So says Kevin Drum of Mother Jones. After reading a Los Angeles Times piece stating that sports channels account for almost half of the average cable TV bill, Drum advocates a consumer revolution:
The obvious answer, of course, is to offer channels on an a la carte basis—or perhaps on a semi-a la carte basis—but both the content providers and the cable companies fight this tooth and nail. Here’s the excuse:
National and local sports networks typically require cable and satellite companies to make their channels available to all customers….The idea of offering channels on an “a la carte” basis used to be sacrilege to the industry. Executives argued it would not lower prices because networks would just charge more to make up for the loss of subscribers.
You know what? That’s exactly what would happen. People would start to understand just how much they’re paying for sports programming and they’d be appalled. Many wouldn’t subscribe, and sports fans would be forced to pay the actual cost of their sports programming without being subsidized by the rest of us. This is exactly how it should be. There’s no reason that, for all practical purposes, every single person in the LA area should be forced to pay a tax to the Lakers and Dodgers even if they don’t care about basketball and baseball.
Not that I disagree with him, but it’s funny to what extent his sentiment sounds eerily similar to that of Tea Partiers and their ilk — namely, it’s outrageous that I should pay for them. Of course, the content is quite different — welfare checks would be quite a bit more foundational on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than, say, the ability to watch the Lakers at home in high definition — but the philosophy is strikingly similar.
In fact, even the apparent gap in importance between these two examples is somewhat irrelevant, since the entire debate on the role of government is centered on what, exactly, is reasonable or necessary. In other words, even for something as seemingly trivial as sports programming, it would be easy to mount a rebuttal of à la carte programming on cultural grounds: sports, it could be said, facilitate a common social experience, a kinship with fellow citizens, and so on, to such an extent that the costs of broadcasting sports matches should be socialized to the broader population, whether they decide to watch or not.
This may sound ridiculous to many of us, but clearly fiscal conservatives feel very similarly in relation to many facets of government spending such as Medicaid, unemployment distributions, and so on. Again, this is not to justify the archetypal fiscal conservative’s point of view, but just to point out that, even for liberals such as Kevin Drum, there is always a line beyond which the people must “revolt” against undue expenditures that subsidize those other people. The only questions are where the line should be drawn, and which group of “other people” to target as benefitting from unfair subsidization.