Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Uninvited Speech at KOCE-TV’s 35 Anniversary Bash

Tibor R. Machan

A colleague asked me to come and sit with him and his pals at the table to celebrate KOCE-TV’s 35th anniversary celebration. I went, though with some trepidation, given that KOCE-TV is a “public” television station in Orange County, CA. It is mostly funded from contributions but does receive about 10% of its operating expenses from the government, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I was informed by one official at the organization.

Compared to many other subsidized undertakings, the amount isn’t huge but, still, it does involve robbing Peter a bit so as to support Paul with the latter’s preferred projects.

As I was driving to the bash, I was toying with the fantasy of giving a little talk at the event, just in case I had the chance to make clear to some folks what I have against such “public” funding. No one asked! I just sat at the table with some familiar people and listened to glowing reports about KOCE-TV’s contribution to Orange County’s cultural scenery. But I figure it might be of some use if I did jot down what I would have said to the assembled celebrators. Here it goes:

“Ladies and Gentlemen. Thanks for the opportunity to be at this celebration. I am very much in favor of what KOCE-TV has done and is doing here in OC, excepting perhaps a few programs that tend toward statist propaganda instead of bona fide education or entertainment. This mirrors my support for numerous other similar projects and programs partially funded from taxation, including AIDS research, the jazz and blues offerings at KKJZ-FM, Long Beach, CA, as well as numerous scientific, medical, artistic, and even some environmental undertakings.

“What I find morally unacceptable, however, is how some of the funds for these and other worthy projects are obtained, namely, by confiscatory taxation. Taxation is a relic of feudal times when the monarch and his minions extorted funds from those who lived ‘within the realm.’ In those systems it was governments--the king, for example--that owned nearly everything (other than one’s soul). So one had to pay for the privilege of making use of the monarch’s property. But numerous revolutions, in American and France, for instance, finally corrected this idea, namely, that governments own the resources in a society. Instead, the Lockean idea of individual private property rights was identified as the proper principle of ownership. Locke also defended the idea that human individuals own their own lives--ergo, the unalienable right to one’s life and liberty--and thereby undermined the feudal doctrine of serfdom and indentured servitude.

“So, ultimately the funds being used at KOCE-TV and innumerable other public undertakings must be obtained from people by voluntary means, something that KOCE-TV and many other ‘public’ radio and television stations seem to accept since they, too, tend to prefer obtaining support from voluntary contributions. I am simply making note of the fact that this is what should happen with all the funds, not just the bulk of them. Thanks for your attention.”

Of course, no one asked me to say anything like this. Nor did anyone ask some others in the audience who shared these ideas, even though several people from KOCE-TV did stop by our table and smiled about how we were critical of some of their funding methods. (In Orange County, CA., there is at least some general awareness of these ideas, even if only in a somewhat condescending fashion, as if those who hold them hailed from some bizarre region of the globe!)

On a more general note, this issue raises the question, also, of what it means when a country is called “free.” For some, like the famous Venetian political thinker Machiavelli, it meant that the country isn’t being ruled by another one in the neighborhood; it means, in other words, political independence. For the American Founders, however, being free was spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. A country is free if it established, maintained, and secured all of its citizens’ unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Accordingly, then, if governments deprive citizens of their resources, some of which they would devote to pursuing their happiness as they judge fit, the freedom of the country they are supposed to govern is compromised.

So, the larger issue for me when I was sitting through KOCE-TV’s 35th anniversary bash was one of human individual freedom. Maybe this wasn’t a major assault on that freedom but wherever I notice such an assault, major or minor, I choose to make some hay about it.

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