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Democratizing the Mass Media
September 21, 2000 3:49 PM   Subscribe

Democratizing the Mass Media -- A way to finance Metafilter without banner ads: -- "Under Baker's proposal, the government would grant every adult citizen an entitlement to direct the U.S. Treasury to allocate a specific sum of money (let's say $150 per person per year) to a non-profit communications organization, or portions thereof to organizations, of his or her choice. The allocation could work something like the current taxpayer check-off to political parties, except that non-taxpayers would be entitled to participate as well as taxpayers -- just pick-up a form at the post office or at the ballot box, fill it out, and hand it in."
posted by johnb (23 comments total)

(Or, alternatively, use PayPal, etc. The point is public media without government control of content decisions.)

I bring this up now because the National Association of Broadcasters is holding a convention this week in San Francisco.

And of course, they're not alone :)

Media Democracy Now!
San Francisco IMC
SF Bay Guardian coverage
Fight the NAB, from FAIR.
posted by johnb at 3:51 PM on September 21, 2000

So my wife and I can start a non-profit website and save ourselves $300 bucks in taxes? That sounds great. I don't understand why people who are not paying taxes get to play.
posted by thirteen at 4:01 PM on September 21, 2000

What happens when we have public funds going to the KKK, Nation of Islam, etc? Government has no place in this sort of thing, individual contributions are fine by me...
posted by owillis at 4:02 PM on September 21, 2000

What happens when we have public funds going to the KKK, Nation of Islam, etc?

Those groups have a right to free speech, obviously, and the government is here to protect our democratic rights. In this case, the government's role would be limited to ensuring that media groups get funded in rough proportion to audience size, which could be done quite cheaply by a handful of staff members at the IRS and a decent computer.
posted by johnb at 4:17 PM on September 21, 2000

So my wife and I can start a non-profit website and save ourselves $300 bucks in taxes? That sounds great.

There would be a minimum audience size requirement, say one hundred subscribing members of your web site etc.

Sorry ;)
posted by johnb at 4:23 PM on September 21, 2000

www.getyour$ a non-profit website is looking for people to subscribe. To join, fill out the form at the postoffice, selecting us as you non-profit. In addition to content that is virtually never updated, you will receive $150 of you tax dollars back.
Anybody interested in joining?
I am not really opposed to the idea, I just would rather have the money back. Add another $150 to my deduction and I'll get the money where I want it to go without the middleman.
Does this remind anyone of that college lawsuit from last year?
posted by thirteen at 4:47 PM on September 21, 2000

Click Here: Protesters Try to NAB Spotlight

posted by johnb at 7:00 PM on September 21, 2000

Why even involve the middleman? Just cut USD150 off of everybody's tax bill and let each individual do what they like.
posted by libertaduno at 9:47 PM on September 21, 2000

thirteen: you're not getting money back in the proposed system, unless you do a lot of securities trading. The proposal uses a 0.5% tax on securities transactions as a funding source, generating some $30 billion in annual revenue. This money never came out of your pocket in the first place.

posted by Mars Saxman at 10:04 PM on September 21, 2000

I'm looking to pick raindrops out of a lake. I pay 30% plus in taxes, in addition to all the sales tax and "you live in a city" taxes, that particular money may not be mine, but I do pay and pay. If they are gonna allow me to decide where some money goes, I'm gonna try and send it to me.
posted by thirteen at 10:14 PM on September 21, 2000

30+ percent of everything I make that is, excluding my massive underground bartering network transactions.
posted by thirteen at 10:16 PM on September 21, 2000

This didn't sound like a totally bad idea until I read down to find out this is just a backdoor way to try to get Americans used to accepting Tobin Taxes. There's no reason this concept couldn't be paid for out of our gigantic budget surplus.

Anyway, if this idea were to be adopted, you know who would get most of the money? Churches and other religious organizations. They're already organizing to try to grab up a huge number of the FCC's new LPFM licenses, and this would be a great way to fund those ministations.
posted by aaron at 10:17 PM on September 21, 2000

"Information is the currency of democracy" -- Thomas Jefferson [/obligatory quotation]

True democracy has its flaws, but is still one of the better instruments for bringing government policy into alignment with the public interest. As Jefferson noted, the suppleness of this instrument depends upon whether or not people know what is going on -- and in general depends upon the extent to which the instrument is calibrated against a standard of basic human rights -- the right to free speech, the right to health care, the right to education, and the right not to be murdered.

