IBJOpinion

MARCUS: What is it worth? TV has the answer

Morton Marcus
April 16, 2011
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Morton Marcus

“The Price is Right” is far different from “Deal or No Deal.” The latter is a game of chance—find the beauty holding the briefcase with $1 million. “Price” requires you to know the “usual and customary” charge for an item—a variant on the song “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”

Discovering value emerged as a TV staple long before the recent economic tsunami. Could public television exist without “Antiques Roadshow”? Can you imagine HGTV without a program delving into home prices? Before long, maybe a Blue Cross channel will initiate a program during which patients on a gurney, doped up with a sedative, get a chance to win a free procedure if they can “Price the Operation!”

Let’s think about this for a moment. We appear obsessed with value. We are outraged by prices at the gas pump and jump at the chance to buy anything advertised as 50-percent off. We purchase Christmas wrapping to hold in waiting for 48 weeks in anticipation of higher prices closer to the time of need. We delay buying the 52-inch TV because we know the price will fall. We know a good price when we see it, and we know when the price is too good to be true.

Price information fills our heads and occupies our conversations. But all these are private-sector prices. We don’t have any idea of prices in the public sector.

What does it cost to fill that pothole? What would it cost to keep that pothole from recurring soon? How much does it cost to provide instruction for a learning-disabled child? What does it cost to try a person for possession of marijuana?

With government, we assume the sum we pay is a close approximation of the cost. Government isn’t supposed to make a profit. But what should be the price to park on a downtown street? The cost to government is trivial. Here we are thinking more broadly of the costs to others, the costs of not finding convenient parking or the costs of traffic congestion.

Some government services are given away. No price (fee) is charged to park on most streets, to borrow books at the library, or for immunizing a child. The benefits of these services dominate our thoughts.

Today, many challenge the idea of “free” parking or a “free” library, believing that those who use government resources ought to pay for them. Similarly, there are those who, aside from questioning the value of vaccinations, would have the families of the inoculated pay for that protection.

These are neither silly nor sinister thoughts. But they frequently discount the reasons for many essential government functions. First, it is often wise to separate services from the ability to pay for those functions. Second, many government activities have positive external effects.

A public with good access to knowledge and art is of value to all. Similarly, a public immune to infectious diseases is a benefit to all. A fee standing between a citizen and a public service discourages use and reduces those universal benefits.

We could have a better understanding of public-sector services by taking a clue from the private sector. Let’s have our mayors, governors and legislators host public access TV programs called “What Does It Cost?” We and they might learn something of value.•

__________

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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  1. A couple of issues need some clarification especially since my name was on the list. I am not sure how this information was obtained and from where. For me, the amount was incorrect to begin with and the money does not come to me personally. I am guessing that the names listed are the Principal Investigators (individual responsible for the conduct of the trail) for the different pharmaceutical trials and not the entity which receives the checks. In my case, I participate in Phase II and Phase III trials which are required for new drug development. Your article should differentiate the amount of money received for consulting, for speaking fees, and for conduct of a clinical trial for new drug development. The lumping of all of these categories may give the reader a false impression of physicians just trying to get rich. The Sunshine Law may help to differentiate these categories in the future. The public should be aware that the Clinical Trial Industry could be a real economic driver for Indiana since these revenues supports jobs and new job creation. Nationally, this account for 10-20 billion which our State is missing out on to a large degree. Yes, new drug and technology development has gotten most of the attention (e.g. CTSI, BioCrossroads, etc.) However, serious money is being left on the table by not participating in the clinical trials to get those new drugs and medical devices on the market!!!! I guess that this is not sexy enough for academia.

  2. The address given for the Goldfish Swim Club is the Ace Hardware, is it closing?

  3. Out of state management and ownership. If Kite controlled it, everything would be leased. Of course, due to the roundabout, there is limited access to the south side of 116th now also. Just have to go down to the light.

  4. Hey smudge, You're opposed to arresting people for minor crimes? Sounds great! We should only focus on murders and such, right? Let's stand around and wait until someone shoots someone before we act. Whatever we do, we should never question anyone, frisk anyone, or arrest anyone unless they are actively engaged in shooting or stabbing. Very sound!

  5. You guys are being really rude to gays in the comments. (Not all of you, I presume). You need to stop it. Gays have just as much of a right to marry as straight people do. It's not fair how you guys are denying them equal rights. They're acting more human than you'll ever be. We obviously haven't matured since the bible was last updated. Hate the sin, not the sinner. You've all committed a sin at least once in your life. You've lied, you've stolen, etc. (Those are just possibilities). We should have a planet for people that support gay rights and a planet for people that don't. Then, gay people could get married without you bigots interfering with their love life. How would you feel if straights couldn't get married? How would you feel if teenagers were afraid to come out to their parents as straight? If straight people got hate everywhere they went? If straight people were afraid to go out in public, because they feared being judged? It's never going to happen at the rate society is going. You haven't seen the side of me where I act obscene. You're glad my inner demon hasn't been released. I would, but oh no, my comment would be removed because of my very strong emotions about this subject. I love gays, and love how they show their affection for each other. I just ADORE how a state is going to give same-sex couples a marriage license, then changes their mind. (I was obviously being sarcastic there). I just LOVE how society thinks gays are an abomination to our society. You're caring about marriage between two men or two women. That's a small thing. Just grow up, and let them marry. Let them live their lives. You can't make them change their sexuality. You can't make them change their lifestyle. In my opinion, gays are more than welcome to marry. Please, grow up and realize that people should be allowed to marry, even if it's same-sex marriage. You guys are saying that "the bible said gay marriage is wrong." Well, guess what else is wrong? Read Matthew:7 and you'll find out. (I am in no way breaking that. I am saying a fact). I'm stating that gays have just as much of a right to marry as straights do. (:

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