By James Kwak
Thank you for all the suggestions about my post on the3six5. I decided to write about my favorite topic: my daughter. But at the suggestion of several people, here’s another one (also limited to 365 words and in diary style).
Today I spent another two hours in the car, mostly on Interstate 91.
The section between Amherst and Hartford is the stretch of highway I know best in all the world. For six years I went to the Hartford airport every week or two for business. For three years I’ve been driving to New Haven for school. And I recently accepted a job in Hartford.
The thing that makes it at all tolerable is the radio — more specifically, the podcasts I play from my phone. My favorite, loyal readers know, is This American Life, followed by RadioLab, Planet Money, Fresh Air, and TED Talks. (When I’m too tired for anything even remotely intellectual, I listen to embarrassing music on Pandora.)
Most of those shows come from NPR or its affiliates. The spending cuts just passed by House Republicans eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which according to Wikipedia provides about 17 percent of all funding for public broadcasting stations.
One might ask: public radio is nice, but can we afford it? The obvious response is that the CPB budget, like all the spending cuts, is peanuts: a few hundred million dollars, when Republicans and Democrats just agreed to cut taxes by $900 billion over two years.
More substantively, though, the question is whether public broadcasting provides something that the free market can’t. If you take free markets and incentives seriously, you have to recognize that (a) interest groups will try to buy the media and (b) the media will be bought. We could argue about whether media organizations can make more money by preserving their reputations for integrity, but recent experience dictates the opposite: just look at Fox News and [whatever outlet conservatives like to complain about]. The point of public broadcasting is to support media outlets that are more resistant to being bought, and to provide that support through a bipartisan process. It may not work perfectly, but it’s not a service that the free market would provide. Without public broadcasting, we’ll be a little bit closer to the world of Citizens United, where everything is for sale. And that will make our current political problems that much harder to solve.
Update: Various podcasts recommended by various people, in comments or in emails to me:
- Bob Edwards
- Martini Shot
- The Breakdown (by The Nation)
- KCRW’s Left, Right & Center
- The New Yorker: The Political Scene
- In Our Time (BBC)
- Thinking Allowed (BBC)