However, there is a cost to upholding our individual democratic rights. To protect people's right not to be murdered, for example, you need to finance a communal infrastructure of police departments and courts (and argubly, a military) -- a tremendously expensive proposition. Allegedly, this is a reason why taxes are necessary. Far less expensive -- but just as crucial to the viability of democracy -- is the protection of people's basic civil and economic rights -- in particular, rights to information/education and health care. I am not in favor of the government providing these services (in these latter cases). Rather, I believe it should provide for them in the form of "vouchers": media vouchers, health vouchers etc. It's not about "big government", it's about protecting these rights in the most efficient way possible.

So anyway, that's my answer to the rightist-libertarian position articulated by thirteen and, more bluntly, libertaduno. I mean, why stop at rejecting public media? Why not simply adopt a strict one-dollar-one-vote system and be done with it? Surely, it would be much cheaper...
posted by johnb at 3:11 PM on September 22, 2000

First off, I hate being on the other side of an argument with JohnB. He never gets tired, and seems to enjoy researching his position. I can't even be bothered to create links to url's I know by heart. When I join these discussions I usually say how I feel about the topic, and then I stand back and try to learn.
The problem with Jefferson is that everyone thinks he would side with them if he came to life.
So here we are, John once again has his excellent points. Like I said earlier, I am not rabid about this topic, I would not be angry if something like this comes about. What I don't like is what appears to me to be is the con. I can't enjoy this illusion of control over the government. Either someone else is paying the cash I am spending, which I do not think is right, or I am paying it, and I can donate money myself without the government standing there nodding. You would be quite right to say if my money was returned to me, I would not think to spend it on independent media. That is the part that I do not like, the illusion of control. I am being told I can spend it on what I want, but I have to spend it. I watch alot of public television, and listen to NPR all day long at work. I will never give them a penny during their drives, cause I think they are thieves. Tiny tiny *65¢ a year thieves, but thieves nonetheless. I would love to support it, I would give them a whole lot more than 65¢ a year if they refused government money, but they make a whole lot more through microtheft and would never go for it, in fact they want more. I know a lot of people who do not listen or watch at all, but they must pay too. By not paying, i'm getting their money's worth for them. Instead of theft, their money becomes a gift to me. I often get the impression that you (JohnB) have great faith in Americans, that we as a people would be gentle and good if we were free of (fill in the blank). I think we are lucky that the constitution does not need to run for office, because I think most Americans would vote the bill of rights outta here. I also think a majority would drop funding for stuff like this if they could keep their money.
When I think of rights, I think of things other people can keep from me. My freedom is a right. How is health care a right? It is somebody elses DUTY to provide health care for me? So many of the things that are mentioned as rights are merely good ideas. It is a good idea to educate our children, to provide health care,etc. Do I have a right to have a police force, and army? You pegged me, I do want a small government, I want it to do the things we cannot do ourselves. I want the streetlights, and the roads, and the army, some agency to make sure people like Monsanto do not change poison the world. I don't trust my fellow citizens very much, but I don't think they should be protected from their own stupidity. If someone can't think ahead and save for the future, why shouldn't they starve? If the government is providing for services, they are still involved in a way they do not need to be. The things I think are rights do not need vouchers, the police are the police, free speech only requires no obstruction, and people will support what they need and want.

I am embarrassed that I do not know what you mean by a one-dollar-one-vote system, as it seems like it shoiuld be self explainatory. Public media is not what I am gunning for, and not what I think of when I think my government is bloated and wasting my money, it is just what started the thread. Were it up to me I would be trimming the fat elsewhere first, I would be glad to opt out of they programs if I were allowed.

I don't feel rightist, I just end up there by default when having a discussion with someone who is obviously to the left of me. My desires are non-authoritarian, which should place me near the middle, and that is where the libertarian test put me. Sooo, there is my rambling reply, start tearing me apart. :)
*I have no idea if this is the real amount we all pay, it is what I recall NEA funding was per person 10 years back. I remember because I took part in some march complaining about the lack of government funding. Yes, It was for a girl, she was so hot she could melt aluminum. She's long gone, and I have to live with the shame of having marched. I still have nightmares.
posted by thirteen at 8:42 PM on September 22, 2000

Maybe John is gonna let me get away with it after all. :)
posted by thirteen at 8:12 PM on September 24, 2000

Trying to provoke me, eh? ;)

Actually, your post was interesting and there's a lot I could say. Unfortunately I'm in the midst of finishing up a project at the moment (frantically), so maybe we can continue this on the next thread on universal health care or libertarianism etc.

Just to clarify:

one-person-one-vote system = democracy

one-dollar-one-vote system = political system governed by market rather than democratic principles. For example, Bill Gates has as much money as 120 million Americans combined. Under a one-dollar-one-vote system, he would have as much political power as 120 million Americans combined. (You could argue he already does, but under the current system the people could in principle overpower him if they knew what was going on and got their act together.)

