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Libraries and Socialism Again

A very amusing piece of satire on how libraries equal socialism appeared this week at an NBC Chicago blog. At least I assume it’s supposed to be satire, because it’s too outrageous to count as much else. In other news, Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates are flaming Marxists.

After quoting the Chicago Public Library Commissioner on how grateful she is that “all Chicagoans — particularly the children of our city” will have access to library services, we get this hilarious diatribe:

I can’t think of a more egregious example of government-sponsored socialism than the public library. Unproductive citizens without two nickels to rub together are given access to millions of books they could never afford to buy on their own — all paid for with the tax dollars of productive citizens. Does the government pay for people to rent tuxedos for free, sail boats for free, or play golf for free? No, it does not. So why should it pay for people to read books and surf the Internet for free?

My first question is, is there some kind of socialism that’s not “government-sponsored”? But we’ll leave that. We can all agree that it’s terrible that unproductive citizens like children are given access to books they could never afford. And if public libraries are the most egregious example of socialism you can think of, you lack imagination.

The analogy between providing books to read and providing tuxedos and sailboats either proves that this is satire or that the author isn’t so good with coming up with analogies.

Golf was a curious choice as well, since there are public golf courses in Chicago. They’re not free, but it looks like you can get 18 holes in for $20 if you work it right. Compare that to the tens of thousands it would take to join a country club – if the club would even have you, which it wouldn’t.

Barely productive citizens without a hundred thousand dollars to spare are given access to acres upon acres of golf courses for a minimal fee? Socialism!

What would have been a much better analogy are public schools. Unproductive citizens without two nickels to rub together are given access to books, computers, teachers, playgrounds (!) and other luxuries they could never afford on their own. Socialism!

Children given free parks to play in? Socialism!

Here’s another great paragraph from someone who has published three books and makes a living as a writer:

The free market should be left alone to distribute books and computers to those who have earned them. With libraries handing out free books, is it any wonder Borders went out of business? Libraries are also repositories for out-of-print books which can no longer make it in the marketplace. Gary can no longer afford to keep its main library open, but you don’t see the state bailing it out. That’s because Indiana is a business-friendly place that knows how to balance its budget.

With only five sentences, you would think it would be easier to stay on topic. Instead, we get four topics, none of which are related.

1) As for the free market distributing books and computers to those who have earned them, it does! That’s why I have a much better computer than all those poor people who have to rely on their public libraries.

2) The line about Borders is the sign of a desperate writer flinging dung against the library hoping it will stick. Libraries drove Borders out of business? You have to be uninformed or insane to believe that. Borders drove Borders out of business, with a firm shove from Amazon. The other way around, it’s “with libraries helping to develop the reading habit, it’s no wonder Barnes and Noble is still in business!”

3) I’m not sure what to make of the line about libraries as repositories for books that “can no longer make it in the marketplace.” Most educated people would say, “Thank God!” Only a philistine would judge the quality or worth of a book on whether it could continually “make it in the marketplace.” Not everyone is interested in reading the lowest common denominator books.

4) The remaining sentences about Gary, Indiana are so confusing I don’t know what to make of them. You would think it was obvious that Gary, as lovely a place as it might be, is hardly analogous to Chicago. While a state tax regulation did help create Gary’s problems, it’s worth pointing out that “the state” isn’t bailing out the Chicago libraries. The city of Chicago is supporting its libraries.

The odd rationales against libraries keep coming. For example: “As the author of three books, I obviously have a grudge against libraries because they enable the public to consume my work without paying for it. Every time someone checks one of my books out of the library, that’s money out of my pocket.”

It’s the last sentence that baffles me, since it’s not money out of his pocket, for a couple of reasons. First, a library has purchased the book. That’s money in his pocket that he wouldn’t have otherwise had. Second, people often check books out of libraries that they would never buy anyway.

It’s not libraries that are causing the author’s book on President Obama to have a list price of $24 but sell for $9.38 on Amazon or to have an Amazon sales rank of 721,269. Since 459 libraries have purchased the book, and the Chicago Public Library alone has 86 copies in circulation, at that rank libraries have probably purchased more copies of the book than the general population.

I’m sure the author considered his final paragraph a deadly finishing shot: “If the public libraries can’t generate enough revenue to support themselves, they should be closed. Well, not entirely. There is one book that everyone in Chicago deserves to read: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. Perhaps we can all borrow a copy at City Hall.”

