The Ghost in the Square

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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248 Responses

  1. Avatar Russell Arben Fox
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    I’m liking how you’ve developed this “civil societarian” conceit over a couple of different posts, Erik. If nothing else, it’s important not to let the libertarian, anti-government position poison notions of civil society–which by definition doesn’t oppose government (or the market, for that matter), but rather exists alongside them both. In today’s climate, making a strong case for the important alignments between the state and civil society makes one sound a little “communitarian” or “socialist”….which is why, for the time being, I’m going to stick with my populist, localist, left-wing democratic socialism–if I’m going to be accused of failing to understand the supposed imperative of ripping out the Progressivist weeds which plague our collective lawn, then I might as well embrace the truth behind these (usually poorly comprehended) accusations, and run with them. I’m a huge fan of civil society, but I’d rather not give libertarianism another bit of ideological ammunition; they’re well stocked enough already! Still, I hope your argument gains ground.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Russell Arben Fox
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      says:

      Russell:

      I’m liking how you’ve developed this “civil societarian” conceit over a couple of different posts, Erik. If nothing else, it’s important not to let the libertarian, anti-government position poison notions of civil society–which by definition doesn’t oppose government (or the market, for that matter), but rather exists alongside them both.

      Quite right. I liked the idea of civil societarianism more than the way it was being used, I think, and it bothered me that someone could think that government and public service and things like public libraries could all be stripped so easily from civil society, that these things were little better than weeds. I just don’t buy it.

      I think libertarianism has some very good ideas, but it’s simply too anti-government for me. I look at very successful social democracies and think these look like pretty good systems of governance: free markets, strong middle class (and strong unionization), high standards of living, very high levels of democracy and civic participation. All good things. These nations exhibit quite a bit of civil societarianism. Sound maybe I’m just coming around full circle here more toward your ” populist, localist, left-wing democratic socialism” believing as I now do these things are perfectly compatible with free markets.Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to E.D. Kain
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        “…populist, localist, left-wing democratic socialism….”

        Ummm, trying to think of a thumbnail for the opposition, “elitists, nationalist, right-wing authoritarian capitalist.”Report

      • Avatar Russell Arben Fox in reply to E.D. Kain
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        Sound maybe I’m just coming around full circle here more toward your ” populist, localist, left-wing democratic socialism” believing as I now do these things are perfectly compatible with free markets.

        Well, I wouldn’t want to call the markets “free”–markets will and ought to be subject to constraints, just as every other aspect of our social lives will and ought to be. But the role of markets is something I’ve come to have greater respect for in my thinking and reading over the past couple of years. Markets are a feature of basic human organization; the attempt to eliminate them, or have the state replace them, was by and large a terrible (and terribly stupid) misapplication of socialist/communitarian principles. The questions are, therefore, what sort of constraints, and what degree of constraints, and from whence should said constraints originate, that would be appropriate to the marketplace? (In essence, the exact same questions which lay at the heart of self-government.) I tend to believe that the better answers to such questions are to be found by looking at non-capitalist markets, of which there are numerous theories and examples (the Green Bay Packers being just one!). But that is a long argument, doesn’t have much to do with the crucial importance of civil society and public libraries, which is what your post is really about.Report

  2. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’ve unfairly conflated a world-view centered on voluntary association and advocating the end of government (and corporate) coercion with the corporatist cause to privatize public libraries in order to make them profitable in a strictly financial sense.

    I doubt that many ideologue libertarians have public libraries ranked high up on their “kill” lists, as I doubt there are many people out there who call themselves libertarians and fail to acknowledge the primacy of non-financially-derived utility sometimes.

    There’s also the fact that many public libraries started out as private collections, which were then donated to the public in a spirit of voluntary civil societarianism – I’m specifically thinking of the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress, originally the private collection of Thomas Jefferson, a libertarian saint of sorts.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to Christopher Carr
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      Carr:

      TJ sold his library after the Brits burned the first LOC. E.D. seems to forget all the Carnegie libraries, 1,689 in the US alone. The thanks should go to capitalism which allowed Carnegie to make all that money in the first place.Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to Scott
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        In my city the Carnegie library is now funded publicly. I’m only guessing, but probably 99% of them are now in the same boat.Report

        • Avatar Scott in reply to Bob
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          Bob:

          But the very fact that they existed in the first place is due to capitalism.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Scott
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            Hm; so you’re saying that it *never* would have come to pass that localities (who now fund public libraries) would have ever launched them on their own, without the largess of some donor?

            That’s a remarkable claim. I misbelieve it.Report

          • Avatar Bob in reply to Scott
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            Sure, I’ll give you that point but libraries existed long before capitalism
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library#Early_history

            Carnegie’s wealth could not sustain the ongoing cost and other capitalists did not step into that void.

