Column on Public TV bash

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
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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