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Want to cut taxes? Eliminate libraries.
August 20, 2002 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Want to cut taxes? Eliminate libraries. NY Times story (yeah, yeah, reg required, sorry) talks about a ballot initiative in Stevens County, Washington that may totally eliminate its libraries. (more inside...)
posted by PeteyStock (67 comments total)

 
In the last decade, parts of the rural West have had tax revolts against schools, public transportation and new parks. Now comes the first tax revolt against books.

Ahh yes, I'm sure they really hate books. Nice unbiased job of equating them to other people in history who hate books. Clever but ultimately dishonest rhetoric.

"I home-school my kids, and our four library cards are maxed out at 40 books at all times," said Linda Arrell, who lives off the electric power grid with her family north of here. "They say everybody is on the Internet, so we don't need a library. Well, some of us don't have credit cards, and some of us don't have power."

Tough shit lady, that doesn't mean other people should have to subsidize your children's education, because you CHOOSE to live without electricity. It's always an emotional story that takes the cake when the reporters cover a policy issue.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2002


Yes, because obviously, having an even less-educated county can only help the economy. Short-sighted morons.
posted by callmejay at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2002


Dude, the more people read books, the more they're able to get better jobs and avoid sucking even more tax money in welfare payments and prison funds.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not.

Anyway, I see this as Yet Another Sign Of The Apocalypse. Sigh.
posted by beth at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2002


Gist of story is that anti-tax advocates in Stevens County have collected enough signatures to have a referendum to eliminate that portion of property taxes that supports the county's libraries. Stevens County currently budgets about $1 million/year to support a library system which, by where it's located, is probably the most remote system in the US.

Regan Robinson, "We're seeing a disconnect in our society," [Regan Robinson, district library director] said. "People don't understand that you need tax money to pay for the public good. I'd like to see someone face the women I see every day with three kids and a stack of books and tell them they can't have a library anymore."

My internal cynic just has to ask...are the anti-tax advocates doing a better job at attacking the fabric of the US than the terrorists or what? Discuss.
posted by PeteyStock at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2002


insomnyuk: One of the most radically free-market people I know, the head of this conservative think tank in Raleigh, NC, is a supporter of of the notion of public libraries. He calls them the country's "intellectual safety nets."
posted by mediareport at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2002


insomnyuk - you're the only one talking about hating books. And can you share with me the sentence in the article where the author equates this county with other groups in history who hated books?

Seems to me like you brought a lot of venom to this story that doesnt have much to do with the words it contains.

Also, please note that public education in this country is based on the idea that everyone who owns property subsidizes the education of all children, at least in part. So your little mini-rant doesn't really make much sense.

Care to try again?
posted by Irontom at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2002


I'm not anti-library, anti-education, or anti-progress (before this gets out of hand). I'm anti involuntary public funding of libraries. Donate away. However, it's not like by having a library people automatically become smarter, or something, they are merely a tool that can be used by people to enhance their education.

If that poor woman with no electricity or credit card can't get books, she should find someone to help her out. If the majority of a group of people aren't using a publicly funded resource, why should you expect them to want to keep it?
posted by insomnyuk at 10:22 AM on August 20, 2002


Why should people without kids pay property taxes into the school system, insomnyuk?
posted by mediareport at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2002


Irontom: the article said they are 'revolting against books'. The rhetoric seems pretty clear to me, equating it to book burning, even. The author is saying that these silly backwoods folks are 'revolting' against books and, by implication, intelligent education.

Also, please note that public education in this country is based on the idea that everyone who owns property subsidizes the education of all children, at least in part.

Yeah, I'm aware of that, and I have said before, numerous times, that I think this is a stupid way to do things. If you don't have kids, you shouldn't be forced to pay for the education of someone else's children (that is their responsibility). Irontom, The last part of your sentence is an ironic contradiction, by the way.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2002


it's not like by having a library people automatically become smarter, or something

No, but without them they'll probably become dumber (or stay that way), voluntarily or not.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:28 AM on August 20, 2002


This is one of those down-home heart-of-America stories in which I sit back and realize that people are actually this collectively stupid until I cry. Usually, then, I drink some Coke and feel better, but Qubit's ruined that for me too.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2002


Ah sweet ignorance!

I hate it where we live in a society where we actually force people to contribute to the common good so that we may provide an equal education to all children. How backwards thinking that is!!! Single people paying into the system and all, what rubbish! After all, I don't drive a car, so why should my taxes pay for that road?? After all, I don't each any produce or farm goods, so why should I help out the poor Oklahoma farmer in a drought??

I suspect that anyone who seriously thinks like this (I do not, that was sarcasm) needs to go re-read their American history and re-evaluate what the hell they're doing living in this sort of society. There are many others that may be far more appropriate for such selfish gits.
posted by yarf at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2002


:: Note to self -- must post comments faster :-) ::

If that poor woman with no electricity or credit card can't get books, she should find someone to help her out. If the majority of a group of people aren't using a publicly funded resource, why should you expect them to want to keep it?

