Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Absolutely Free

Free fountains for all

On BBC R4 Today this morning they discussed the imminent move by the Times to charge £1 per day for access to its online edition. You and I know there's no way we'll now start paying for Finkelstein and the rest of the Times output, and the BBC clearly agrees. Which will be great news for the BBC themselves, whose audience/readership should get a big boost. As Evan Davis chirped in his link to the subsequent item: "here's a review of the papers, and it's absolutely free".

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely free.

A single phrase that precisely captures the BBC's approach to public spending. Public spending is free, so cuts must be a bad thing. More is good, and less is bad.

Yesterday's Newsnight was a classic. It kicked off with their Trotskyite economics editor frowning his way round Westminster, and telling us how the cuts will bring massive job losses (he's clearly cranking up to announce the final crisis of capitalism). That was followed by a lengthy report from a sun-drenched Sheffield, where billions have been spent on public sector jobs and those arty fountains that spurt up unexpectedly from pavements for drunken unemployed teenagers to run through (vid). The message was the same - the cuts will extinguish the sun, destroy this city, and destroy these vulnerable lives.

Not once did anyone mention that fact that all those jobs and pavement fountains are not actually free, but have to be funded by taxpayers. That the cuts are not being made for fun - some evil Thatcherite whim to punish the poor - but simply in order to get the books back into some vague approximation to balance.

No mention of the fact that spending money on things that cannot pay their own way means taxing things that can. And that when you tax those things, you weigh them down and make it more difficult for them to succeed. Or that returning to prosperity depends on stimulating the things that can pay their own way - ie the private sector chasing private profit.

Of course, the tax-funded BBC doesn't have to worry about such tiresome details as paying its own way. They get £3.5bn from us whether or not we like what they produce.

Which means they don't have to charge for use.

But free it ain't.

PS As we've said many times, for those of us who believe in smaller government, the BBC is a major roadblock to progress. Like all the big public sector institutions it is impossible to reform, so breaking it up is the only option. Some had hoped that a Tory victory might have secured early action, but there's not a prayer now. We'll just have to keep plugging away for a brighter tomorrow.

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