            Regardless, public monies spent on public libraries has been a net plus, IMHO.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Scott
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            Hmm. The conclusion one would first jump to after this observation is that a well-functioning society requires a hybrid of both a degree of free market capitalism for wealth generation and a degree of governmental involvement to maximize distribution of social goods obtained by way of that wealth generation.

            However, such a nuanced, balanced, and pragmatic notion would be ideologically impure for both libertarians, socialists, liberals, and conservatives, so of course such an approach must be rejected out of hand.Report

        • Avatar David Margolies in reply to Bob
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          All Carnegie Libraries were publicly funding from the beginning. Carnegie (and his foundation) provided money to build the library only when the community agreed to use public funds to staff and maintain it.

          Christopher Carr is correct that many research libraries were started with private gifts, but not the Library of Congress (as pointed out, TJ sold his books to Congress). The NY Public Library (Astor and Lenox contributed book collections, Tilden contributed money), the Morgan Library, the Huntington Library, etc. all grew from private gifts and some (Morgan, Huntington) are private foundations today. (The NYPL is more complicated, but has a big private element.)Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Scott
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        Yes, thank the gods that Carnegie was able to make such vast sums and then so charitably lavish it upon the rest of us.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Christopher Carr
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      says:

      I dig this comment.

      I also tend to think that libraries, at their best, are *VERY* elitist. They will have well-stocked philosophy aisles (note the plural!) and well-stocked “classics” aisles at the expense of the celebrity memoir. Sure, maybe you need some Danielle Steele on the shelves to get people in the door… but, eventually, you want them reading D.H. Lawrence (if they’re going to read tripe, they should at least read well-written tripe).

      I go to my local library and am somewhat distressed by the number of DVDs (and video games!) I walk past to get to the books.

      I guess it gets people in the door. I guess.Report

      • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird
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        Jay, listen. I first saw Citizen Kane, and Kurosawa’s Ikiru as library DVDs. Every library DVD collection I’ve ever browsed has at least had the same kind of selectivity as their book collections.

        Currently, the book I have out from the library that I worked in last summer is…Y: The Last Man. A comic book.

        Elitism is all well and good but if it means ignoring artistic merit due to writing off entire media as unworthy, it doesn’t belong in a library.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to JosephFM
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          There are large numbers of documentaries at the libraries and I’m delighted by that fact. (Maribou recently checked out “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History”… check it out, if only for the elderly gentleman talking about how the toads mate on his front lawn and that is why he loves them.)

          It’s not those things that bug me as much as the DVDs for movies like Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist or seasons of non-PBS television shows.

          Yeah, I know that trade paperbacks are available at the library (and Maribou will probably show up to crow that I recently checked out the collection of Daredevil: Born Again and Batman Incorporated) and that kind of bugs me… but, hey. At least it’s reading, right?

          I just shake my head at the pop culture crap available now.

          This is a library! You should be checking out Ken Burns!Report

          • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird
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            One thing they drill into you in library school nowadays is that our number one job is to make suggestions to people, and NOT criticize them for checking out things we don’t like.

            “Oh, you like this? How about that? We have several good books on X over in YYY.YY. ”

            The role of judgement is on the back end, in collection development. And yeah, that can veer to far toward popular entertainment, but when it does it’s usually driven by a need to demonstrate sufficient usage stats to some state appointee who’d just as soon cut our budget altogether. Because they don’t understand value unless it can be easily quantified….which is exactly Pullman’s point.Report

          • Avatar 62across in reply to Jaybird
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            Isn’t the beauty of the library that you can get both?!Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 62across
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              This is the literary equivalent of “food stamps ought to be used for healthy food and not soda/candy”.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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                Actually, I think the food stamps for healthy food has more merit.

                I’m much more confident in medicine’s ability to inform us about nutrition and what is good for the body, than a literary critic or librarian to tell us what is good for our intellect of soul.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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                There is very much a part of me that is appalled by the idea of a literary critic or librarian saying “this is what’s good for you”.

                It’s just that there is another part of me that is even more appalled at the thought of someone checking out JERSEY SHORE SEASON ONE: UNCENSORED from the Public Library. That’s money that could have been spent on carpet cleaning.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird
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                Sometimes I suspect that thousands of years from now another civiliaztion will rediscover the nation that used to be america and the only recoverable cultural relic will be Jersey Shore season one:uncensored.

                I then wonder: what will they think of us?Report

              • Avatar Marianne in reply to Jaybird
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                I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of “the library has all the things I want so the other stuff there is probably worth paying attention to as well”. In that same area as the DVDs and video games at the local public, there are lots and lots of intellectually focused books. Speculations as to why you notice what you notice left to the reader. Also speculations as to how much of what you are saying falls under self-chastisement.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marianne
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                Yeah, well, we’ll be checking out Dr. Laura! HONEY! YOU NEED TO READ THIS PARAGRAPH!!!

