Converter Box Blues

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The October
11th issue of the Wall Street Journal ran a page B5 story
headed “Cashing In on TV Switch.” It discussed the forthcoming change
from analog to digital television which has been mandated by the
federal government, slated for February 17th, 2009. I’ll just mention
in passing the fascistic meddling of the feds (who obviously have
no business dictating to TV makers and broadcasters what types of
transmissions they must make), because there is an even more repulsive
aspect to the government’s involvement.

According to
the WSJ piece, there may be as many as 69 million TV sets
that will become useless once the federal edict goes into effect.
So, to make sure that people with antiquated analog sets can still
use their TVs, converter boxes will be produced which will go on
sale in January, 2008. These devices are expected to cost consumers
around $50 to $70 each, according to the article.

The piece suggests
that this government program should be a boon to old household names
RCA and Zenith, which is nice for them, I suppose, although it quotes
RCA’s Vice-President of Government Affairs(!) as saying that “this
has to be the most regulated product… ever in the history of electronics.”
Be careful what you wish for, RCA and Zenith.

Big deal, you
say, what’s wrong with the TV industry producing such converter
boxes? They’ll keep things running smoothly, and consumers will
save money by not being forced to buy new televisions. The answer
is nothing — except that the federal government has “set aside $1.5
billion to subsidize” these devices!

That’s right,
folks, you and I and all the other members of our “voluntary tax
system” will be subsidizing millions of “poverty-stricken” couch
potatoes with $40 coupons. According to the WSJ, the government
will be printing up 33.75 million coupons for just this noble purpose.
If you do the math, that comes to $1.35 billion. Apparently the
remaining $.15 billion will cover the costs of printing and administering
the program. No word on how the coupons will be distributed, but
if I can get one I will, and toss it right into the trash, thus
saving $40 in potential government waste. Since my own TV is 14
years old, I suppose I’ll be eligible for a coupon. (Hey, it still
works.)

Think about
it for a minute — the federal government is subsidizing the entertainment
industry, specifically television. Wait! — I thought the function
of government was to protect our liberties, so why on Earth is this
a government priority? Apparently our rulers like the idea of its
subjects sitting passively and having their minds numbed viewing
idiotic nonsense and pro-consumption commercials. (By the way, have
you noticed that practically every commercial has an irritating,
yet hypnotic, music track underneath its inane dialogue?)

Our leaders
crassly assume that people who own older TV sets can’t afford to
pay $70 for a converter box — a crisis requiring government intervention.
What could be more ludicrous? Sorry, if you can’t afford the $70
you shouldn’t be wasting your time watching television in the first
place, since you cannot afford free time. You need to be spending
more time earning money or expanding your job skills. You don’t
deserve a $40 handout from me or anyone else so you can remain glued
to the idiot box, or as author Harlan Ellison more aptly referred
to it, the glass teat.

The article
doesn’t say which government agency has actually “set aside” the
money, so I assume it was either Congress or the FCC. In any case,
I can almost see the bureaucrats running around like psychotic parrots:
“Millions of people won’t be able to watch CSI! It’s the end of
the universe! What’ll we do? We must make sure they can watch their
reality shows, or there will be chaos! Awk, awk!”

The WSJ says
nothing about the source of the subsidy money. Like the so-called
economists who regularly appear on TV, it doesn’t mention that the
funds for this, and every other government expenditure, must come
from taxing, borrowing or money-printing. Nothing is ever said by
the pseudo-pundits about this problematic fact, nothing except “your
friendly government is paying.” What a pitiful and repellent quid
pro quo — government subsidizes (and licenses) the TV industry,
while the TV industry, without a shred of critical thought, subsidizes
government by uncritically embracing its profligate spending.

October
16, 2007

Andrew
S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

Andrew
S. Fischer

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