One of the hot topics in the presidential race is Big Bird and the federal funding that goes to NPR (public broadcasting). Romney said in the first debate that he would eliminate federal funding for NPR when he was responding to a question about government spending. As I wrote in my libertarian commentaries about the first and second debates, NPR funding is a drop in the bucket, or perhaps more like a drop in a swimming pool. Obama actually asked the best question of the entire second debate when he pointed out that Romney’s math doesn’t add up.
Art Carden of the Independent Institute wrote an article about the same topic, pointing out that PBS funding only accounts for 0.014 percent of federal spending. Again, it is a small fraction of one percent.
There was something that actually shocked me in his article though, and that is the knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the American people on the federal budget.
Carden writes: “A CNN poll shows just how badly American voters understand how much of the federal budget goes to PBS.” He continued, “7 percent of respondents to the 2011 CNN poll thought the Corporation for Public Broadcasting accounted for over half of government spending. Forty percent of respondents thought it accounted for 1 to 5 percent of the federal budget, 8 percent thought it accounted for 6 to 10 percent of the budget, 6 percent thought it accounted for 11 to 20 percent of the budget, 5 percent thought it was 21 to 30 percent, and 4 percent thought public broadcasting consumed 31 to 50 percent of the federal budget.”
Carden then writes, “The good news is that 27 percent of poll respondents correctly believed that the CPB accounted for less than 1 percent of the federal budget, but this is cold comfort when the other 70 percent of those polled overestimated CPB funding by a factor of at least 71, with a median answer – 5 percent – that was off by at least a factor of 357.”
I really had no idea that Americans were this ignorant about government spending. According to this poll, 16 percent actually thought that federal spending on public broadcasting exceeds 20 percent of the entire budget. This is borderline moronic.
The plurality (40%) thought it was between 1 to 5 percent. While they were way off, perhaps we can give them a pass for at least knowing that it wasn’t a huge percentage.
I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad news. I wish even more now that these statistics about what percent goes to NPR were made known during the presidential debates. It is bad news that there are so many ignorant Americans on the subject of federal spending.
I suppose the good news in all of this is that, perhaps with just a little bit of education, the American people might be able to wake up to what is going on. If they found out that eliminating funding for PBS couldn’t balance the budget for one day, then maybe they would start to wake up to the reality that is coming.
I think the whole issue of funding for public broadcasting is somewhat of a symbolic issue of what the role of government should be. However, we should not let politicians like Romney pretend like he is in favor of a balanced budget when he can’t offer a specific spending cut that adds up to more than a fraction of a percent of total government spending.
In a future post, I will go over what the percentages are for different categories in the federal budget. It will show that the budget can’t be balanced without cuts that will hit the American people over the head like nothing they’ve seen before.