                And then we can talk about how you asked me to go back to checking out comics and video games after a brief flurry of checking out self-help books.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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                I agree. You should try to infiltrate your library’s process for obtaining new materials and give your .02 cents about what is worth getting.

                I would say make the process more open and inclusive, but I trust the librarians more than my community for the most part, even if the librarians get caught trying to meet the tasteless preferences of the populace at large.Report

              • Avatar Marianne in reply to Jaybird
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                skipping back up ’cause it won’t let me go that deep: Dude, I was about to accuse you of the Dr. Laura approach to this problem ALREADY, but I held back because it seemed too harsh. You don’t need to read her books.Report

              • Avatar Marianne in reply to Marianne
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                Also, EC is right. Would you like me to show you the request materials page, or are you afraid you would contribute further to the “problem” you’ve identified above?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marianne
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                But her books are in the library!

                And I made the mistake of requesting materials once from the library. They followed up for months by sending me more forms and calling the house.

                I finally had to move.Report

              • Avatar Marianne in reply to Marianne
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                Um, what? Was that the library of your mind? I request stuff all the time, and they just send me an email saying “Hey, that new season of that show you watch is here, wannit?” and then I look and see that 50 more people put it on hold after me and I feel good about life. Especially if you complain about it later.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marianne
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                No, I was talking about the “you should purchase the following philosophy books, not only would I like to read them but they would make this a fuller, richer library” and I filled out the forms and they bugged me for suggestions for months afterwards.

                Seriously!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                Ca. 1911: Why is the library stocking books by that vulgar jackanapes Mark Twain when people should be reading things that are civilized and uplifting?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
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                Bowdler! Now that was a book you could read aloud to the wife!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                You let your wife near books?Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Christopher Carr
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      I’m going to go out on a limb as say that’s because corporatist always hijack market arguments to justify precisely this kind of privatization, and moreover they do so in the name of “cutting big government”. What libertarians think ought to be cut first rarely actually is, because it’s not libertarians making those cuts, it’s Republicans or Tories.

      My home state is possibly going to close half of our state parks (many of which, as with libraries above, were private land donated to the public) despite them being one of the only institutions capable of drawing tourists to poorer and more rural areas of the state. It’s frankly nuts to think that, as our governor claims, this will create more jobs.Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to Christopher Carr
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      Well, yes, but … What Libertarians would ideally cut first – corporate subsidies, military spending, occupational licensing cartels, whatever – is never what actually gets cut, even when libertarians have some modicum of local powers. Those things have enormously powerful vested interests behind them that will flatten any pipsqueak, well-intention libertarian like a steamroller. What really gets cut under the rubric of libertarian rhetoric, and sadly sometimes by self-identified libertarians, is stuff doesn’t have hugely powerful supporters – street lighting, healthcare districts, and, yes, public libraries. And a thinly conceived libertarianism doesn’t give us any grounds for objecting – after all, these thing would not be government funded in Libertopia, would they?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Simon K
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        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Monument_Syndrome is a related thing that always irritates me.

        One *KNOWS* that there is a great deal of graft and waste with regards to city spending (whenever they raise taxes it’s for the schools, libraries, police, and fire departments and whenever funding gets threatened, those are the only departments that get named). Do we really want to be paying for the administrative assistant to the assistant assistant to the assistant DA to lease a Lincoln?

        But threaten the budget and it’s always “we won’t be able to purchase the Muzzy educational materials for the public library.”Report

        • Avatar 62across in reply to Jaybird
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          Jaybird –

          Isn’t this the result of the oversimplification of rhetoric rather than entrenched interests? I know of no liberals who would fight for the administrative assistant to the assistant assistant to the assistant DA’s right to drive a LincolnReport

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 62across
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            Nor I! (Though I imagine that there could, possibly, be one who immediately asks if I would prefer this poor person to be forced to take a bus to work.)

            But such things happen (and always create a stink when they come out) but when budgets are threatened, the only “fat” that the government claims to be able to cut are library hours, or bus routes, or streetlights, or beat cops, or firefighters.

            It betrays a fundamental unseriousness behind the entrenched government interests that makes the public library one of the cuttable things but the six-figure salary of one of the seven or eight (!) superintendents is a sacred trust that ought not be left to the whims of democracy.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Simon K
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        Isn’t this because libertarians, to a great extent, have decided that conservatives are their brethren in arms rather than liberals?

