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February 14, 2005

Why The Government Should Give Me Money

There's an article in the new issue of the Atlantic called "The Massless Media" about narrowcasting in all its forms: satellite radio, niche magazines, angry little websites, and so on. (Not online.) It compares the chaotic media situation now to the chaotic media situation after the American Revolution, when everyone was publishing little newspapers, pamphleteering, and making rude gestures in public.

That seems like a valid comparison to me. But here's something I did not know:

Congress even granted American publishers lower rates for postal delivery, a valuable subsidy that made starting up and running a paper more economical.

Wow! You may or may not know that TODAY, here in 2005, the government in Sweden actually subsidizes political speech—books, radio, etc. The reason for this is their belief that free markets actually squelch speech. They're right about this: free markets lead to advertiser-supported media. And advertiser-supported media is almost always conservative media.

But Sweden's actions seem anti-American, don't they? Subsidizing political expression? But it turns out it's as American as apple pie and George Washington's nose hair.

I feel sure that if we could dig up the corpses of the founding fathers and re-animate them, the first thing they'd say is: the government should give Jon (ie, me) money.

Posted at February 14, 2005 09:52 PM | TrackBack

Here in California, up until 10 or 12 years ago, printed periodical material (newspapers, magazines, anything with a date) was exempt from sales tax, which always seemed to me to be highly appropriate in a democracy. Then that was removed for fiscal reasons.

Posted by: WIIIAI at February 15, 2005 01:17 AM

How does it work in Sweden? Is it more than just sales tax exemptions? You seem to be implying that it is.

Posted by: Robin Green at February 15, 2005 09:41 AM

Isn't the Guardian run by an independent trust fund?

In Australia, any political party that gets enough members (don't know the threshold, but it's low) gets funding from the government to enable it to compete on some level in elections. You know, it doesn't allow them to run TV adverts, but it allows them to run a head office, pay phone bills and print pamphlets, etc.

I'm sure this is the same in many European countries - what about the US?

Posted by: floopmeister at February 15, 2005 04:44 PM

"I'm sure this is the same in many European countries - what about the US?"

Alas, this is one of the advantages of a parliamentary democracy. Third parties are actually viable, and actively courted to build ruling coalitions. That means all kinds of nice favors to minority interests.

Not possible over here, alas. Third parties have made a splash from time to time at the state and local level, but ultimately all they usually do on a national scale is ensure the election of the candidate most hated by the third party due to vote-splitting.

Posted by: Ted at February 15, 2005 05:05 PM

I saw a speech by Bob McChesney a year ago, and he talked about a Congressional debate in the early 1800s on what to do with the postal subsidy. If I'm remembering correctly, one faction wanted to continue the subsidy as is - the faction on the right! The middle wanted to increase the subsidy so that postage would be free for publishers, and on the left, I believe they wanted to actually pay publishers a penny or two per copy.

Posted by: Shahed at February 17, 2005 10:08 AM

"That means all kinds of nice favors to minority interests."

That counts as a feature? :)

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at February 21, 2005 02:19 PM