Information is a public good: Experiments in better government

Spencer Graves and Doug Samuelson propose experiments to document the impact of citizen-directed subsidies in support of local news by analyzing their effects on the local political economy. McChesney and Nichols have recommended distributing 0.15 percent of the local economy (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) in proportion to votes in local elections for local news nonprofits. Graves and Samuelson suggest evaluating this effect with randomized controlled trials in some of the poorest places on earth.

Graves is the founder of Samuelson is President and Chief Scientist at InfoLogix, Inc., in Annandale, Virginia and First Vice Chair of advisory board of the Heath Service Agencies of Northern Virginia.

Robert McChesney and John Nichols have noted that newspapers were 1 percent of the US economy (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) in the 1950s and are now less than 0.1. They suggested that the increase in political polarization that has accompanied that decline might be reduced by distributing 0.15 percent of GDP to local news nonprofits through local elections, where only local news nonprofits could appear on the ballot, and no single news outlet could get more than 20 percent of these subsidies within a county or relatively small multi-county region. Their proposed 0.15 percent of GDP roughly matches the subsidies for newspapers provided by the US Postal Service Act of 1792. Those subsidies seem to have played a major role in giving the relatively young United States the most diverse news environment on earth, at least prior to 1900. That environment encouraged literacy and limited political corruption, both of which helped the US lead the world, first in rate of growth of average annual income (GDP per capita) and then in GDP for much of US history.

Graves and Samuelson review the literature claiming various ill effects of a decline of local news and suggest randomized controlled trials to quantify the impact of such subsidies in some of the poorest jurisdictions, e.g., the poorest members of the United Nations or American Indian communities. More information is available in the Wikiversity article on, “Information is a public good: Designing experiments to improve government”:

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