        This is at the heart of what E.D. is getting at in his post. The libertarian mantra seems to be “The market is far and away the best arbiter of value and all other freedoms are lesser than economic freedom” – civil society be damned.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 62across
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          Isn’t this because libertarians, to a great extent, have decided that conservatives are their brethren in arms rather than liberals?

          They certainly didn’t decide such in 2006 or 2008. (And, in 2000, a nice chunk of the Libertarians I know voted for Nader.)

          I think it’s more accurate to say that Conservatives are better at telling lies that appeal to Libertarians than Progressives.Report

        • Avatar Simon K in reply to 62across
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          That’s half true. Conservatives listen to libertarians part of the time because they find libertarian ideas useful in those contexts. Where libertarians and conservatives differ they don’t work together, but where they do work together they get a lot of public support and they get things done. Or at least they did for a while. Big chunks of the conservative coalition are antithetical to much of the federal government for various reasons and unsurprisingly many libertarians will take that deal.

          In principal the same could be true for liberals and libertarians – eg. on marijuana legalization or sentencing reform or a foreign policy that didn’t revolve around who to invade next. The trouble is big chunks of the liberal coalition are kind of luke warm on these issues – prison and police officers unions, for example, and these are issue where its easy to scare the public so many liberals back away from them instinctively for fear of arming their conservative opponents.

          Your “libertarian mantra” is a straw mantra. The libertarian position is that the best measure of what people want is what they’ll do voluntarily. If people want libraries and you take them away they’ll arrange for libraries. There are plenty of potential problems with this – although in my view its true most of the time – but its got nothing to do with other freedoms being subservient to economic freedom. Its about rigorously ensuring that freedom really is freedom and not just what person X happens to want and can force other people to do for him.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Simon K
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            Whether out of habit (borne from having been part of a coalition for quite some time) or some intangible instinct, there seems to be an instinctual agreement between libertarians and conservatives. I take the (grating, at times, I admit) view that personal politics typically comes down to instinct and tribalism, which are both self-reinforcing and reinforce one another.

            With libertarians and liberals, it seems to come down in large part to “I just don’t LIKE you!” Liberals, for a number of reasons, are more likely to have dug in their heels when it comes to libertarians. So much less time is spent on the right denouncing libertarianism (and the various aspects of it that put it at odds with religious or patriotic conservatism) than on the left (and its differences with liberalism).

            Either way, libertarians are not going to get what they want while their views lack popularity. So if you’re going to be malcontented either way*, it’s much easier to spend time with those that seem to dislike you a lot less. At the very least, they’re more likely to pretend to be interested in what you have to say. They may give you squat, but so is the other side.

            * – For the right, there’s no good political answer to “Which government services are you going to cut?” For the left, the points of common ground are particularly politically unpopular (You want to legalize WHAT?! Actually, between you and me you might be right about that, but sorry, we need middle America).Report

            • Avatar Simon K in reply to Trumwill
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              I don’t know that its a matter of libertarians and liberals not liking one another – in my limited experience, they get on just fine once they get off their high horses and start talking to one another like human beings. Its a matter of the political language they employ.

              The ordinary day-to-day language of bread and butter Democratic party politics is pretty irritating to libertarians. Its still almost universally about getting things from the government for whatever group is represented or about “solving problems” by making other people do things they obviously don’t want to do. The libertarian part of my brain goes crazy and wants to say very rude things whenever I go to a meeting with environmentalists or with public service types, but I restrain myself because I don’t enjoy public lynchings. Especially of me.

              But on the flipside the liberal part of my brain that believes that government has a role in regulating things and in helping the less fortunate finds most libertarians hopelessly glib and ideologically uncompromising when in comes to Liberal issues. On environmental problems the answer is “there is no problem, or if there is problem it can’t be solved by the government, and if there is a problem that can be solved by the government its a rights violation and should be handled through the courts”. I’ll forgive my liberal friends for not finding this position terribly convincing.Report

            • Avatar Simon K in reply to Trumwill
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              PS. There is a good answer for the right on what programs to cut, unfortunately. Its the ones only groups who don’t vote Republican benefit from.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Simon K
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                Not a good enough answer them to move on it whenever they’re in power. They can complain about Medicaid and welfare all day long, but there are a lot of GOP congressmen and senators representing districts and states where both are heavily utilized.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Simon K
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                A while back I asked why there aren’t any more Liberal Populists like Huey Long anymore. It wasn’t until I read your comment here I could formulate an answer.

                It seems to me both the Republicans and Democrats have made a sock puppet of Big Bad Government, affecting a faux populism we’ve come to expect of every politician on the stump these days. We sorta understand they don’t mean anything they’re saying. Thus, when an actual Libertarian speaks up, he’s thought to be a pointy-headed idealist.

                As you say, both political parties resort to their own patter in a pinch. There may have once been a time when the Conservatives and the Libertarians found common cause, but that’s ancient history. Some Libertarians may find a new home among certain far-left progressives; both political parties refuse to limit the role of government, each for its own doctrinal reasons.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to 62across
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          I don’t think there was ever any conscious alignment between libertarians and conservatives. It seems more to be an accident of history that libertarianism and modern fiscal conservatism both grew out of opposition to New Deal central planning.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to 62across
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          62across:

          Isn’t this because libertarians, to a great extent, have decided that conservatives are their brethren in arms rather than liberals?

          This is at the heart of what E.D. is getting at in his post. The libertarian mantra seems to be “The market is far and away the best arbiter of value and all other freedoms are lesser than economic freedom” – civil society be damned.

          That’s a big part of it, yes. Markets and democracy have to work together and sometimes democracy means we’re going to fly in the face of sensible profit-based thinking and pay for things with no value whatsoever like libraries and public parks. The notion that relying on the beneficence of generous donors and gregarious foundations rather than on the democratic consensus strikes me as pretty awful actually. I’m all for charity and the very rich kicking in their fair share, but I don’t think we should depend on it any more than we should depend on the market to produce public libraries.Report

  3. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
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    Why is government the weed?

    Maybe weed is the wrong word, or maybe you are thinking about the wrong weed.

    My lawn has a healthy population of clover (the little white/pink ones). Technically, it is a weed. I could poison or pull every clover in my yard, but that would be a lot of work, and the end result would be a torn up yard. It’s better to tolerate a certain amount of clover, it adds a nice touch and blends in well (while still being careful to avoid a lawn of clover).

    It is, however, necessary to identify & remove the dandelions, whose leaf base spreads out too close to the ground and kills off the surrounding grass.Report

  4. Avatar Matty
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    Of course Pullman is not talking about the issue in abstract terms but in the context of large cuts in almost all public budgets of which library closures are only a small part. This is being done by the same government that likes to talk about the Big Society, an idea that is at least related to civil societarianism. They apparently don’t see a contradiction but some people do.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Matty
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      Exactly. The hypocrisy and obtuseness exhibited by the Cameron government in forcing these particular cuts is, frankly, astounding.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Matty
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      In fairness, the UK government is in a deep fiscal hole, and its better to cut back now, than have to suddenly shut things down when the money runs out.

      That’s not to say Cameron’s cutting the right things, I don’t have enough specific knowledge for that.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to James K
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        Agreed in principle, though its hard to take the long view when you know a lot of people whose jobs are on the line.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Matty
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          I’m a government employee who personally knows people who lost their jobs due to Budget cuts in my country. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone, but at the end of the day a lot of people in the private sector have lost jobs. Why should we be immune? The government is dependant on the private sector for revenue, when that revenue shrinks, what can you do?Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    But might there also be horrible unintended consequences of choosing to not provide basic healthcare services to the poor and elderly? Might the loss of public libraries have its own small but powerful negative effect on civil society?

    One of the defenses of equality of condition rarely used is its ability to reinforce social cohesion. Perfect equality of circumstance may be a disturbed and misunderstood folly, but the lack of any semblance of equality can be as detrimental to forming meaningful associations as anything else.

    Perhaps the very poor might associate with one another even more strongly, as they all perceive a shared threat (the oligarchy) but such inequality does not in any way allow for “associations” to form among those of disparate conditions, leading only to a fundamentally splintering of any prior idea of civil society.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to E.C. Gach
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      Yes, and you see this all over the world. It’s pretty striking to me, actually, about how much people agree on what’s bad in a society, what we don’t want, while disagreeing so strongly on what the root causes of said bad things.Report

  6. Avatar Pinky
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    I like dandelions. I think a lawn looks better with a sprinkling of yellow dots. What makes them weeds isn’t their appeal or lack thereof; it’s their capacity to choke off the surrounding plants.Report

  7. Avatar Pinky
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    Didn’t mean to submit that.

    The point I was going to make is that private social institutions can’t choke off government. They don’t have the power to do so. But government can choke off private social institutions.

    While the private sector can lose sight of everything but economics, government can lose sight of economics. Government doesn’t have to respond to changes in the marketplace. That’s marketplace broadly defined: all the changes in technology, tastes, and trends.

    Libraries are a good example of this. I can’t see a need for libraries in another 15 years. That’s not based on profitability, but on the fact that other media now provide what libraries used to. Almost anyone in the US can get all the benefits offered by a library without leaving their house. In another 15 years, everyone in the US will be able to. We could spend the next 15 years’ worth of library resources into creating an online home for everything from Curious George to Michel Foucault. The government doesn’t have an immediate feedback system that would spurn it on to realize the opportunity of a post-library world.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Pinky
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      I implore you to find a librarian and bring this up as a topic of discussion.

