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Is Cutting Federal Funding to PBS an Important Spending Cut?

10/19/2012 12:27 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2012

This question originally appeared on Quora. 2012-10-19-nanderson.jpeg By Nate Anderson, Co-founder at ClaritySpring and Director at Tangent Capital

Absolutely YES.

Not in size but in principle. If you look at this expense as part of the massive Federal Budget, it is clearly small compared to hundreds of billions of war spending, entitlements, et al. However, when you bring it down to a personal level, $445 million dollars is still a LOT of money.

Let's do some Sesame Street level math. The average American household pays roughly 20% in taxes, which comes out to ~$10,000/year. To cover the PBS subsidy, 44,500 Americans pay 20% of their wages to the government. In other words, those Americans work two and a half months out of their year solely to cover the PBS subsidy.

And for what? That money funds only 15% of the PBS budget according to the Washington Post. Sesame St. is one of the most popular programs on PBS and can clearly stand on its own. The subsidy is likely used for less mainstream programs such as:

  • "400 Years of The Telescope"
  • "America Quilts"
  • "American Stamps"
  • "Benjamin Latrobe: America's First Architect"
  • "The Electric Company"
  • "Golf's Grand Design"
  • "Heart Strings:The Story of the Kama Ukelele"
  • The list goes on: http://www.pbs.org/programs/

America Quilts Premiered on PBS in 2007. Ask any American if they'd be comfortable working an extra two and a half months to help fund another season of thrills and adventures in the world of quilting.

$445 million can pay for every undergraduate student at Harvard, with $100 million left over. I'd rather see that money back in the hands of families who can spend it on rent, education, food, clothing, and however else they want to spend the money they earned.

The argument that "it's so small compared to everything else that it doesn't matter" is frightening. The fact that we've grown so accustomed to half a billion dollars of casual government spending is a symptom of a much greater problem.

Is PBS the easiest subsidy we can cut? Absolutely not -- the corporate oil subsidies should be easier, as should the Wall Street bailouts and many others. But why should we use disagreements on which subsidies are easiest/hardest as an excuse to do nothing, when they rightly all should be cut?

If we don't even have the political will to make this choice, how are we going to cut anything meaningful? We need to make real choices that will have a significant impact on people's lives, but here we are arguing about Big Bird.

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