The House recently passed a bill to remove federal funding from NPR. The vote was 228-192, with all Democrats and some Republicans voting against it. The bill also prevents any NPR affiliates from using federal money to buy programs from NPR.
One argument presented for this bill is that the country is in a fiscal crisis and hence there is a need to cut the budget.
This argument does have considerable appeal. After all, the deficit is rather large and hence we need to either reduce spending or increase revenue in order to address this problem. Of course, the budget for NPR is rather tiny and hence the savings will also be rather tiny. But, of course, many small cuts can add up to a significant amount.
Naturally, if this reasoning is going to be used to cut NPR, it should also be applied across the board to other expenditures-something that both parties have been incredibly reluctant to do. As it stands, budget cutting seems to be more symbolic than significant and often seems to be aimed at eliminating or curtailing programs based on ideology rather than based on honestly attempting to reduce spending in a way that best serves the public good.
A second argument is that NPR should be able to sustain itself. After all, NPR is very popular (about 27 million listeners) and some people, such as Marsha Blackburn (Republican, Tennessee), claim that NPR listeners tend to be wealthy and well educated and thus can presumably help foot the bill for NPR via donations. It has also been argued by some that NPR should go commercial (rather than merely being sponsored).
These arguments are rather appealing and the general principle, that the state should not fund entities that can be self sustaining, seems very plausible. After all, there seems to be no compelling reason to provide a handout to someone who can provide for themselves. Naturally, this same principle should be applied across the board. So, for example, the subsidies for agriculture should be eliminated. As another example, the support for oil companies should also be cut. I, for one, would like to see a comprehensive examination of all programs to see if federal money is being handed out to those who are quite capable of supporting themselves. However, I am confident that the folks in congress would never do such a thing. Many of them, I suspect, are well and truly bought by certain interests.
The main counter argument against cutting NPR has been presented by Ed Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts). He argues that federal funding is needed to sustain local public stations that do not have a large enough base to sustain themselves. These stations, he contends, serve an important function that justifies the expenditure.
This argument does have a certain appeal. After all, even if people in rural areas and small towns could not provide enough support to sustain their public stations, they should not be denied this public good on the grounds that they are not wealthy enough to afford it.
One stock reply to this is that the free market should handle the situation. So, if the residents of a small town are unwilling to pay enough to keep the station going, then the invisible hand will shut that station down. If the citizens are willing to sustain it, then it will stay in operation.
One obvious concern is that access to public goods should not be a matter of the free market. After all, to tell the people in a small town that they will not be protected by the military and will not receive police or fire protection because they cannot sustain these services via a free market would seem to be unacceptable. As citizens, they are entitled to such goods-even if citizens in wealthier or higher population areas have to assist them. We are, after all, Americans and we owe each other as citizens.
An obvious reply is that access to NPR is not a public good on par with police, military and fire protection. As such, stations that cannot make it should be allowed to fall silent (perhaps they can broadcast Rush and Glenn). Another reply is that the free market should be applied across the board: people should only receive what they can pay for. This, of course, includes the people that are corporations. As such, perhaps the country should switch to the pay as you go approach.