      Repeat until you get an actual discussion if brushed off or dismissed.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky
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      First we need to solve the issue of unlimited reproduction and transmission of copyrighted material.Report

    • Avatar Uncular1 in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      Pinky,

      when you say: “Almost anyone in the US can get all the benefits offered by a library without leaving their house.” You are assuming that they have a computer and internet access, not everyone does. Many people use the libraries now to use their computers and internet access. Libraries contain more than books, most have a bank of public computers for the public’s benefit.

      It’s nice to believe that everyone has high speed internet and nice computers, but that’s just not the way the world really works.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      > Almost anyone in the US can get all the benefits
      > offered by a library without leaving their house.

      Actually, most legitimate scholarly publications are still unavailable on the web, except through paid services like Web of Science, EBSCO, etc. Google Scholar doesn’t cut it, and won’t for quite some time I imagine.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      Can we not concieve that we’ll find a way around these problems in the next couple of decades?

      – Libraries can loan books without breaking copyright law. We should be able to design something similar via computer. There’s as much risk of copying a file as copying a hard text.
      – There are some people who don’t have computer access today (although everyone has a powerful cell phone, it seems). We could use the resources that go into the library system to close the gap.
      – Librarians and supporters of the library system would be upset by this idea, but they don’t have the right to force society to support an obsolete technology. Nor do I think that most would stand in the way of a good replacement.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pinky
        Ignored
        says:

        No. Although I’m certain that lots of people are going to try.

        > We should be able to design something similar via
        > computer.

        DRM schemes have serious fundamental problems.

        > There’s as much risk of copying a file as copying a
        > hard text.

        More with the file, actually. Class breaks are easier.

        > Librarians and supporters of the library system would
        > be upset by this idea, but they don’t have the right to
        > force society to support an obsolete technology.

        Heh.

        Librarians would certainly be upset by this idea, but the ones who are really going to be upset are the content providers. And they are quite willing (and currently enabled) to force society to support an obsolete technology. Just ask the RIAA and the MPAA.Report

      • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Pinky
        Ignored
        says:

        ” We could use the resources that go into the library system to close the gap.”

        …That’s what a lot of the resources that go into the library system actually do. Free public internet terminals! You don’t even need your own computer.

        And there are already self-erasing “loaner” e-books, as well, if you’re wondering, as well as things like self-contained audiobook players.Report

  8. Avatar Pat Cahalan
    Ignored
    says:

    “All institutions are prone to failure, corruption, capture, the temptation of power, rent-seeking. Human endeavors are littered with predictable and unpredictable calamities alike. To break it all down into these stark black and white terms – private sector good, government bad – misses the way we exist in real life, in these little patches of reality we inhabit.”

    Amen to that, brother.Report

  9. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    Kain is presenting the situation as “greedy capitalists want to tear down the library and put a Barnes & Noble there”, but it’s really more like “government has run out of money and is asking the people what they consider most important”.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck
      Ignored
      says:

      That’s not entirely unfair, but to really clarify the issue (at least, in my state):

      People don’t mind paying some taxes. They still want there to be a government and, based upon their own inclinations, would prefer the government to do only those things for which they are willing to pay taxes. (note: Americans, when polled, don’t seem to mind raising some taxes a bit rather than cutting some entitlement programs – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/us/politics/21poll.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=poll%20spending&st=cse)

      However, there are two different arguments going on, simultaneously. One is “how much do we tax”, and the second is “what do we want the government to do with the money it actually collects”?

      One side has essentially forced the first argument to default to, “Absolutely no more than we currently tax now… in fact, we want to cut taxes more”, but is unwilling to cede any ground to those people who are willing to pay more taxes as long as they get the services that they think are important.

      And, in fact, they’re insisting that they have equal say in how we spend the money we’re actually collecting, and refusing to engage the other side.

      “I demand that we cut our revenue in half! And I further demand that we balance our budget! So to ensure these two things occur, I want to cut out everything in the budget I don’t care about!”

      vs.

      “I have some things in the budget that I care about. I don’t mind terribly if we leave our revenue where it is, or even up it a bit as long as we keep these programs in the budget that you want to cut out”.

      Do you see the disjoin? How can the impasse be broken, when one side wants to fund (this), and is therefore will to tax based upon (this), where the other side wants to tax (that), and only fund (this other)?

      If government has really run out of money, and is asking people what they consider “most important”, howzabout we actually frame it like this:

      If you want (this), you need to agree that taxes need to look like (that).
      If you want (this’), you need to agree that taxes need to look like (that”).

      Etc.