>How is health care a right? It is somebody elses DUTY to provide health care for me?

Is it someone else's duty to protect you from being murdered or robbed? And how do such (alleged) duties relate to the corresponding (alleged) rights not to be killed or robbed?

In any case, you need to explain why people have a right not to be killed, but not a right to live. In general, US-style "libertarians" accept so called "negative rights" (right not to be killed, not to be robbed etc) and reject positive rights (right to food, shelter, health care etc). Unfortunately, upon reflection, the positive/negative distinction turns out to be illusory. This is one reason why libertarianism is incoherent as a political philosophy. If you're interested I can lay out the arguments later.

But I should get back to work now (my reputation for lengthy posts notwithstanding).
posted by johnb at 1:17 AM on September 25, 2000

Personally, I think the whole idea of "rights" is kind of baked. Most of what are called "rights" are more accurately "needs"... the U.S. bill of rights offers a list of things people need in order to live happy, productive lives. People need a lot more stuff than is on that list, of course, and the endless debates over which services a government should perform and which ones it shouldn't aren't philosophical discussions of some assumed natural law, as the rhetoric of "rights" would imply, but arguments over who should take care of the particular needs under discussion.

This is why people talk about things like "a right to health care". It's not that there is some cosmic sense in which society at large is obliged to train medical personnel and provide their services to the general public; it's that people need health care, and currently many U.S. citizens aren't getting it, and this is a problem. So the question should be not, "is there a fundamental right to health care", but "what is the best way of providing health care to those who need it".

Of course, that's just my opinion, and all are welcome to disagree...


posted by Mars Saxman at 9:27 AM on September 25, 2000

What you called negative rights make no demand of anyone other than they not be violated. The positive require either my time or money. This is one of the reasons I freak out so bad over blockades, I consider it an horrible violation of my right to travel freely, a right that exists effortlessly, and requires planning to take away from me. When people blocade, they are intentionally taking away my rights. Since I believe all my rights are precious little marbles, and so basic, I cannot treat it as a lesser offense than if you dragged my mother away in the middle of the night.
We hire people to protect us from murder (in theory, because I think the police offer us very little protection in this regard) because we cannot do this effectively as individuals, and this is the sort of thing that needs to be organized. The things you said were positive rights have been handled by people as individuals since this country was founded. I support public funding of research, as I can see that as being similar to the police in scope. The negative rights are clear cut, the positive can expand infinitely from cradle to grave. I have a right to a color TV, I have a right to have my food cut into bite size pieces. Fortunately, I can buy my own TV, and cut my own food, but if I could not it would not be the duty of every other citizen to stop and render my dinner. I can ask, and hope. Better yet, those who care about me would volunteer.
I cannot fully explain why people have no right to shelter etc., it never occurred to me that they did. It seems that the belief is that people who cannot afford these things have this right to them. I have a house that is not paid off yet, if I stop paying should I be allowed to stay? Someone always has to pay, do I have to provide because I am able. When the country was founded, the freedom seemed to be enough, now we have to have perks too. Mars nailed the particulars pretty good, I can respond to the idea that maybe this can work better if we all pull together, I will recoil if you come at me saying I owe, and it is time to pay up. I am a little hazy, I do not spend too much time thinking about the subject. I do not think I am more incoherent that your average layperson socialist. To dismiss libertarian thought as incoherent seems biased
I usually hate when people do this, but does anyone think the founding fathers ever considered socializing medicine? I can't see it.
Hopefully I have not written John needs to respond to, as he said we can pick this up again next time.
posted by thirteen at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2000

Or to put it another way I can say to a stranger "hey, don't push me.", but I can't say "Hey, buy me an X-Ray."
posted by thirteen at 12:08 PM on September 25, 2000

First of all, I agree with Mars on rights/needs. I'm a consequentialist rather than a natural rights advocate (see Derek Parfit and Peter Singer). My allegation above was that if you endorse negative rights, then on pain of incoherence, you must also endorse positive rights, simply because there's no intelligible way to distinguish them.

What you called negative rights make no demand of anyone other than they not be violated. The positive require either my time or money.

As I noted above, provision of murder-protection and robbery-protection is far more expensive than provision of health-protection and information-protection (etc). So that can't be the difference.

The negative rights are clear cut, the positive can expand infinitely from cradle to grave.

False. Human needs are finite. This is an empirical question. There are only a handful of factors that make a difference to well-being. When you do the measurements, you find that things like physical health and political empowerment are massively important, whereas I know of no correlation between possession of a color TV and well-being. In fact, for the vast majority of material goods, there is no correlation whatsoever.

