Posted by on October 14, 2012

Just watching the news on the hew and cry over Romney’s anti-Big Bird comments.    Poor Romney.  He is forever condemned to be misunderstood, probably deliberately by the more intelligent parts of his opposition and almost certainly non-deliberately by the rank and file.

For all of those who think that the government should subsidize PBS, why shouldn’t it subsidize newspapers….blogs….cartoons and books….a new and improved iPad….lycra bicycling shorts….a new fast food chain…etc., etc., etc.?  Aren’t these all good things?  Isn’t the case for doing them with tax dollars every bit as strong as supporting Big Bird?

In technical economics-speak, the case for government subsidies exists where a “public good” would be sub-optimally produced by the private sector and therefore it must be subsidized by the government.  With the literally hundreds of cable channels out there, all hungry for “content”, does anyone really think that its production needs to be subsidized?  Or put another way, that PBS couldn’t survive as a normal commercial venture if what it produces is actually valued by viewers?  Does anyone really think that, without Uncle Sam writing a check, Big Bird would wither and die?

Oh, come on.

Sure, PBS is nice.  Romney himself said that he likes Big Bird…and Jim Lehrer (although I personally have my doubts about this second part of his affections).  There are lots of nice things out there.  The whole problem of economics is that we have to choose between all the nice things there are.  Romney is simply making the point that we have to start making hard choices.  Big Bird is a symbol that we can no longer afford everything.  For that, I applaud him…tentatively.  I will really applaud him if he starts applying the same ruthless logic to traditional Republican sacred cows, such as the military, where it is clear that we can longer afford to be the world’s policeman and where we have to focus — with total selfishness, because US foreign policy has long been insufficiently selfish, contrary to popular belief — purely on our national interests.

If Romney starts with Big Bird and continues with the Big Military, then he will be a great President.  If.  But this is still a better bet than Obama, whose decision to pander to the crowd and ridicule this point proves that he can never be one.

Roger Barris, Switzerland


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