Maybe she can't afford to buy books herself, or there's not source of free books? Obviously she's not saying why she can't spend some cash to buy books herself, but not everyplace has a Border's, you know.

And by the way, the article comments also that the referendum would force the county to give back money it has received from groups such as the Gates Foundation, so maybe these anti-tax people are anti-philanthropy also. Just my opinion.

I don't think that if you own property and don't have kids, you should be exempt from supporting the local school district via your property taxes. Others in that situation have before, no reason that you shouldn't do so yourself now.
posted by PeteyStock at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2002


After all, I don't drive a car, so why should my taxes pay for that road? After all, I don't each any produce or farm goods, so why should I help out the poor Oklahoma farmer in a drought?

Good questions. What are your answers?
posted by insomnyuk at 10:35 AM on August 20, 2002


Good questions. What are your answers?

Do you only read the sentences that you feel like reading?
posted by Skot at 10:39 AM on August 20, 2002


One thing curiously absent in the article is the nature of the library itself. On the Kettle Falls profile page, it states:
Residents of the city pay no annual fee, and out-of-the-city residents pay a $10 per family per year for book loan privileges. Children who sign up for the summer reading program will not be charged this fee unless other members of the family check out books.
Sounds pretty voluntary to me, particularly if, as the NYT article indicates, residents are flocking there during the winter.

beth may be onto something. I think there might be an economic m.o. behind this move. The Stevens County, Washington About page indicates that the economy is made up of timber, agriculture, mining, recreation and tourism. In other words, that's blue-collar and service sector jobs that businessmen need Stevens County residents to fill.

Of course, if you were to eliminate a library from the mix, you'd have yet another way to keep the populace uneducated. It's bad enough that the library they do have is within a liquor store. ("Would you like a fifth of rye with that copy of Great Expectations?")
posted by ed at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2002


"If the majority of a group of people aren't using a publicly funded resource, why should you expect them to want to keep it?" etc.

In the apparently vain hope that people will see the benefit of public institutions that are aimed at the collective good of society.

For example - do you support the involuntary funding of fire departments? Part of your taxes go to support them now, but it wasnt until the middle of the 19th century that organized, salaried fire departments came into existence. Before then it was volunteers, some paid, some not. It's another example of an institution created for the collective good that most people never use.

The whole point is that we, as a society, have needs that have to be met with services. Taxes are levied not based on individual usage of resources (imagine the nightmare of accounting that would require), but rather aggregate usage. Thus, we all pay taxes to build roads, schools, libraries, etc. Otherwise, we'd have none of these things, except those created by very wealthy groups and individuals. And, you can bet they'd be priced above the means of normal people like us.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to accomplish the same level of health and prosperity we have in this country under those conditions?
posted by Irontom at 10:46 AM on August 20, 2002


hey, if it aint my house burning down i don't know why i should pay for it...
posted by zoopraxiscope at 10:49 AM on August 20, 2002


If you don't have kids, you shouldn't be forced to pay for the education of someone else's children

Um, do you want the person who's driving next to you to be able to read road signs or not? While I do think ciutizens without kids should be allowed to pay less towards schools than those with kids currently in the system, it couldn't be more obvious that we all have a stake in making sure there's a decently educated populace. How the hell can a democracy be expected to work if citizens are incapable of understanding the scientific, social and/or legal arguments behind important issues?

The strident individualist pose you're describing here is ridiculously impractical for a society with millions of people locked in complex economic and social relationships. Which, of course, explains why the head of a nearby conservative free market think tank supports the idea of publicly funded libraries.
posted by mediareport at 10:50 AM on August 20, 2002


I am so sick of hearing that the internet is killing the libraries. While it may be that people are doing more research online, that fact that you could justify the loss of library due to the internet scares me. I really hope that it does not mean that knowledge will only be accessible to the rich (ie. internet users) in the near future. What I love about libraries is that anyone and everyone has access to them, especially in the remote places.
posted by jessnoel at 10:51 AM on August 20, 2002


For example - do you support the involuntary funding of fire departments?

No. I think people should pay for the services they wish to receive.

Otherwise, we'd have none of these things, except those created by very wealthy groups and individuals. And, you can bet they'd be priced above the means of normal people like us.

Those are unfounded assertions that I don't think you could prove in a free market, anyway. Who knows, maybe if there weren't state run fire departments, people would spend more effort in fire prevention?

Um, do you want the person who's driving next to you to be able to read road signs or not?

Legally, you don't even need to speak English to safely be able to drive on the roads.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2002


I'm probably going out on a limb here, and I'm sure someone will be happy to come along behind me and saw it off...but...

It seems pretty clear to me that humans are tribal/pack/herd animals. In spite of our ability to think on a much higher level than other animals, a single human alone in the world is usually pretty well screwed. Building on this, once we form communities and begin acting not simply for the good of our individual selves but for the good of the community as a whole, we are better off than any of us is alone...even those who could "make it" on their own are better off.

