State cannot continue $11 million NJN subsidy

Someone once asked Nobel Prize-winning economist and University alumnus Milton Friedman if he could summarize the field of economics in one sentence. He responded by saying, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." I thought of this quip after reading Monday's editorial titled, "Value NJN over budget cuts."

Writing in opposition to budget cuts to NJN, the editors claimed that the public network offers "free entertainment" and "free television broadcasts." In what sense does NJN offer free broadcasts? NJN relies on New Jersey taxpayers to deliver an $11 million subsidy to stay afloat.     

There are approximately 8.7 million people living in New Jersey, which means that, on average, each person in New Jersey is paying $1.26 for NJN. That is not much for one person to pay, but NJN certainly is not free. If anything, NJN is the one channel in the state — other than PBS — that is not free. Most channels make money by selling commercials, not by charging taxpayers. Moreover, considering that New Jersey had a $2.2 billion deficit in the 2009 fiscal year, the state has to be frugal with all of its money.

The editors claim that New Jersey should continue to pay the $11 million because otherwise "it will be wasted on something far less important." Excuse me, but I can think of many more important programs that could use $11 million such as state parks, school systems, police and fire departments, property-tax rebates or other tax cuts for New Jersey taxpayers.

The subsidy should also be continued, the editors argue, because "people … will lose their jobs if NJN goes off the air." Yes, it is true that 130 NJN employees would lose their jobs if the state cuts funding, but the editors fall into the trap of the "broken window fallacy." People used to think that if they went around smashing windows, the economy would be better off since window-makers would earn more money. But this ignores the fact that the homeowners may prefer to spend their money on things other than fixing windows. The money would still have entered the economy, albeit in different ways. Instead of paying for windows, people could purchase goods and services that they deem to be more important. The same is true of NJN. If, instead of paying $11 million for NJN, the state offered tax breaks to New Jerseyans, then people would spend their money, which would make it more likely for those 130 people to find new jobs.

NJN has very low ratings, so it is hard to argue that it serves some irreplaceable role for New Jerseyans. Public television is not an essential government service — it is a luxury, which is hard to justify during tough economic times as the state cuts funding for so many worthwhile projects.

Someone may see value in continuing the $11 million subsidy to NJN. The network offers some very good programming, as the editors leave out. As someone who loves to accumulate useless information, I do understand the importance in showing educational shows, but does NJN do a better job of providing that information than the History Channel, A&E or the Discovery Channel? Whatever the answer, it is worth remembering that there is no such thing as a free lunch — or a free channel.

Noah Glyn is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and economics.

Noah Glyn

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