Zachary Andrews recently wrote a column on why the federal government should cut its funding to PBS. His rationale is that the nation is $18 trillion in debt. He claims that the addition of a few commercials would be more than enough to keep PBS thriving. I’m not going to disagree with the functionality of his proposal, as PBS could easily survive off of private funding. My issue with cutting PBS is the symbolic loss of support for public programming.
Cutting off government funding for PBS would signal a final defeat for the ideals of social responsibility that characterized the post-war period. With welfare services in decline since the 1970s in the name of “work ethic,” capitalism became omnipresent, leaving no escape or refuge for the poor. Infrastructure spending has also fallen dramatically. Privatizing PBS would leave the idea of public goods and service as a relic of the past, murdered by the Chicago Boys Monetarist agenda.
Despite what the increasingly dogmatic right believes, the answer to every social problem is not to privatize everything. The Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s intervened to provide arts and education to the public. Conservative ideology would predict that these programs would be ineffective. Instead, illiteracy fell from 50 percent to 12 percent in a matter of five months, and important cultural works were finally available to the entire population. PBS has that function in American society, providing documentaries, artistic programs, programming aimed at children and so much more. All without being subject to the whims of private investors. Without that, our society would lose the last vestige of public service, bringing the U.S. closer to the hellish landscape of European austerity. Do we want to fight for the ideals of democracy or subject ourselves to the private tyrannies we call corporations?
But what about China? We don’t want them to have control over our economy, do we? Luckily, even the idea that China could use it’s $1.2 billion in U.S. bonds as leverage against us is absurd. The U.S. is the largest financial and military power in the world, and the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. Those three things alone make us untouchable financially.
However, let’s say our creditors could wreak havoc with their holdings in U.S. debt. Is cutting PBS the best way to reduce the government budget? Compare $430 million with the $756.4 billion spent on defense. It should be obvious that there’s a lot more waste to be found in the defense budget, specifically $70 billion. The $430 million dollars for PBS creates value in our society, while that $70 billion in waste (and most of the military’s budget) goes to wreaking havoc and destruction around the world. That’s what we need to cut. On the other hand, that would mean Romney and the right wing wouldn’t get lots of fancy toys to blow up the Middle East.
Chase Cabot is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs.