The Nasty Librarian: A Lesson in State Compulsion

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The nasty librarian
is a reality that has left many Americans feeling hopeless; a mere
hiccup answered with a scorching glare, a sneeze countered with
a venomous clearing of the throat. Who in this country hasn't had
likewise experiences? What smiling grade-school child, eager to
learn, ready to ask questions, hasn't had their inquisitive spirit
squelched by some librarian rogue? Most of us have simply thrown
up our hands in defeat, convinced that all librarians are mean,
and that trying to change them is largely a waste of time.

But there is
hope. There is a possible remedy to this seemingly eternal tradition.
The hope, in a single word, is competition. If, heaven forbid, libraries
actually had to vie for their customers in an open, free market,
there would be a much greater incentive for librarians to be kind
to customers. The incentive exists because if libraries hired mean
employees, customers would take their business elsewhere.

Of course,
even in such a free system, spiteful librarians would still surface.
After all, we've all had bad experiences with private firms and
businesses and the same would likely continue with libraries. However,
the crucially important distinction between a free market library
and a government funded library rests in one's power as a consumer.
In a capitalist system, the consumer is sovereign. He decides who
sinks and who stays afloat. Because a private library, like any
other business, would depend on repeat sales, the customer has tremendous
power over the library. If he is not served properly and to his
liking, he need only refrain from a second purchase to voice his
opinion. The effect of this will be to penalize the library. Likewise,
whenever a library pleases a customer, the customer unconsciously
rewards the library by repeat purchases.

Unfortunately,
in the current library market, the government coercively confiscates
the wealth of the public and doles it out to the libraries. This
destroys the incentive to please customers because such an effort
is no longer necessary for the library to continue its activities.
In other words, libraries can disregard the desires of consumers
and still stay in business because there is no possibility of suffering
losses. Thus allowing those mean, old, hag librarians to further
their assault on learning. Furthermore, there is no justice in taking
the wealth of a book store owner and transferring it to a monstrous,
35,000 square foot library.

Think about
it. Video rental firms, a very similar operation, perform in the
private market where they have to please customers or close up shop.
Thus, they are always scrambling to improve their services. Many
offer scores of free rentals. It is entirely unheard of for a video
store not to make available new releases. Some even guarantee that
the latest and most sought after videos will be in stock. When is
the last time you've seen a "New Release" section in a
public library?

Another sensible
argument against government funding of libraries is the depressing
fact that they are funded through coercion and violence. After all,
if you decide not to fork over your earnings to the state
to fund libraries, you'll find yourself sitting in a prison cell.
Now, there are reasonable arguments for some taxation, after all,
it could be difficult for private companies to provide a national
defense system or similar so-called public goods. But a free and
peaceful society should always seek to minimize the violence and
coercion implicit in all government operations and therefore should
seek to privatize libraries.

Of course,
my quip about nasty librarians was written tongue in cheek. It was
a silly extrapolation on the archetypical librarian to illustrate
a point about libraries in particular and economics in general.
Competition and the threat of competition are crucial aspects of
free market capitalism. Whenever the public grants to the government
the power to maintain monopolies or to simply restrict competition
on behalf of businesses, a vital component of the market economy
is removed. This government protection racket has hurt consumers
in every area it has taken place: education, healthcare, aviation,
agriculture, energy and even road building.

Many will consider
this suggestion to be callous; they may even accuse me of a sinister
desire to strip from the hands of children books and other tools
of learning. But this sort of demagoguery adds nothing to the conversation.
The free market has made possible the sort of prosperity and leisure
time that children enjoy today. The fact that children no longer
need to work in the fields and factories to provide their family
with the necessities of life is due to the advances in labor saving
technology made possible by the free market. Now, children may focus
on learning.

The free market
has been good to children thus far, and there is no reason to doubt
it now.

October
20, 2007

Brandon
Harnish [send him mail]
is an undergraduate at Indiana-Purdue University at Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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