Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Opiate of the Masses

Government-funded television sets

One current debate in Congress is the funding necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to TV when the new digital transmission standards come into play in 2009. One congressman (Stevens he of the $450 million bridges to nowhere in Alaska) and another (Sununu he of Washington power forever) are argueing over how much it'll cost the taxpayer to ensure that the other taxpayers have access to their idiot boxes; Stevens proposes $3 billion, Sununu says this is too much.

This has to be one of the most absurd discussions since I have been following this kind of thing (this kind of thing being public policy). Why is government in the business of providing TVs anyway? Is this a cynical plot to keep Americans fat, happy, stupid and blindly consuming ? I would hope so, why else would it be debated. I would like to think that these elected officials arent's so far removed from reality to think television is a public good that needs to be provided by government such as police and fire protection, the military and the legal system.

The debate also shows in its own way the stupidity of government regulation. Who watches standard TV anyway? Doesn't everyone who watches TV have (commercially-purchased) cable or a satellite dish? By the time government gets in to regulate something the more nimble private sector is two steps ahead already providing the good or service in the market with government trying to regulate and control with hindsight, turning the whole regulatory cycle into a cynical wealth-sapping game played by the uncreative and power-hungry.

Most importantly why arent we UNDOING some of the harm done by laws currently already on the books.

Lets start with sun-setting,

1) Government's backing of housing mortgages, this just makes housing financing more cheap than it would be, inflating housing prices and taking wealth from poorer renters and giving it to richer home-owners and mortgage brokers,
2) Government-provided flood insurance which keeps private entities out of the market and again creating wealth transfers from the poor (those living in the country or the city) to the wealthy (those with waterfront property) and,
3) Corporate welfare of all types (from subsidized export financing and agriculture supports to industry-specfic trade protectionism and government-insured pension funds) which just takes wealth from the entrepreneurial class (and, we ARE ALL entrepreneurs in the way we handle our own personal budgets) and gives it to the bloated corporate class.

Or how about the Drug War and our Neo-Imperalist Foreign Policy?

This is what law-makers should be discussing, not TV.

Like Chairman Mao said of religion, TV has become our opiate of the masses, taking our minds away from the things that really matter.