Now, even a group of humans is pretty vulnerable against what the world in general has to throw at them...unless they start using their ability to think and reason, and then take action based on those thoughts.

More than anything else, words shape the way we think. Our greatest thinkers have, with the support of their own communities, put down their thoughts on paper so that the thoughts might survive even after the thinker is gone. Collections of these writings, we call libraries.

A remote community, with many of it's people devoted to physical labor and perhaps not brilliantly educated on the average, is in a pretty weak position in a world where thinkers are becoming more and more important. While schools are valuable for educating our young, they could not do so without books.

The depth and range of thought found in any classroom, I would argue, is insignificant next to the power of the Force...err...next to the depth and breadth of thought contained in the books of a moderate library. A library is a place for the educated to go to reference the myriad ideas they might never discover on their own, and to utilize detailed knowledge they might never have the ability to amass on their own.

Books in libraries, if respected, can safeguard valuable knowledge through generations of ignorance, only to be rediscovered at a later time...their treasure still intact.

I would sooner stop funding for schools than I would for a library. Children can be and have been taught to read at home and at church for centuries, and that is the only real tool they would need to begin making use of the knowledge in a library.

The folks who think that the short term savings of a few million dollars would be worth eliminating their library are, I believe, quite misguided.
posted by ruggles at 10:54 AM on August 20, 2002


Another thing, my parents, who live in the suburbs of Detroit, that the city council just closed done the library on Saturdays in the summer. The Saturday closing was in response to the voters, voting down a tax hike, which was needed due to the city's budget being mishandled. There are more threats to close it down completely, if the voters do not vote the way the mayor wants, so that it will fatten his pocket. Libraries are often first on the butting cutting block.
posted by jessnoel at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2002


From the article (my emphasis):

"With all the property I own, I'm probably paying up to $500 in taxes for the library, and that's just $500 wasted on something we don't need," said one supporter of the measure, Dave Sitler, a real estate agent.

Mr. Sitler, a member of the American Heritage Party, which calls for an end to all property taxes and for a government based on biblical tenets, also complains that the head librarian's annual salary of $51,000 is too high. "The salaries they pay those librarians, with health benefits and all that, it adds up," he said.


ow, my head hurts.
posted by whatnot at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2002


ruggles: I see what you mean, and I would gladly keep libraries if it meant getting rid of public schools, I also think communities are great, but only if they are voluntary.

I also think libraries are great, but I don't think they need to all be funded by taxes. A town of 200 with a public library only open twice a week would perhaps be better served with a free library housed in a local church or something, 7 days a week.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2002


"Who knows, maybe if there weren't state run fire departments, people would spend more effort in fire prevention?"

The city of Chicago found out in 1871. Boston found out in 1872. San Francisco found out 6 times between 1849 and 1851, 7 if you count the fires after the 1906 earthquake. New York - 1835. Hoboken - 1900. Baltimore - 1904.

Notice anything consistent about those dates? They all occurred before the widespread institution of professional fire departments. In free market economies that were substantially freer than the one you live in now.
posted by Irontom at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2002


Trying to assign tax money based upon what everyone wants it used for is about the stupidest idea I can imagine, primarily because it would cost MORE in tax dollars to keep track of the services that the hundreds of millions of taxpayers have each and individually purchased than to just arbitrarily spend money on the fad of the month. It would be chaotic. And leaving everything to the free market is worse. The problems we have had with deregulation of electricity and breaking up the phone company seems to imply that some services should be governmentally regulated. Also, we can turn the "I don't have kids so I don't want to pay for public education" argument around, to "I have kids but I can't pay for public education so they don't go to school." Trust me, when you have children, your attitude towards arbitrary funding of the public schools will turn around 180 degrees.
posted by Veritron at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2002


Again: if people read less, they don't move up as much in life, which means more of them on welfare, more of them resorting to crime, more of them in prison.

This is shitloads more expensive than a library.

I wanna be a gozillionaire and open free libraries all over the place. And behold, for they will have card catalogs!

(Still working on my plans for world domination)

And I would favor a system in which people who don't want to pay taxes don't have to. This means they get: no fire protection, no army protection, no police protection, no ambulance service, no subsidized health care, and they pay-as-they-go for roads and stuff. Cut the selfish jerks loose so we don't have to listen to them whine all the damn time. Gah.
posted by beth at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2002


Trust me, when you have children, your attitude towards arbitrary funding of the public schools will turn around 180 degrees.

So? This isn't news, welfare recipients like receiving welfare.

Also, I'm not advocating the government provide services to millions on a pay per play basis, I'm saying it should be a totally free market with dozens of options, like cell phones. Some of those companies have millions of customers and transactions, and they manage to keep track of it. But you can depend on the brilliance of the government to muddle something as complex as that.

Your deregulation examples don't work mostly because of the fact that oftentimes, the only change is that a business is in charge and not the government, but the rules and existing framework is still in place. There is really no difference in a monopoly that is owned by Bill Gates or Uncle Sam, per se, when it has the legal backing and support of the State. Many people are replacing their landlines with wireless provided for by private companies. Besides, maybe prices rise in part because the government, using tax subsidies, was keeping the prices artificially low.

no fire protection, no army protection, no police protection, no ambulance service, no subsidized health care, and they pay-as-they-go for roads and stuff.

That sounds like a great system to me beth, and if it ever happens, I promise to stop whining.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2002


I forgot to mention you all will have to be separated into enclaves that are far enough from the rest of us that when your houses erupt in flames, they don't risk charring the rest of us.

Also, you'll have to build your own hospitals, medical colleges to train doctors, legal system, etc. No fair leeching off of us.
posted by beth at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2002


I'm saying it should be a totally free market with dozens of options, like cell phones.

Oh, and we know how well that's worked in the USA. Nice work, picking something that pretty much everyone appears to regard as a fucked-up system.

Who knows, maybe if there weren't state run fire departments, people would spend more effort in fire prevention?

Actually, what happened when there were lots of private fire companies, connected to private insurance companies, was lots and lots of arson in the name of corporate rivalry. Now perhaps that's a matter for the police, but I'm sure that insomnyuk regards that as an opt-in service as well, while gazing down upon us from his libertarian paradise like St Simeon Stylites.
posted by riviera at 11:32 AM on August 20, 2002


insomnyuk - are you just advocating for the sake of advocating here. I'm about as close to a flaming libertarian as you're likely to find, but I still recognize that with some services there are economies of scale involved that mean the state can at times do it cheaper and better than individuals. Roads, defense, education - these are the proper functions of the state.

One of the important reasons that the US standard of living is as high as it is because of our substantially higher levels of productivity. Those levels can be traced directly to public education. Without public education, the economy doesn't function as well. The community - and yes, even you - will be directly effected by a lowering of education/productivity.

That said, I'm not entirely sure that libraries are on the same level as roads, defense or education. I would tend to support them if the state didn't, but I'm not sure the state has a compelling interest in funding it if the community isn't using those services.
posted by willnot at 11:48 AM on August 20, 2002


America was pretty prosperous and safe before public education, public roads, and public firefighting. Schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale were created. Literacy rates were very high, even for people who only received only a church or home-schooled primary education (and were probably better educated than the average public school student today). Only after public education had been institutionalized did our nation accept vast losses of freedom, and participation in dozens of wars. Technological advancements, and the problems of industrialization and rapid development and population growth (like in the Chicago fire and all of the immigration leading up to it) are going to cause problems in any system. I'm not advocating utopia, whatever is done there will be problems. It's impossible to plan for the unknown.

Actually, what happened when there were lots of private fire companies, connected to private insurance companies, was lots and lots of arson in the name of corporate rivalry.

When and where did this happen? Don't you think eventually many companies would simply go bankrupt if there weren't enough fires to fight? I understand they may have had an economic incentive to cause fires, but I would like to see proof of this.

I do admit that I'm taking a fairly anarcho-capitalist viewpoint, and it is partly for the sake of argument (I would like to see it tried somewhere on an experimental level).
posted by insomnyuk at 12:00 PM on August 20, 2002


Well, now that I know you're trolling, I'll stop biting. Thanks for the fun.
posted by Irontom at 12:05 PM on August 20, 2002


Insomnyuk believes that the market is democratic, which it is not. But Insomnyuk makes a good point about democracy: If the majority of voters don't want to fund libraries, then it's perfectly legitimate for them to decide at the ballot box to shut down the library system. That's democracy in action.

It would benefit our society if we had these debates more often. Insomnyuk and his philosophical brethren (and sistren?) should try to de-fund fire departments, libraries, parks, school systems, road departments and so on. The ensuing argument might allow us to understand why we want these things, and why we're willing to pay for them. I assume Insomnyuk would lose the argument most of the time, but the debate would be worthwhile.
posted by Holden at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2002


To clarify, I meant to say that I assume Insomnyuk would lose the election most of the time.
posted by Holden at 12:09 PM on August 20, 2002


Insomnyuk, I normally think you have a lot of great stuff to say, but this is ridiculous.

I also think that maybe the government does waste a great bit of our money, but the services they do provide are crucial. Could be improved, yes, but are crucial.

So how about this new system:
After you've filed your income taxes, you go to a large government ebay-esque website where Uncle Sam has posted his budget for the year and where each bit of that money will be spent, right down to 536 toilet seats. You choose through categories and decide where to give your tax dollars -- the military (I bought the Army new boots!), the Library of Congress (I bought it a new card catalog!), etc. The first people to file get first dibs, and as categories fill up, they're closed, so the last people are out of luck in choosing (but still have to give their tax share to whatever category is left). Sound good? It doesn't change jack, but it'll make those libertarians stop whining (so much). They could buy the LoC a new copy of Atlas Shrugged.
posted by The Michael The at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2002


As whatnot pointed out, one of the leaders of this "revolt" is a member of the American Heritage Party. The site is full of stuff like this:

We are the party of America’s heritage, but first and foremost we are called to be a Christian political party. Our heritage was great because it was Christian, and Americans, perhaps more than any other people, are accountable to put Christ first in politics. By openly acknowledging that America’s hope lies in genuine Christian reformation, and not in just another brand of political conservatism, a Christian political party offers a fundamental alternative to the unbelieving principles of the secular establishment.

Putting Christ first = no libraries....interesting.
posted by thewittyname at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2002


To clarify, I meant to say that I assume Insomnyuk would lose the election most of the time.

More like 98% of the time, I hardly ever see a libertarian get elected to public office.

Also, these are local government issues, which are not as much of a problem, since they are generally decentralized, municipal systems where local people are paying for them and are free to easily leave and have more influence on what goes on. I am much more concerned with centralized tyranny from a large state, in general. Side note: I'm not a Randian, nor have I read Atlas Shrugged. Also, I'm not trying to defend the American Heritage Party, they clearly want to set up a semi-free Christian state.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2002


Actually, you should read Atlas Shrugged. Some of her ideas have merit, some are just wacky, most are over the top, but it's a very interesting story and one of my favorite books.
posted by The Michael The at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2002


When and where did this happen?

In New York, the state legislature took over the entire volunteer structure of the NYC fire brigades in 1865 and professionalized them, because (a) fights would break out between companies when they showed up to fight fires; (b) money was being embezzled from them; and (c) insurance companies and citizens alike loudly criticized how they handled fires. (Brief history of FDNY available here.)

I believe that the government wastes cash too, but certain services they fund are essential -- including libraries. Just the fact that some cheapskate wants to save a few bucks and eliminate what may be one of the only places to get some reading in a remote part of the US is a pretty sad commentary on where society is heading to.
posted by PeteyStock at 12:51 PM on August 20, 2002


Only after public education had been institutionalized did our nation accept vast losses of freedom, and participation in dozens of wars

Laws requiring that children be educated (by parents or a schoolmaster) go back to the mid-17th c. in Massachusetts (see here) and Connecticut (see here). Towns of a certain size were required to provide a schoolmaster and a building; students paid tuition or were given scholarships. The process of constructing a centralized, uniform public school system dates back to the late eighteenth century.
This abstract from the Journal of Social History (article not on-line; scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page) points up some of the methodological problems in asserting widespread literacy prior to the full-scale implementation of public schooling in the nineteenth century. It is again not clear from this discussion what we mean by "literacy." The ability to read? (At what level?) The ability to read and write? So-called "functional literacy," that is, "one should have enough reading and writing ability to function effectively in daily life" (David Mitch, The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England, xix)?

As for paying my taxes, I'm hardly going to argue with St. Paul on the subject (Romans 13:1-7).
posted by thomas j wise at 1:21 PM on August 20, 2002


Completely off-topic, but can anybody tell me why Ayn Rand's sex scenes were so violent? I guess maybe she was into S&M or something, but it befuddled me when I read her books long ago.
posted by beth at 2:40 PM on August 20, 2002


thewittyname, not only was I thinking "gee, this guy is a crackpot," but "this reporter seems to be flaunting an obvious bias."

Sitler's affiliation with the American Heritage party is germain, but only slightly. I don't agree with Sitler, but I got the feeling the reporter was pointing and laughing at him.
posted by whatnot at 2:52 PM on August 20, 2002


Atlas Shrugged... one of my favorite books.

It was mine, as well, and then I grew up.

The whole article made my blood boil and then I got to this:

"When we were circulating the petition, we ran into people time and time again who said they pay all this money in library property taxes and they don't even use it," said one leader in the campaign, Karen Frostad, a cook for the school district. "We just feel this is a very unnecessary tax."

As it happens, Ms. Frostad herself does not pay the county library tax, because she lives in Kettle Falls.


Nice, a leader of the campaign doesn't even have to pay the taxes in dispute.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:22 PM on August 20, 2002


This shut down the library idea reminds me of people who rail against county bus service because "no one ever rides the bus." While the same bus lines that they propose cutting have full buses almost the entire day.

The public library is the best place to get access to a wide variety of information for a very low cost. If you're interested in studying a topic intensely, you could go to a bookstore, and pay $10+ a book, or go to the library, check out a bunch of books on the subject and focus your search.

Without the public library system, we wouldn't have the works of Charles Bukowski for example (while poor, he would read at the library).