I always have to wonder at admirers of Atlas Shrugged, a book which fails as both literature and philosophy. It’s one of the most ludicrous books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of books. Randians are always a bit too over-the-top, starry-eyed idealists for my taste.

If we go with the Randian interpretation, then why start or stop with libraries? What else in Chicago doesn’t generate enough revenue to support itself?

Well, there’s O’Hare Airport, the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago Park District, and Chicago Public Schools for starters. I’m pretty sure the city streets don’t generate enough revenue to support themselves, so close ‘em down or make every street a toll street. Maybe the same with the city’s Water Management. Add in the University of Illinois at Chicago and the several community colleges. Oh, and there’s the police and fire departments.

Hey, if they “can’t generate enough revenue to support themselves, they should be closed.” That really is the Randian way. There are no public goods, period. Not streets, not water, not schools, not police, and certainly not libraries.

The thing is, there are a lot of problems and a lot of corruption in Chicago, and there’s gobs of public money being wasted. There’s possibly even waste in the Chicago Public Library that can be eliminated, like buying 86 copies of a single book about Obama.

Sensible people make arguments and plans against such waste and abuse. Other people rant about socialism, libraries, and Any Rand.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    I, for one, am thankful for Ms. Rand’s work. Whenever someone brings her up in a conversation or argument I know it’s safe to disregard anything else they might say.

    • Way Barra says:

      “I, for one, am thankful for Ms. Rand’s work. Whenever someone brings her up in a conversation or argument I know it’s safe to disregard anything else they might say.”

      Disregard EVEN HARDER if they mispronounce her first name.

  2. Tricia says:

    Dude, it’s satire.

    It is sad, though, that the anti-intellectual culture that is so often promoted in the mainstream media is so pervasive that this could easily pass as a “real” article.

  3. Shander says:

    The author wrote an article about the importance of libraries just last month. (http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/The-Library-Is-Hardly-Ever-Open-As-It-Is-131606228.html) This is clearly satire. Not well done, but satire nonetheless.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Tears of sadness!! I love Atlas Shrugged. (The Fountainhead, not so much.) I love Annoyed Librarian.

    Are these two mutually exclusive? Say it’s not so!

  5. noutopianlibrarian says:

    The satirical blog post is only believable because there are so many ideologues on talk radio, hosts and callers alike, repeating similar talking points.

  6. Spencer says:

    First,

    This is bad satire.
    Second, by definition socialism is when the government controls the means of production, not the government providing services.

    Third, city streets SHOULD support themselves with revenue via gasoline tax, vehicle and license regestrations, etc. That is how it is supposed to work. If they can’t support themselves this way (as in tax by use) they should increase these fees to cover the cost.

    Equally, libraries could be served a little more by “cost by use” based model instead of most current funding schemes.

    The same could be said for schools, airports, water and power, etc. (but please let’s not pretend that libraries are schools and serve the same purpose or have the same impact. Also, airports in europe are private, not govt entities.) If not, then why not food and shelter, which are much more important that schools and power to life? Why not fully fund those? I

    f a library will share the cost of entertainment, why not locally funded playhouses or locally funded first run movie theaters? Some cities do have subsidized symphonies, etc. How would a subsidized waterpark or subsidized cable TV be any different? It’s entertainment.

    I guess my real point is, while bad satire, it does bring forth a charicature of a point of view that is (so far in the article and comments) dismissed out of hand without countering any of the arguments with an aswer beyond a verbose “because.”

  7. katmae24 says:

    I just blogged about this article yesterday! I agree- BAD SATIRE. Yikes. And bad choice of topi.

  8. I Like Books says:

    No government on Earth is entirely free market. They all have such publicly funded institutions as police, fire departments, schools, etc. (Is the military a socialist institution?) Different nations try to find their own balance, but it takes a pragmatic mix to make a nation work. Cuba figured that out just recently– pure socialist systems don’t work very well, either.

    Idealists like the one just described are just that– idealists. They’d be hard pressed to prove some of their claims. In fact, there seems to be a lot of counter-examples. But they have a theory that says it’s so.

  9. Joyce says:

    Ayn Rand herself received both social security and government funded medical care. When the times get tough many swallow their pride and turn to “socialism. Good article annoyed.