My cable company made me a remarkable offer: They want to add a new channel to my cable subscription -- and you will pay for it. The channel will have liberal news, highbrow entertainment and a variety of educational programming.
Sounds insane, and yet the channel isn't new. It's called PBS.
Public broadcasting is a classic example of welfare for the well-off. We PBS viewers are 44 percent more likely than other Americans to make more than $150,000 a year.
I enjoy PBS, but it hardly seems fair that the government demands you buy it for me. If I want to see opera, I should pay for it myself. Why should you be taxed to pump "La Boheme" into my living room? It barely made sense in 1967, when most Americans only had the Big Three broadcast networks, but now there are hundreds of channels. If there's a demand for opera or BBC drama, the market will provide it.
Not everything on PBS is for elites only, of course. The network is justly famous for programs like "Sesame Street." But popular programs are just that -- popular. That means they have other ways to get money. People already give so much money to PBS that today, it only gets 15 percent of its funds from the federal government. As David Boaz, author of "Libertarianism: A Primer," points out, businesses and nonprofits deal with 15 percent revenue losses all the time. If NPR and PBS lost all their federal money, they wouldn't disappear."
Republicans should stop dithering about reducing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's subsidies and eliminate them altogether. Of course, when anyone suggests cutting the PBS budget, people say, "they're trying to kill 'Sesame Street'!" But "Sesame Street" is big business and would survive in any environment. "Children's programming that has an audience does not need taxpayer subsidies," says Jacob Sullum of Reason. "Noggin, which is more 'commercial-free' than PBS stations, carries 12 hours of kids' shows (including two different versions of 'Sesame Street') every day. Parent-acceptable children's programming can also be seen on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and ABC Family."
Some people, who apparently have never watched "20/20" or "60 Minutes," claim we won't have tough journalism on TV unless the public pays for it. Only PBS will do "honest" documentaries, they say, because PBS isn't dependent on corporate support. Twenty-five years ago, Ralph Nader proclaimed that consumer reporting would never appear on commercial TV. It would only thrive on public TV, he said, because commercial stations would defer to advertisers.