Sometimes I wish people that recommend measures like this would be forced to go through poverty for extended periods of time.
posted by drezdn at 3:41 PM on August 20, 2002


Now that I'm in my office, where my books on American literature are, I find a useful summary of the complete methodological mess that is "the history of literacy" in early America in Cathy N. Davidson, Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (OUP, 1986), pp. 55-61. Among the basic problems: the archival material used to calculate literacy rates cannot provide evidence for those outside of the property-holding classes (between "20 to 30 percent of the white population" and nearly all blacks), and makes it difficult to quantify women's literacy; the "name-signing" rule does not take into account those who learned to read but not write; in some cases, literacy may have extended only to signing a name; and not all signatures are actually written by the signatories to a document. Moreover, the history of literacy is biased towards the New England states, because that's where most of the documents are. There is general agreement that US literacy rates are quite high by the mid-19th c., but no agreement about what they were prior to the institutionalization of mass public schooling.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:44 PM on August 20, 2002


"The salaries they pay those librarians, with health benefits and all that, it adds up," he said.


Oh no, people with Master's Degrees are getting health benefits.
posted by Foosnark at 4:30 PM on August 20, 2002


Secret Life of Gravy: ouch, that hurts. Am I not grown up because I enjoy it? Why? Does my enjoyment of one book negate the rest of my complex self? Please explain.
posted by The Michael The at 4:34 PM on August 20, 2002


For example - do you support the involuntary funding of fire departments?
No. I think people should pay for the services they wish to receive


Insomnyuk, the problem with this kind of thing is that
1. Only people who can afford to pay would pay (so poor people's houses burn down.)
2. What about when your house burns down and you don't choose to pay for fire services, and as a result of your neglect, my house or office or block burns down. It's not my fault, but I have to pay.
This is a problematic and too black and white solution to a complex problem.

Like others above, I agree that there is way too much entitlement going on in the US. But basic services need to be a group endevor. That being said, if a community decides to shut down its libraries, I guess they have that right. But then what about the rest of us paying for the probable growing ignorance level of the people who grow up without libraries? We (who are paying) end up paying for that as well.

It's a conundrum. But I guess I'd rather more services than less. And as for a capitalistic view of libraries, who on earth would open up a for-profit library (like the cell phone system example.) There's no money in it. So there would be no libraries.

I did like The Michael The's suggestion of being able to pick and choose where your money goes, but it's not realistic. Too bad.
posted by aacheson at 4:59 PM on August 20, 2002


Also, Libraries just aren't that expensive either. I'd think they would look at other more expensive services to cut instead!
posted by aacheson at 5:00 PM on August 20, 2002


And as for a capitalistic view of libraries, who on earth would open up a for-profit library (like the cell phone system example.) There's no money in it. So there would be no libraries.

Strictly speaking, the for-profit library--the "circulating library"--was a major part of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British culture. Readers subscribed to a library and could either a) visit a central location to borrow books (much like our own libraries) or b) would request books from a catalog and receive them by mail. The phenomenon of the triple-decker novel in the Victorian period is an artifact of the circulating library system, and especially of the most influential circulating library, Mudie's: the triple-decker novel could be loaned to multiple people at once (good for Mudie's) and did not cost appreciably more to produce (good for the publishers). Triple-deckers were produced to be sold to the circulating libraries, whereas the single-volume editions were marketed directly to the population. Needless to say, these libraries targeted the middle and upper classes, as the subscription fees were normally out of the reach of, say, a factory worker.

However, free libraries have long been considered an important contribution to civic health in Britain and America, a position partly justified by Adam Smith's concerns in The Wealth of Nations about the dangers posed by the division of labor to the human intellect.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:15 PM on August 20, 2002


aacheson: actually, the cell phone example was for services like fire fighting. I'm sure companies, kind of the way for-profit hospitals do now, would have a pro-bono system in the case of the extremely poor. Many hospitals will even just take the loss. Charitable institutions could help the extremely poor homeowners pay for fire. But a large part of the real poor in this country live in apartments and project housing, in which case the landlord would be in charge of covering for fire. This issue, I don't think, is as serious as it sounds. Hopefully technological solutions in the future will also make firefighting cheaper and more effective. Like cellphones. Whether you pay taxes (which are built in to the cost of just about everything) or pay a business, you are still going to have to pay.

Interesting you should mention fire affecting a block of houses. I don't know if you could be held legally liable for a fire originating on your property as it stands today. Lord knows the U.S. Parks Service isn't liable for anything.

I agree that libraries aren't that expensive, and are very low on my list (I have a very long list). This low cost is why there are examples of successful libraries which aren't subsidized with tax dollars. My college library (it's a private college receiving no federal funds) is open to the local community (but they don't really use it because there are other libraries around), and I don't know if membership to check things out is free, but because it is open so often, the poor would at least have the option of reading stuff there, and even watching videos in one of the media rooms.

But then what about the rest of us paying for the probable growing ignorance level of the people who grow up without libraries?

