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The “Social Contract”


One of my favorite philosophers has always been Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a leading Swiss philosopher who died in 1778.  (I actually visited his grave in Geneva in 1992.)  He is best known for the Social Contract, published in 1762, reasoning that people are little more than a product of their environment.  The notion is that kids from good parents of affluent means in a wealthy zip code would have advantages over kids from single crack-whores in a poor zip code.  In other words, we are what our environment created.

Part of a person’s environment is receiving knowledge.  For most of us, receiving knowledge in college was non-controversial and non-partisan.  That’s because it was not a commercial, profit-making enterprise.

That changed when knowledge became entertainment from profit-making enterprises, driven by the number of eyeballs receiving that “knowledge”.  The correctness of the “knowledge” was less important than the number of eyeballs it attracted.  An increase in viewers meant advertisers would pay more to air commercials, which means increased profits.

It is already too late to extricate the profit-motive from knowledge.  After all, if unbridled capitalism is good for religion, it must be good for everything?  Right?  However, we might be able to make it a little less profitable?

For example, consider the Neil Cavuto show at 4PM each weekday and the Tucker Carlson show at 8PM on Fox News.  One is clearly news, while the other is clearly opinion.  We could change the tax rules offering a tax break to news shows and a penalty on opinion shows.  Of course, popular opinion shows could simply charge advertisers more to run their commercials, but the overall number of opinion shows might decrease.  Determining the distinction between the two could be delegated to the Neilson Company or some other disinterested party.

Although Rousseau has been dead 243 years, I can imagine him begging the question:  Sure, profit-driven commercial business has made your country wealthy, but has profit-driven news business made your people happy?

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