We hire people to protect us from murder ... because we cannot do this effectively as individuals,

Really? why not let individuals fend for themselves? What's the worst that could happen? Answer: the strong would decimate the weak. But isn't it the fault of the weak for being weak? I mean, if you want to be weak, fine, that's your choice -- just don't come running to me saying it's my duty to protect you, as if I owed you anything.

Now compare this case of weakness to a case in which an African child, born in wretched poverty, dies young because no one was altruistic enough to vaccinate him.

and this is the sort of thing that needs to be organized.

Sure, but why not let the market do it? Everyone could hire privatized police protection; if you can't afford it, tough luck -- don't ask me to pay your bills just because you're not competent enough to find well-paying employment. Don't want to be mean, but frankly your financial troubles are a result of your own failures; I don't owe you anything.

Just playing devil's advocate of course. But many (perhaps most) US-style libertarians endorse privatizing the police.

I do not think I am more incoherent that your average layperson socialist. To dismiss libertarian thought as incoherent seems biased.

I'm not talking about you or anyone in particular - I'm talking about the doctrines themselves. Orthodox Marxism is clearly incoherent for many reasons. The same applies to US-style libertarianism.
posted by johnb at 1:16 PM on September 25, 2000

Dammit! I knew you wouldn't just go study. I have a few replies, but no time to make them now. Get back to work!
posted by thirteen at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2000

if you endorse negative rights, then on pain of incoherence, you must also endorse positive rights, simply because there's no intelligible way to distinguish them
The differences seem fairly clear to me, I do not know where to start if we cannot agree on that point. At this point I do not know if we are talking about the bill of rights, or human rights but it seems either way we have spilled over into things that are neither. Freedom from murder is the right, the police are a way to enforce the right (in theory). Can I defend my life by myself, yes. Do we as people living together feel comfortable with each of us being independent arbiter of justice, it seems we do not. As individuals we are not networked to handle seeing a larger picture of crime. We hire people to do it. it is a job larger than us. If we did not do this as one country we would do it as communities or states. I don't think anyone is really pleased that we have a need for police, we pay them because we seem to need them. How does my being forced to pay for a service I would rather be free of, oblige me to pay for more services that I personally do not need. You picked apart my tv example, I will make it more basic. If we need to provide everyone with housing, how big a house do we owe them? How good a house does it need to be. Do they need a bed in the house? Do I have to heat the house? Do they get to live there forever? You are right that the material possessions do not bring happiness, but what is the last human necessity that we all deserve to have? A hot plate? Does my entire life have to be about serving the weak? Our responsibility is to not be the cause of others suffering. The weak will be decimated by the strong, how? Murdered? There are laws against that. Unless my government caused the suffering of that African child (and I do not dismiss the possibility that that is the case) it has no responsibility towards it. What is to stop people from organizing their own altruism. Is it only good if it comes from the government? Is the government the most efficient way to help that child? We could kick in as individuals, or we could vote to fund it, anything else makes me an unwilling participant involved only when it comes time to pay the bill. Do I not have the right to do as I please with what I earn.
if you can't afford it, tough luck -- don't ask me to pay your bills just because you're not competent enough to find well-paying employment. Don't want to be mean, but frankly your financial troubles are a result of your own failures; I don't owe you anything.
Forgive me, I am not a debater. I will turn your sentence around in a childish fashion. If you can't afford it, and are not competent enough to find a decent job, come to me. I will pay for everything. Consider me your new mom and dad rolled into one. I'm doing this because I totally, totally owe you.
I know a little about Milton Friedman but I am not about market freedom. It makes some tiny sense to me, but it is not my passion, and I never think of framing things in a let the market take care of it kind of way. I am about the personal freedom. My heart is harder than yours, I think sink or swim is a good thing, but I think that because I believe it is the nature of all things. Every man is not my brother, and to suggest so invokes christianity. I mentioned socialism because you have many socialist links on your page. You are well read on your perspective, I am bored overall and would rather read science fiction than something about libertarian philosophy. I guess what I was saying is that we are not well matched, and the advantage is yours.
I feel this way because it is how I have and would have liked to have been treated. I want to be left to fend for myself rather than be cared for, that seems classically American to me.
Lastly, Is our freedom, Freedom to... or Freedom from.
I stayed late to type this up, I do not have time to check it for logic. I will except any elephants you squeeze through my loopholes, but I will not be happy.
posted by thirteen at 4:57 PM on September 25, 2000

It's about to slip off screen! With no rebuttle the point is conceeded! Thirteen win! Thirteen wins! (crowd goes wild)
posted by thirteen at 3:22 PM on September 28, 2000

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