I keep seeing that question, but I don't think it can be measured. I doubt the ignorance of person X will hurt you financially if they obey the laws. It may only cost them money. There are still, and always will be plenty of jobs for people that by circumstance or choice work in some form of manual labor. The problem of ignorance is also cultural and a result of economic realities. Division of labor, as tjw mentioned, is not conducive to people acquiring a liberal arts education (in my opinion most big states schools are becoming common trade schools). However, if the immigrants of this country could serve as a case study, even completely uneducated foreigners learned rudimentary English and were able to support the education of their families, and this was before state-instituted welfare or social programs. Education became a prize, because it meant gaining economic and social parity with those who were already living here. People are selfish or at best rationally self-interested, and when education contributes to becoming wealthy, education becomes valuable.

People have choices. They can choose to get educated, or educate themselves, but the willfully ignorant will struggle in any system.
posted by insomnyuk at 5:28 PM on August 20, 2002


insomnyuk = troll
posted by Dillenger69 at 5:30 PM on August 20, 2002


I don't think he's a troll, he's just got some different ideas. Methinks we need to tone down the "troll-calling" that is appearing so much these days. Save it for the real ones. Besides, I often find that trolls come in, say one or two inflammatory things, then bow out. Insomnyuk keeps coming back for more, and he's obviously thought about this.

On the note of the thread, I agree that measuring the ignorance/knowledge level with regard to access to libraries is very difficult-if not impossible. I guess it just boils down to, for me, the belief that to a point, that society as a whole should be paying for certain things that benefit, protect, are offered to society as a whole. The thought that only those with money should be able to get books makes me uncomfortable.
posted by aacheson at 5:37 PM on August 20, 2002


People are selfish or at best rationally self-interested, and when education contributes to becoming wealthy, education becomes valuable.

Uh, no. What a sad outlook. I can't think of any view more uninspiring and at odds with real life.

Believe it or not, people who have progressed beyond the simple ability to count live for something a little more meaningful than the bottom line, and they seek education for something slightly more meaningful than padding their 401ks.

No doubt there are those still confined intellectually and philosophically to bean counting. But one hopes for the growth of all sentient beings.

In the meantime, would all "libertarians" and related greedheads please leave the Internet NOW. You didn't pay for it.

You are, in fact, hypocritically using a system developed and funded by generations of non-libertarian and non-greedhead workers.

~chuckle~

As far as public services, one really can't wait for firefighters to develop to the level of cellphone companies:

"30 FREE EXTINGUISHING minutes, with purchase of dedicated water well and high pressure pump (no more municipal water supplies, after all). Entry and rescue not included. See store for details. Some restrictions apply. Intermittent and unpredictable breaks in coverage not our responsibility. We don't mind making a profit off your misfortune.)"

~wink~
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:05 PM on August 20, 2002


Dillenger: I don't think I was being a troll... I thought the definition of a troll was someone who says something inflammatory or nasty only to get others to respond with more inflammatory and nasty responses. I admit my first post in this thread was harshly worded, but I was trying to start a debate about this rather than watch the thread turn into the typical "what a stupid briar" backslapping which happens around here on occasion.

I took an extreme minority position which started the debate, but I was not trying to piss people off. I do believe in extremely limited government and lean on some issues towards anarcho-capitalism. I'm not really sure exactly what the right way to go is (of course, there is no one size fits all solution for everyone). I made my statements and a lot of people responded, I doubt many people debate this sort of issue. Even still, most people were very civil and brought up intelligent points without attacking me, and hopefully I did the same. This is why I keep coming back, because most people here may tell me my ideas are nuts, but they generally refrain from ad hominems. Whatever the case, I come by them honestly.

If my definition of a troll is wrong, and if I indeed did troll, please explain this to me in more detail, rather than leaving a one-line insult/accusation.
posted by insomnyuk at 7:11 PM on August 20, 2002


These "revolts" come up time and again. Around here there are loads of people who don't want to subsidize the rec centres since they don't go to the gym, people who hate paying for libraries they don't use, etc.... All these services create a community and that's why general property taxes are pooled, you don't get to pick and choose.

That having been said, libraries are a community resource, and in a democracy, right or wrong, if the majority doesn't want to pay for something, they can't be forced. A referendum to bring the libraries back could come back later.

Interestingly it said seniors were moving there and they were against taxes - but when I use the library there are always lots of seniors using them. To each community it's own, I guess.
posted by Salmonberry at 7:33 PM on August 20, 2002


If the people of Stevens Co., Wash. really believe they can live without a public library, then that's their business I suppose. It's pathetic decision and immensely short-sighted, and deserves the mockery of the rest of the civilized world, but so be it. But it's not obvious to me that this is even the case. To me it just looks like another attempt by a theocratic minority to chip away at the foundations of our secular, public, civil society. Whinging and mithering about taxes is just a way to delegitimize that society and eventually replace it with something which meets their definition of political correctness.

