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APPARENTLY WE LIVE in times when ideology trumps logic. In particular, there is no logic in the proposed demise of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As significant government savings, these proposals run counter to arithmetic. This, from the greatest businessman since (and possibly including) Daddy Warbucks.
The following parable of proportionality is based on data gleaned from the Congressional Budget Office, its website identified as providing “Nonpartisan Analysis for the U.S. Congress.” This is unlike breitbart.com, another website providing analyses of quite another sort to someone or other.
The CBO lists the 2016 U.S. federal budget as $3.9 trillion. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities each accounts for $148 million of the budget. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting amounts to $445 million, split between TV’s Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.
Alas, the mind doesn’t dance effortlessly among millions (106), billions (109) and trillions (1012). To counter this, here I devise an analogy using 24 hours of a clock. Suppose the federal budget starts its apportionment at midnight, allocating money with each tick of the clock. Twenty-four hours later, the entire $3.4 trillion has been allotted.
We’ll have our clock tick through the large items first. According to the CBO, Social Security is the largest federal program, accounting for $905 billion in 2016, about one-quarter of federal spending.
And before anyone gets snarky about the Old-Age Dole, I recommend examining one’s most recent paycheck to see its FICA deduction. I made similar payments to my Social Security and Medicare account throughout my working life, and it’s being returned to me each month—with nowhere near my total investment returned as yet.
Um, they haven’t already spent it, have they? Imagine if a bank reneged on my savings account.
In any event, once our clock has ticked through its Social Security allocation, it’s 6:23 a.m.
Medicare, the second largest federal program, is another significant advance of our clock. The CBO lists Medicare’s Gross Outlays for 2016 at $701 billion.
Allotting Medicare, four hours and 57 minutes later, our clock now reads 11:20 a.m.
Golly, time flies when we’re having fun.
Defense spending is another biggie. The Department of Defense’s five-year plan averages $534 billion for the five years 2016 through 2020.
This advances our clock into mid afternoon, specifically to 3:06 p.m.
What with one thing and another, e.g., trips to Mar-a-Lago and the like, our clock positively buzzes to 11:59:41.2 p.m. That is, it’s a scant 18.8 seconds short of midnight.
These 18.8 seconds remaining correspond to the total federal allotment for the National Endowment for the Arts (3.76 seconds of our 24 hours), the National Endowment for the Humanities (3.76 seconds) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (11.3 seconds).
In light of the many benefits to us all, I find it utterly baffling that anyone would consider this a meaningful tradeoff involving our culture. If you share my views, why not contact your Congressional representatives. They have access to the same information—and, I’d like to believe, the same arithmetic skills. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017
Thanks, Phil. I hope your letters to Congress are in the works.
Regardless of the “minuscule” nature of the funding of “the endowment”, it is a fact that when budgets exceed income every aspect of spending deserve scrutiny. The practical idea of NPR had validity when there were at most five commercial channels nationally. With about a thousand streams video today, and a multiple of that for audio, nobody’s needs are likely unmet. As for creativity we have seen too many bottles of urine holding a crucifix to ever trust the judgment of others with our scarce discretionary income for “culture.” Had you seen the kinetic art of a Mustang being accordioned into a Firebird in a gigantic hydraulic vise in the lobby of Philadelphia’s renowned Kimmel Hall you might be a bit more circumspect in your argument that public funding is such a good expenditure.
I appreciate your argument. I may even agree on some points of art. However I stand on freedom of expression, Public Broadcasting’s wealth of excellent TV and radio and my 18.8 seconds of proportionality.
[Edited when I recalled how much we enjoy PBS and NPR, their topics not addressed by the multitude of other options.]
I stand on freedom of expression – and an editorial/programming staff to cull at least a little of the dross (precious little, at pledge time). The problem with the argument that there are a million streams available so there’s no need for a network any more is that at least 999,000 of those streams aren’t worth the energy needed to transmit them. Plus, a large organization like PBS (or one of the commercial networks, for things that enough people are willing to watch that the commercials bring in real money) can afford to still have over-the-air free broadcasting that’s not subject to some ISP’s whim for carriage.
Yes, the Amazons of the world are starting to make their own series and to “broadcast” them over the internet, but that’s still subject to ISP fiddles and the ability of people to afford sufficient bandwidth – not a problem with over-the-air if the signal’s strong enough. Finally, PBS, with public funding to fill in some of its budget holes, can afford to offer programming (occasionally, and mostly from BBC for some reason) that’s actually intellectually engaging – not just raw, mindless, time-wasting entertainment as is found on most commercial networks. Public Broadcasting also provides a range of viewpoints on current (political, mostly) affairs, which is hard to find in the commercial realm which deals mostly in extremes.
Bottom line: the small amount of money that Public Broadcasting gets is worth continuing, even in a tight budget. Can’t beat a tweetstorm for instant impact and propaganda, though.
And yes, some “public art” is certainly not worth what was spent on it, in my view, but it was probably worth something to somebody. Isn’t that what art is all about? Creating something interesting or even challenging, without having commercial value as the first criterion?
Regarding your FICA deductions, yes, they have already spent it.