It’s fundraiser week on my local Public Radio Station (WILL) and so I am feeling characteristically crabby about public life and services. It might be worse this year, since I discovered the wonders of BBC 3 and 4, and Canadian Public Broadcasting, all available without begging or commercials or the passive aggressive guilt tripping attitude typical of National Public Radio.
I value NPR, of course (I’ve been listening to it daily for almost 30 years) but it galls me that a radio station in the wealthiest country in the world, affiliated with a rich university, needs to ask for money from its listeners. We seem to suffer from a permanent lack of imagination when it comes to public services. A simple 1% sales tax on MP3 players would probably fund NPR once and for all.
I just read a piece about so-called “idea incubators” that are becoming more and more common at some universities (“The Idea Incubator Goes to Campus”). It’s not uncommon, of course, for public money to be transformed via a university into private wealth. What’s crazy, though, especially given the ongoing collapse of government financing, is that the universities never seem to get a cut.
If an idea is commercialized, it’s certainly true that the local community can benefit from the new jobs as well as the investment of capital. But if the universities retained a small share of the ownership of the products developed then the investment could pay real dividends. If all of this money was put into a single national fund, we could use it to make education more affordable for everyone.