      Then sum. I imagine the anti-tax folk would be quite distressed with the outcome. Another alternative that is actually fair is to say, “Okay, if you’re going to focus only on revenue (taxes) – YOU decide what the tax rate ought to be, and then WE’LL decide how to spend the money.” I imagine the anti-tax folk won’t be terribly happy with that outcome, either.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        “I demand that we cut our revenue in half! And I further demand that we balance our budget! So to ensure these two things occur, I want to cut out everything in the budget I don’t care about!”

        And, of course, this side is confounded by the reality that cutting all the things they don’t care about (leaving defense and entitlements untouched) doesn’t come close to covering the loss in revenue.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to 62across
          Ignored
          says:

          I contend, having done a good deal of military contracting, the defense budget could be cut in half with no discernible effect. The layers of contractors enveloping the military has now reached truly obscene dimensions.

          For a fact, as a third-tier contractor, I was required to fill in my time sheet on Thursday in pencil, so my superiors could then assign my hours to work allocations with hours still on them, then inked in and signed on Monday. A complete work of fiction, every week. Top-tier accommodations, flights back and forth to home every week, full expense account, midsize rental car, the works. As a third-tier consultant, doing about five minutes of actual work a day.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        Indeed, and this is why I say, in all political discussion I have, that taxes are _not a political issue_. Taxes must match spending. Period. There is no such thing as ‘tax policy’.(1)

        You can have no more ‘tax policy’ than you can have ‘gasoline purchasing policy’. You buy enough gas to actually move the car where you want to. You can buy it at different places, you can hoard it when it’s cheaper, you can run on a gallon at a time, whatever. But you cannot assert ‘We are spending too much on gas’, and then, have, as a policy, that we will…purchase less gas, but continue to drive basically the same.

        That’s literally insane thinking. I can’t even _explain_ how insane that is, it’s so far a violation of actual behavioral norms. ‘Paying for gas’ is not some external thing that can be altered by itself.

        If you want us to drive less, fine, propose that. Do not strand us on the side of the road where we have to take out expensive loans to cover the gas.

        But one entire political party, and half of another, have delusionally decided that ‘taxes’ are some political thing, and that we should make spending match them, despite the fact this is clearly insanely backwards, and additionally,as the last three decades have shown, that we are _unable_ to make spending match them, outside of the economic boom in the 90s.

        Much hay has been made of the facts the Republicans only met $32 billion of the $100 billion budget cut this year, and almost everyone has ignored the fact that $100 billion would literally do nothing, considering that we just passed a tax cut for $700 billion, a tax cut the Republicans demanded.

        We should spend the money we need to spend. We should collect in taxes approximately that much.

        We can argue what amount we ‘need’ to spend, like normal human beings. What we cannot do, what we must not do, is cut revenue as if it’s some abstract thing.

        And we must _remove from political debate_ people who demand we act like that, as if we can somehow buy less gas than the gas we use. Because those people have racked up _astronomical_ loans. Those people should not be taken seriously by anyone whosoever.

        Of course, all this is a moot point, as, at the moment, the recession is more important than worrying about this. But it doesn’t change the fact that ‘spending’ is a reasonable policy question, but ‘taxes’ are not.

        1) Yes, yes, there’s reasonable policy on who and what and where and when you tax, and you can even tax more during a boom and less during a surplus, and all sorts of things, so there is actually a tax policy. But there is no ‘how much’ policy on average. ‘How much taxes we collect’ is answered by ‘how much spending we do’, and cannot be _decided_ in any manner.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DensityDuck
      Ignored
      says:

      DensityDuck – some might say the government has run out of money thanks to greedy capitalists.Report

  10. Avatar BlaiseP
    Ignored
    says:

    Perhaps the problem resolves to the round trip distance between our contributions to Gummint and the eventual payout. Other more-socialist countries don’t face this problem: they’re smaller and therefore the round trip distance is shorter.

    When I was first married and contemplating where to buy my first home, school district quality was a large factor in my choice. I didn’t mind paying more property taxes: my kids and the neighbour children would benefit. I put three kids through the same elementary school and when the principal ran for mayor, I worked on his election committee. One of his first priorities was building more and better municipal libraries.

    Robertson Davies observed: ““If you attack Stupidity you attack an entrenched interest with friends in government and every walk of public life.” I would respond: the opposite is equally true, especially when it comes to municipal budgets and zoning ordinances.

    The mayor had other important friends who urged him to build a large gym, with two Olympic sized swimming pools and a host of amenities. The goddamn thing stands half-empty on a good day. It was built because the next town over had a gym and we weren’t about to be shown up. I think it was stupid. My daughter and her husband use the place regularly. They don’t.

    Everyone is an Entrenched Interest and if you want libraries built and school districts funded, you will, like me, make friends in government. That is how things get done in this wicked world of ours.

