Sunday, October 09, 2005

Column on why non-commercial seems virtuous

Commercial Free, Babble Full

Tibor R. Machan

My favorite radio station is a local so called public radio FM
broadcaster with only jazz and blues for its programming fare. It raises
support by way of two or three week (or so) long appeals to listeners and
from some government grants. Each time some announcement pitches the
virtues of the station to listener, he or she makes a big deal about how
it doesn?t broadcast any commercials. This, it seems, the managers
consider a great plus since the amount of babble on the station is
apparently no less than on one with commercials.

Yes, there is endless talk, mostly about the talent being showcased, jazz
and blues events around town, interviews with musicians, etc., etc. For
those of us who would just as soon simply listen, all this chatter is no
better than a lot of ads that do not interest us. Once you add the
righteousness, however, about how the station eschews advertising, all
this comes off as quite offensive. Why on earth would not having ads on
make the station so much better when the percentage of non-commercial?well
not really quite non-commercial?chatter consumes as much time as
commercials do on other stations?

I suppose the culprit is the general hostility toward commerce among
those who are attracted to ?public? broadcasting. But why are they so
convinced that there is something underhanded, lowly, and suspect about
commerce whereas ?public? undertakings, including broadcasting, are all
virtuous? The facts do not support this. After all, within the public
realm?i.e., government affairs?there is ample vice. Every day some local,
state or federal politician or bureaucrat gets arrested and convicted for
some kind of malpractice. Non-commercial outfits like universities and
hospitals reek of malfeasance such as plagiarism, trading in body parts,
to name only two rather prominent examples in my region. (And these never
prompt any of the pundits to advocate massive government regulation, as
comparable malpractice at Enron tends to!)

So, the evidence doesn?t support the position implicit in the
self-promotion of the non-commercial radio station either in my region or
anywhere else. (And there is much of this going on elsewhere, as when PBS
advocates air their pleas to keep that institution on the air via
government support.) Instead, the anti-commercialism theme goes back
centuries, at least to Plato, who in his most famous dialogue, The
Republic, consigned merchants to the lowest rung in his ideal society,
declaring them incapable of even a shred of nobility. Then, also, many
religions and secular philosophies, Christianity and Marxism among them,
took a dim view of profit seeking.

The main reason striving for prosperity is at least tolerated in much of
the Western world is that economists have succeeded in making it appear
that the profit motive is something inbred, innate, or instinctual; so
being motivated to seek profit cannot be something for which someone can
be blamed. As the late George Stigler, a Nobel Laureate in the discipline,
put it, "man is eternally a utility-maximizer?in his home, in his office
(be it public or private), in his church, in his scientific work?in short,
everywhere." If so, then we cannot help ourselves and all must be forgiven
when we seek utility, wealth, or prosperity.

Since, however, many do not buy into this view, an since in morality
seeking riches is still mostly considered a sign of the unforgivable sin
of greed, commerce just cannot gain respect. The views of such rebels as
Ayn Rand?who maintain that self-dealing is perfectly OK, even admirable,
since if one understands what it means, it simply counsels us all to do
well in our lives on all fronts, including the economical?have too great
an obstacle to overcome to be received with understanding and support.

Thus we have the spectacle of non-commercial radio and TV broadcasters
running fund raising promotional sessions, two or three a year, all of
which seek money, denouncing money-seeking via commerce where both sides
are getting what they want and no charity is involved.

Too bad. Because how on earth do all those listeners get the funds they
will send to these non-commercial stations unless they themselves carry
out some successful commercial undertakings? As Rand used to say, ?Blank

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