For more than five decades, an 8’2” bright primrose-yellow bird has delighted television screens and has helped children learn the ABCs and 123s. The muppet has become a legendary figure in American culture and now former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wants to kill him by ending the subsidy for the network he appears on, PBS.
My colleague Yukio Strachan reported
on a letter that was sent to the Republican nominee by an eight-year-old girl. The contents of the letter included her declaring “Sesame Street” as her “favorite show on Earth” and demanded Romney, if elected, to “find something else to cut off.”
Although I certainly don’t expect an elementary school student to understand economics or the free market, especially in government schools, but for those who think Big Bird will suddenly vanish into the precipice of obscurity here are some reassuring words: Big Bird is not flying anywhere other than to (possibly) another network.
The Big Bird is a profitable item, certainly even more than before the character made its way onto the national debate stage in front of more than 60 million people. If one ever heads over to a toy store, such as Toys ‘R’ Us
, you will notice Big Bird dolls, USB flash drives, Halloween costumes, Christmas ornaments, cameras, books and much, much more. Indeed, he is a lucrative personality.
Children can still enjoy Big Bird and another television network will still have the character teaching children how to spell and count. Why would a company not want the leading Sesame Street character to star on one of their shows?
Speaking hypothetically for a moment, though. Let’s say a private enterprise chooses not to hire Big Bird and the federal government stops funding PBS altogether. There are a few things to consider.
First: the federal government doesn’t subsidize PBS directly, but instead the funds go through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
. The group was established by Congress in 1968 and it also includes National Public Radio (NPR).
suggests that funding for PBS through CPB totaled roughly 12 percent of PBS revenue out of the group's $300 million. In the next three years, the number is projected to climb to $445 million. Even though that’s a small number out of the enormous budget, it’s still millions of dollars the U.S. cannot afford – $16 trillion debt, $1.1 trillion budget deficit and tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities and expenditures.
Indeed, it won’t balance the budget, but finding efficiencies help. However, it can be safe to say that funding cuts to PBS will not hurt Big Bird in the least.
Second: PBS can fund itself. If people love it so much then why don’t they pay for it through a massive fundraising drive? Instead of forcing others who may or may not watch it to pay for a television network, there are other ways through voluntary and peaceful means to support PBS.
With a lot of outrage across the Internet and social media landscape, surely one person can chip in a buck to have Jim Lehrer moderate a presidential debate, Big Bird write poetry and experts appraise antiques.
Third: why does the government need to be in the business of media?
There is certainly no reason as to why the government must subsidize television, radio and print outlets. With a lot of competition in all facets of media, such as Fox News
(libertarian), as well as all of the fact-checking organizations, stealing taxpayers’ money is not needed to fund a media organization.
Fourth: watching television is bad for children anyway.
There have been numerous studies that suggest watching television is terrible for your health. A study last year
found that the more television you watch the better chance you have to contract a number of illnesses and die younger.
The latest piece of health news around came this week. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
found that the average American child is exposed to about four hours of background television each day. This amount can harm a child’s brain development and social interaction.
As children spend most of their time in front of a television, computer or smartphone, one less item geared towards children could actually be beneficial for their health.