In early January, a Southam-Pollara poll asked Canadians if government funding should be used to support “culture,” meaning “books, films, music, and magazines.” Respondents were almost equally for and against with a large contingent answering “I don’t know.” The apparent difficulty for many of the respondents was whether culture should be classified as a “public interest,” and should thus receive government protection or subsidies. This question is more significant than it may seem because it illustrates why the “public interest” is a pernicious idea that should be rejected.

Although for the purpose of the poll, culture was cast as “book, films, music, and magazines,” magazines are getting the most attention today with the battle over bill C-55. The Canadian magazine industry is currently suffering from “the blight of unfettered competition.” In other words, it’s losing business in the market of free minds. Canadian readers are choosing to read American “split-run” magazines rather than Canadian magazines. As a result of the split-run magazines’ higher readership, and the great rates they offer to advertisers, they are being used by Canadian companies to advertise their products.

To be saved from the exercise of these private interests, the Canadian magazine industry is seeking government protection in bill C-55. It wants government regulations to prevent Canadian advertisers from using split-runs; it wants the government to force Canadians to advertise in Canadian magazines.

What relation does this have to the “public interest”? Certainly, the magazine industry is not the “public.” It’s nothing more than a group of individuals united in a private concern. But the industry is struggling hard to cast itself as the “public interest.” The Canadian magazine industry is even touting itself as the defender of “Canada’s stories.”

Even if magazine owners are somehow entitled to be the “public interest,” then what of Canada’s companies and advertisers? Since they are to be excluded in their practices by bill c-55, they will be excluded by law from “the public.”(!) Since they choose to use the medium of American magazines to do business, bill C-55 sacrifices their interests to the interests of the magazine industry.

This is the reason why the magazine industry declares itself to be the “public interest.” This phrase connotes a woozy, “feel-good” idea of brotherhood — a feeling that hides its actual meaning: the sacrifice of some private interests to others.

To overcome the amorphous nature of this phrase, one need only realize that there is no public — only individuals. The idea of a collective called the “public interest” only undermines individual values and choices. In this case, the freedom of Canadians to choose any magazine in which they want to advertise is sacrificed to the needs of the magazine industry.

If the “public interest” was supposed to mean an interest that all individuals have in common, then quite simply it would mean freedom — the freedom to live by one’s own values in a society governed by individual rights. But that is not how it is used when it comes to “culture,” nor in any other area. It’s used to promote government intervention in our lives, and thus threatens the true, common interest we all have in living in a non-coercive society. It’s time to dump the “public interest.”

Produced through The Ayn Rand Institute’s Reason On Campus program.

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Scott Powell

The author is a contributing writer to Capitalism Magazine.

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