• 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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