Sunday, March 27, 2011

Letter to my local NPR station

Dear Ms. Grojean,

I have asked your news director and your program director why there should be no reporting on economic externalities. I received no answer.

It seems that the hidden costs of economic activity ought to be made visible. Economic externalities distort our economy and society so that more harm is produced by our economy than what would be the case if all costs, (including environmenntal impact costs), were to be reflected in prices.

We must be apprised of the situation, made aware of the existence of this systemic defect called externalities, and its consequences, so that we will be able and willing to remedy it.

The lack of any political will to start taking account of externalities can be explained by the absence of any public discourse on the topic. If we talked about the various ways of taking account of externalities and compared them—which are more efficient, which are more fair, and which combine efficient and fair—we would be empowered to choose the more efficient and fair option.

Serious problems in the world would be solved.

If you know why this topic should not be discussed on the broadcast outlets that proclaim a determination to provide the people with vital information, please tell me.

I know that, if I can get more people to join me in asking this question, your station management will be more interested in answering it, or in challenging the premise by questioning whether this topic really should be omitted from the public discourse and news reporting.

If I can get your major funders to join in asking this question, then all the more likely that you will respond in some fashion. I hesitate in asking your funders to join in asking the question, though, because of the law of unintended consequences. Some of your funders may decide that it is because they are funders that they are being bothered by my solicitation of their involvement. To reduce complications in their life or business, they may choose to stop funding the station rather than start writing letters to you or start explaining to members of the public why we should think of their support of a neglectful news agency as a benefit to the community. That would be an unintended and I think unfortunate consequence of this approach.

My hope would be that you would reflect on whether neglect of this topic has in fact been a disservice to the community up to now, and on what you might do as a public service entity to remedy the situation, and that you would then take action to effect the remedy.

I can't imagine a clear and intelligible answer to this question of why economic externalities should not be mentioned or discussed in most of (rather than none of) the stories where their consequences are discussed, but if you have one and if you will share it with me, (or if you will start remedying this systematic neglect), I will certainly renew my membership.


John Champagne


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