Reporter's Notebook

Your Answers, Questioned
Show Description +

Our special series “A&Q” inverts the classic Q&A, exploring the complexity of some of the most frequently posed solutions to policy problems. We invited readers to weigh in with their own As and our reporters responded with Qs.

Show None Newer Notes

Could the FCC Shrink the Influence of Money in Politics?

In response to the A&Q I wrote on money in politics, the following reader wonders if stronger policing of the airwaves by the FCC could mitigate the problem (my response follows):

ANSWER

I think you could accomplish this by fiat, using FCC regulatory authority. Require media to allocate specific amounts of coverage to the political process as terms of use for public radio spectrum or over cable, as cable crosses over not only public property, but also over private property seized by state eminent domain.

So you basically, you look at the political process as an essential part of civic duty (such as paying taxes, or abiding laws), and when you consider that literally all broadcast media requires use of public space, it's not really so much to ask.

QUESTION

If the government forced the broadcast media to devote a certain amount of coverage to elections and candidates, would that level the playing field for candidates that don’t have access to millions of dollars to buy TV and radio ads?

I think this is problematic for a number of reasons.

My recent A&Q on how the U.S. can salvage Social Security questioned several solutions for how the program can pay out what was promised beyond 2034, including ways to increase revenue by raising taxes or reducing benefits. The most pertinent question is finding a solution that both feels fair to Americans and will make it through Congress. A reader offers this solution, which is to take Social Security out of the government altogether:

Answer

I would love to see the U.S. transition to something closer to the Chilean model; a mandatory retirement account placed in a broad range of bonds and index mutual funds. The money is yours, and you can pass it along to your descendants.

QUESTION

How could I forget about Chile? This is actually a great example to look at, as it is one of how privatizing public insurance—an idea supported by many Republicans—isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Chilean program, introduced in 1981, is a system of privately managed individual accounts that replaced its previous public system, which faced some similar problems as the U.S. system. Unlike your normal retirement savings account though, the Chilean program is mandatory. Workers in Chile contribute 10 percent of their monthly earnings to their account by law, and the maximum contribution is 20 percent. The argument for the privatized system is that it would increase national savings, as returns on private securities are riskier, but notably higher than Treasury securities.

But the Chilean private program hasn’t been problem-free.