Bird!” That became a rallying cry for those who wanted to keep PBS in the federal budget: “Why does Mitt Romney want to kill Big Bird?”
What it really means is that they’re afraid that once the federal funding goes away, no human being will be entertained by Big Bird or any of the other Muppets ever again.
Let’s unpack this short-sighted, childish statement. First of all, Big Bird and all the characters on Sesame Street are fictional. I hate to be the one to break this to some of you, but it’s the truth. They’re ideas that originated from the minds of Jim Henson and his creative team who worked on the show.
Second, the popularity of the show – as demonstrated by the recent outrage – reveals a desire by the public to keep the show going. So should federal funding go away, Sesame Street will simply acquired by another entity that will be glad to bring along all these characters and broadcast them on some other channel – whether cable or online.
Now, for some that might not be an ideal scenario. I’m sure the PBS advocates will argue, “Yeah. But then Sesame Street and other programs will have these commercials!” OK. But if the most important thing is to keep these programs running, isn’t it better to have ads run during their broadcast than to not have them at all? Or given the bloated federal budget and $20 trillion debt, is this too great of a sacrifice in order to keep alive the programs you seem to treasure?
2. “PBS/NPR is a small fraction of government spending!” Speaking of the financial aspect of PBS and NPR, another argument I’ve been hearing is that because the money allocated to public broadcasting is so miniscule, there’s no need to focus budget cuts on it. In other words, it doesn’t make a dent in the federal budget, so why cut it?
Great. So can I assume that those who believe that cuts to such a small part of government programs, and thus are not worth the effort to concentrate on them, would join me in calling for cuts in those programs that are a huge part of the budget and only getting bigger: Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, military spending? I assume they’ll be all for cutting the last item, but given that the first three account for more than $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities, why not take the meat cleaver to them now?
Or is this just a temper tantrum by those who really don’t want to make any sacrifices in order to lessen the burden on future generations? Given that a lot of the outcry is coming from parents, I would think they’d be interested in doing their part to help their children’s future debt burden could be lessened as much as possible… but I’m sure I would be wrong.
That’s sad, because if these folks don’t have the courage to cut such a small amount from the budget, how are they going to handle the cuts that inevitably have to come when it’s time to honor those unfunded liabilities?
3. “I grew up with Sesame Street!” Ah… nostalgia! It’s a powerful motivator of human action. Many cities and townships in America have put into place countless historical preservation laws in order to maintain the aesthetic aspects of their communities. Never mind that it drives down the supply of and increases the price of real estate in their area – thus preventing anyone who doesn’t make a high income from establishing residence in these areas – as long as the town in which they grew up remains relatively unchanged, that’s all that matters to them.
The same motivation is at play here. People who grew up with Sesame Street and other PBS programs have affection for something that was such an important part of their childhood. And admittedly, Sesame Street was a big part of my childhood. You know what else was a big part of my childhood? Sanford & Son, Happy Days, What’s Happening?, The Love Boat, Laverne and Shirley, etc. None of these shows currently exist, and while they were extremely entertaining to me at the time, the fact that they’re gone doesn’t prevent me from going on with my daily life or being otherwise entertained. And I have a hunch that future generations aren’t lacking something culturally or developmentally because they’re no longer around.
Again, if the government pulled the plug on PBS, Sesame Street would go on because there’s a market for it. All the shows I mentioned above aren’t around anymore because the market decided that there’s no place for them, except for nostalgia channels like TV Land.
4. “Sesame Street and PBS provide valuable education content!” Well, yes. Yes they do. But as you might have noticed, they’re not the only entities that do. In case you’ve been asleep for the past 40 years, a flood of children’s programming – Barney the Dinosaur, Dora the Explorer, etc. – have cropped up to provide an alternative way of teaching children.
And by the way, those phones in the hands of your children are a portable encyclopedia and an unlimited library of videos that can provide educational content that meets or exceeds anything that the creators of Sesame Street could have ever dreamed.
The question then becomes, “Are your children taking advantage of this technological miracle?” If not, why not? Who is the one who’s ultimately responsible for educating your child – you or someone in a big yellow bird costume? If the answer is the latter – if you’re more content to plop your kid down in front of an electronic device to keep him quiet – then maybe your focus should shift from a miniscule portion of the government budget to your child.
5. “Without federal funding, PBS and NPR won’t exist!” Well, anyone who believes this is just completely ignorant of economics and might just want to let the adults speak for a few minutes. I’ll concede that the actual PBS and NPR going concerns might not exist in their current forms, but the content will carry on, providing that consumers are willing to support them. And in the end, that’s really the metric to measure the worth of any product or service – is it viable in the market?
As stated above, the programs that are the most popular on PBS and NPR will find homes elsewhere. There will probably be advertisements or subscription fees; some might be on cable TV and some might be only available online. But those shows that are most desired by audiences will find a place that is most suitable to consumers at a price they’re willing to pay. And if you’re willing to pay taxes in order to support these programs, I’d hope you’d fork over your money voluntarily to see them when they hit the private sector. Or maybe you have some fetish about paying for things via force… I don’t know.
All this is to say that the whole campaign to save public broadcasting from the budget chopping block isn’t worth the calories that would have to be burned. It’s simply a way to express the position, “I want everything to stay the same and I don’t want to make any sacrifices for anything ever!” Sacrifices will have to be made whether we like it or not.
So even if you’re a die-hard supporter of the PBS and NPR, it’s probably better to demonstrate that you are willing to let go of something you treasure for “the common good,” which I’m going to assume you believe is sacred above all else. If you’re not willing to demonstrate conciliatory gesture as small as that, why would those on the other side of your political spectrum give an inch on anything they hold dear?
Source: Libertarianism for Normal People5 Arguments that Prove Sesame Street Taught Us Our ABCs, but Didn’t Teach Us How to Be Adults