Friday, June 14, 2013

Links 20130614: TV, Indonesia, Philippines

1. Most European countries have a public television network, at least partially funded by the government budget. Greece just decided to turn its TV off, at least for a while. This brings back to mind a question: Do countries need a public TV? What kind of TV should that be?

To the first question, one could argue that certain types of broadcasting are a public good, in the economic sense of the word. I am more and more skeptical about this argument, as the cost of producing and distributing media content has declined dramatically in the advent of the internet. Also, my experience watching Televisión Española (TVE, the public network in Spain) is that the average quality and breadth of their programming is not significantly higher than that of its private sector competitors. If anything, the liberalization of the sector during the 1980s and 1990s led, I would argue, to a progressive deterioration in the quality of TVE's programs. Rather than forcing competitors to increase their quality, TVE was dragged down into a race for ever dumber, mass-pleasing programs. Another argument against the public good view is that the objectivity of the content produced by public TV is greatly undermined by the very fact that it is funded by the government, thus diminishing the social welfare produced by this supposedly public good.

If, nonetheless, you must have a public TV network, what should it look like? If the public TV must cater to the median voter, but the content that is appealing to that voter is already being provided by private sector networks, public TV is a waste of taxpayer money. I would advocate for keeping it as small as possible: news, weather, parliament debates and announcements,... that sort of thing.

2. Indonesia's terrible school system.

Education experts say less than half of the country's teachers possess even the minimum qualifications to teach properly and teacher absenteeism hovers at around 20 percent. Many teachers in the public school system work outside of the classroom to improve their incomes.
Corruption is also rife within schools and universities - with parents often having to pay bribes for their children to pass examinations or pay for services that should be provided by the state.
Indonesian Corruption Watch claims there are very few schools in the country that are clean of graft, bribery or embezzlement - with 40 percent of their budget siphoned off before it reaches the classroom.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars in foreign aid is poured into the country's education system despite the government spending only a very small proportion of its GDP on schooling. And some international observers are asking why Indonesia still relies on external funding for school construction given that it has been listed as a middle income country by the World Bank.
And here is the Pearson ranking of countries by cognitive skills and education attainment, where Indonesia ranked last in a list of 40 countries. Pearson has posted on its Learning Curve project lots of fun graphic tools and data that allow you to compare countries along many dimensions of human capital.

3. Is the Philippines overheating? You know there is something wrong when a country is growing at 7.8% (more than any of its neighbors), its unemployment rate is in its bottom quintile within the last 20 years, and yet the central bank governor feels compelled to go out and reassure the markets by saying that they have more scope to cut interest rates to "further support growth." That is what is happening now in the Philippines. And the problem is, I think, that the country is experiencing a classic case of excessive capital inflows and shrinking current account balance, currency appreciation, plus a stock market bubble and possibly a property bubble.

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