Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sesame Street Economics

I realize that I'm a bit late to the game on this, but I wanted to weigh in on the debate. No, not what I thought of it as a whole--in short, Obama was distracted and rambling while Romney, honesty notwithstanding, forcefully pressed his points home. Rather, I wanted to talk about one particular segment of it that just rubbed me the wrong way. I'm talking about Romney's desire to cut PBS as part of his effort to balance the budget.

First of all, from a cost-benefit standpoint, public broadcasting is a pretty good investment for the money. More broadly, though, Romney's statement during the debate seemed to insinuate that PBS is the Great Evil that is driving our current and future deficits. Less-informed viewers might have fallen for that, and I think that that's what bothers me--the statement gave off the air that our budget can be balanced simply by cutting funding for things like NPR and PBS. Indeed, many people, when asked, believe that funding for PBS and NPR is far higher than it really is--a shocking 30% thinking it was above 5% of annual federal spending. These programs, in reality, comprise  about .013% of annual federal spending--about $500 million a year. Put another way, we spend more money than that in 36 hours in Afghanistan. Public broadcasting, then, is practically a rounding error in budgetary terms. Let me be clear: I'm not saying that just because a program doesn't cost much that spending money on it can't be wasteful, but there's spending and then there's spending. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to shell out $1.35 a year to do my part to help teach kids how to read and write and count.

In any case, my ultimate point is that this whole PBS funding business completely ignores what the actual sources of our high deficits are--the recession, increasing health care costs, and to a lesser degree, Social Security. Note the budget chart:

In the debate and on the campaign trail, Romney said that he wouldn't stop the unnecessary over-payment of doctors and insurance companies by Medicare, which costs us $716 billion over ten years, while yielding arguably scant benefits. He also expressed his desire to increase the defense budget by 2.1 trillion over ten years, which is well above what the Department of Defense requested. Don't forget about that $5 trillion tax cut, either.

But seriously, we can't afford Sesame Street anymore, sorry kids.

Update: I see that the Obama campaign caught on: