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I DISAGREE WITH RANDALL Bloomquist’s evident belief that the capitalist marketplace should determine what is heard on every radio frequency (“Real Things Considered,” The District Line, 3/17). Why can’t we set aside a few frequencies where, say, a kid without money might stumble on grand opera or Celtic music or Afro-Caribbean music or classic bluegrass and have their sense of aesthetic possibilities enlarged? Or where he or she might hear a brilliant report on the “orphan trains” which took children from Eastern cities to the rural West at the turn of the century, as I did on All Things Considered a month ago, and learn that the past can illuminate the present? If the stations which carry such programming need a small federal subsidy to supplement local contributions, then I for one am glad to pay it.

Also, before casting his vote to yank Morning Edition from the national conversation, Bloomquist might rank NPR against some of the other ways the feds spend our money. We expend billions each year to defend Western Europe against a Russian army that cannot defeat Chechnya, to pay subsidies to the NRA to train “marksmen,” to assist suburban hobby farmers, and to build white-elephant tourist traps in the congressional districts of members of the appropriations committees. I’ll take Performance Today over those expenditures any day.

Liberals like Bloomquist are eager to subject all institutions to the bracing winds of competition. I sometimes wonder if they ever reflect on how civilization is transmitted from one generation to another, or on the difference between civilization and barbarism. Unrestricted capitalism efficiently supplies all the light bulbs and computers we may need, and also meets the popular demand for legal and illegal drugs, ice cream, Arnold Schwarze negger films, sports events, and information about the O.J. Simpson trial. But it cannot create or transmit important aspects of civilization because capitalism can place a price on anything but knows the value of nothing. For that essential task, noncommercial values and institutions, like NPR, will remain necessary. Unless we rediscover this, we will be truly lost.

American University Park