And just on the topic of firefighters---think of the firefighters who responded on Sept. 11th. Isn't a good deal of the pride people felt in them due to the fact that they were the FDNY--the Fire Department of New York? That day they represented something bigger than just a bottom line, or a group of shareholders, they represented the city's collective response to horrible tragedy. Who could ever feel the same way about Microsoft or Disney, or Ford? Civil society, for all it's faults, reminds us that we can be something more than consumers or products, masters or servants.

Oh, and if you're not familiar with them insomnuyk, try grinding your axe on Mike Huben's Critiques of libertarianism.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:12 PM on August 20, 2002


It's so much fun watching people growing up in public...'hey, insomnyuk, heres that video of the 9th Grade Debate Finals... are you still "...sure [Private Fire] companies, kind of the way for-profit hospitals do now, would have a pro-bono system in the case of the extremely poor." As I'm only really poor temporarily, does it include me? Well, anyway, shall I show it to your date?'

(",)
posted by dash_slot- at 8:45 PM on August 20, 2002


octobersurprise: I am familiar with Huben's site (and his bias is quite clear, in spite of his disclaimers), although interestingly, many of the critiques of libertarianism that he links to (especially relating to Austrian economics) are written by other scholars in the libertarian (generally) school of thought. The problem with trying to peg down the whole thing as a coherent ideology or school of thought is that there is so much individuality and variety in the thought process that there is enough infighting between the various economic and political thinkers to fill many large books. This is also one of the primary reasons, in my opinion, that libertarians are not involved in any truly large scale political movement, they can never organize in groups big enough. So I guess you guys don't have anything to worry about, for now.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:50 PM on August 20, 2002


Division of labor, as tjw mentioned, is not conducive to people acquiring a liberal arts education (in my opinion most big states schools are becoming common trade schools).

Er, no: it's Smith's point, and Smith's point is not that the division of labor rules out a liberal education; rather, it's that the division of labor will itself harm the working classes, insofar as it constrains them to increasingly repetitive and specialized kinds of work. Such work, Smith argues, results in a stupid populace, and a stupid populace is a dangerous and unpatriotic populace. Therefore, he prescribes some sort of public provision for teaching the lower classes--he proposes parish schools--on the grounds that "[t]he state, however, derives no inconsiderable advantage from their instruction. The more they are instructed the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition, which, among ignorant nations, frequently occasion the most dreadful disorders. An instructed and intelligent people, besides, are always more decent and orderly than an ignorant and stupid one" (WoN, bk. 5, ch. 1). Smith recommends such public schooling only for the poor, who can't afford anything else; he thinks the rich should do fine with private means.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:13 PM on August 20, 2002


Don't think anyone linked to this: here's an article supporting the idea that the Net and new technologies only increase the importance and value of libraries.
posted by aflakete at 12:25 AM on August 21, 2002


I hadn't kept up with the top items this week and was very surprised to see my hometown listed as the byline for an article in the New York Times. After calls back to folks in the area, I'm not surprised to find that most people -- at least the more 'mainstream' folks, and they are not necessarily the majority in my former hometown -- think this is an absurd concept, and support the libraries.

However, as I said -- conventional politics is not the norm in Kettle Falls. Something that causes me great pride, and great despair.
posted by shelleyp at 5:55 PM on August 23, 2002


> And as for a capitalistic view of libraries, who on earth would open up a for-profit library (like the cell phone system example.) There's no money in it. So there would be no libraries.

For what it's worth : All of the 'libraries' in my area here in the outskirts of Seoul (and as far as I know in most of the human-beehive bedroom enclaves in this country) are for-profit. Little hole in the wall places, generally, that rent books. Their bread and butter is manga, of course, but they rent all sorts of books. In fact, most Korean-language editions of hefty English novels (anything over 500 pages or so) are broken into a series of several separate books (possibly illegally) to maximize profits, both for publisher and renter. (This also happens with video cassettes!) It's all about the money, and the profusion of these places indicates to me that it can't be that bad a business.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:19 AM on August 24, 2002


> Mr. Sitler, a member of the American Heritage Party, which calls for an end to all property taxes and for a government based on biblical tenets

Why am I reminded of that Monty Python sketch where Mr Hilter is running in the North Minehead by-election?

(Ooops, I Godwined. Sorry.)

Also, I'd recommend putting down Atlas Shrugged and reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale instead. It will illuminate this debate for you in an entirely different way, perhaps.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:25 AM on August 24, 2002


Insomnyuk -- But a large part of the real poor in this country live in apartments and project housing, in which case the landlord would be in charge of covering for fire.

Um, no.

I think that Insomnyuk has defended himself poorly in this thread, but that he's no troll. He actually believes this and has done much to improve the thread. It's a lot better than arguing against dumb people elsewhere.

I've said this before (I even posted a link to this article in another thread), but it bears repeating: governments are instituted to provide the services we can't provide for ourselves. Fire departments and libraries are a great use of our collective resources.
posted by zpousman at 7:39 PM on August 25, 2002


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