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The Scourge of Public Libraries
by Jeff Landauer

Instead of just books, most of my local libraries contain all sorts of media that people can check out, including movies. Instead of going to one of the Blockbuster Video stores that are on practically every corner and paying $4, one can go to a local library and pay 50 cents or at some places nothing at all. Yay! Free movies! 

Of course, if you want to get one of the more popular movies, you'll have to sign up on the waiting list several weeks in advance. It reminds me of Soviet breadlines. Very few people get their movies at libraries compared to Blockbuster. At least in this case, the convenience and selection of the free market are beating the socialist gravy train. 

The business strategy that Blockbuster used to dominate the video business is that instead of buying a video for $30 or $40 dollars and then trying to rent it enough times to make their money back, they struck a deal with the movie studios to give the studios a cut of each rental in exchange for getting the videos at a practically free price. This enables them to stock 50 copies of each of the latest releases, doing away with the movie waiting list. 

Why was this innovation only found in the free market? Because in the free market, each rental contributes towards profit. Each rental creates value for both the store and the renter, since profit is always necessarily a two-way street. The store gets revenue and the renter gets a movie for a lower price than it is worth to him (otherwise he wouldn't rent it). The driving goal in the free market is to create as much value for the consumer as possible. 

Meanwhile, at the local library, instead of the profit motive, you have the "tragedy of the commons." What they have is basically "free," so anyone who just slightly wants a book or movie to check out will go and try to get it, first come, first served. The library has little to gain from increased checkouts -- actually they lose money from an increase in overhead. As far as the library administration is concerned, they get their budget from the city and county, and the spending of that budget is practically a separate issue, unless they can spend so inefficiently that they can show that they need a larger budget. 

The public library is only concerned with making enough of a show that they are providing value, whereas the private entrepreneur has to actually provide enough value in order to stay in business. And the way to beat the competition is to provide more value than the competition -- to innovate. 

But why pick on libraries? Private charities are better at helping people than welfare programs; private schools educate better than public schools; those who plan for their own retirements do 100 times better than those who leave to the state the fun of planning a retirement portfolio. Perhaps just about every other rights-violating program run by the state is a better target than libraries. 

When arguing against someone, taking the other person's position and interpreting it in the worst way possible may make it easier to argue, but it won't convince, and the argument will never end. To win on principle, you must be as generous to the other person's argument as possible, give him the benefit of the doubt wherever you can, and then smash his contradictory or evil premises to pieces. To do otherwise is only nipping at the edges. 

This principle applies to arguing against statism as well. Sure, income tax is bad. Sure, welfare and subsidies and business regulations are bad. But to argue against the worst aspects of statism may seem like you're arguing against those bad aspects and not statism itself. To really get down to principles, argue against the best aspects of statism. My favorite is public libraries. 

Libraries are a nice "end." I think libraries are great. But ends cannot be divorced from means. And the means of any public library is tax dollars -- dollars that were extorted under the principle of "Your money or your life." Pay your tax or go to jail. Nothing about them is free. Understand that while the driving force of the private sector is the creation of value, the driving force of libraries is the destruction of value. People are forced, if not at the point of a gun, then at the threat of the point of the gun, to pay for libraries whether or not they want to. And the difference between what they wanted to buy with their money and the library that they are forcibly stuck with is a destruction of value. Not only that, but the difference between the excellent private libraries that would probably exist if the market weren't flooded by inferior government libraries is a further loss of value. 

Public libraries, as institutions that destroy value, destroy in some small way our ability to live our lives to the fullest. They represent houses of death and should be spat upon and cursed in the most creative language possible. 

Public libraries are a scourge because they masquerade as a benevolent government program, a program that seemingly only the most extreme radical could oppose. Educate the public. Provide "free" books, movies, CDs, and Internet connections to anyone who wants or needs them. Provide reference material and disseminate knowledge to the public. Combat illiteracy. In short, public libraries supposedly better society and make the world a nicer place for everyone. And if public libraries are so great, then why not a public "this" or public "that," by extension? 

Public libraries are at the heart of statism and the destruction of individual rights. They embody the premise that government can create value. But force cannot create. Wealth cannot be legislated. The truth is that aside from protecting individual rights, government can do nothing but destroy value at the point of the gun.



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