    My son was in the fifth grade when his teacher said “People should be able to live anywhere they want.” He stuck his hand up and said “The principal doesn’t believe that. I heard him say so at the City Council meeting” She sent him to the principal’s office and said she’d be down shortly. By the time she arrived, the principal had me on the phone and was laughing at my son, probably the only child to regularly attend City Council meetings. She came storming into the office, only to hear him say “What on earth are you teaching those children? I am trying to close down the crack houses on B Street with an ordinance against renting to drug felons.”

    There is no tidy border between the public and private sectors. Society is by design, it does not merely happen.Report

  11. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
    Ignored
    says:

    I think DensityDuck pretty much nails my own objection.

    Pullman offers a vicious false dilemma here: Either public funding or nothing.

    But private funding for libraries has always been significant as a share of libraries’ total funding. Even today. Think capitalists are destroying the library? Have you seen what the Gates foundation is up to? Check “libraries” and look at the 981 results that turn up. Many of them are grants of more than $1 million each, and quite a few are well north of that.

    Greedy ghost indeed.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m not sure Pullman would be at all opposed to private entities donating to libraries. In fact, from the sentiments of the piece it seems he might be very much in favor of such gifts.

      What he, or at least I, take issue with is that one should be dependent on their charity rather than honoring them for their obligatory sacrifice.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach
        Ignored
        says:

        Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

        That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for…

        What do you suppose the “greedy ghost” is here, if not the entrepreneur?

        And why is it wrong to give private charity, but okay to take money from those who are unwilling to pay?Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki
          Ignored
          says:

          “And why is it wrong to give private charity”

          Who said it was?

          “but okay to take money from those who are unwilling to pay?”

          If they are unwilling they may leave. At the local level, the wealthy have traditionally been responsible for funding public works. I’m not sure what is wrong with this.

          So yes, give to a private charity, and give to the common coffer. If you don’t like what uses are put to the general fund, one may mount a campaign to convince people otherwise, or relocate to someplace new.

          As far a the greedy ghost being the entrepreneur, if they reorganizing public entities in order to assuage financial greed, then yes, I guess they are.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            Erik called it groveling to take private money. I am very curious about the moral blind spot that makes it undignified to take private money, but uplifting to take private money that has been paid unwillingly as taxes.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki
              Ignored
              says:

              I think the point is that if we agree that something is of primary importance to the “community,” like, for instance, a certain quality of library resources, than to have that entity beg from a private one is groveling in the sense that they are at the mercy of often non personal, profit maximizing forces.

              I don’t think the taking of private money is undignified, so much as the dependence on an unreliable “greedy ghost.”
              Can taxes be paid unwillingly? It’s an interesting question raises deep metaphysical issues.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                I think the point is that if we agree that something is of primary importance to the “community,” like, for instance, a certain quality of library resources, than to have that entity beg from a private one is groveling in the sense that they are at the mercy of often non personal, profit maximizing forces.

                I sort of thought the point of private charity was not to make a profit, but rather to be well rid of excess profit.

                But if it’s been a profit once, it’s tainted forever, I guess. Until the touch of the taxman cleanses it.

                I don’t think the taking of private money is undignified, so much as the dependence on an unreliable “greedy ghost.”

                And I don’t find the government all that noble either. Doesn’t that make us even? It should, pending further analysis.

                Can taxes be paid unwillingly? It’s an interesting question raises deep metaphysical issues.

                Of course taxes can be paid unwillingly. If some declare — and they do — that they pay their taxes willingly, who am I to disbelieve? Such folk could never exist if paying one’s taxes were the result of mere determinism.

                I presume these people are not speaking nonsense, so I infer — as a possibility alone, I stress — that someone, somewhere, might be capable of paying without the same willingness that they have.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                To say that I willingly do something is not to give evidence that it could be done unwillingly.

                Unless by “unwillingly” you mean, I did so because of the consequences of not doing so, even though I would prefer the consequences be such that I would be able to just not do so all together.

                Example: Pay your taxes or be executed. If you pay your taxes in this circumstance, do you do so willingly? Meaning that it was a willed act? For instance, if you choose death, did you willfully choose death? Or did you unwillingly do so?

                I just meant to offer that “will” is a loaded term that is complex and has troubled many thinkers.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            “If you don’t like what uses are put to the general fund, one may mount a campaign to convince people otherwise”

            Exactly. Are you with us?Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to MFarmer
              Ignored
              says:

              Not in that campaign, but Jason seemed to be questioning the legitimacy of the community setting tax rates and collecting revenue. Unless your campaign is to abolish that from the community’s repertoire of powers.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki
          Ignored
          says:

          I said it was groveling to depend on one major donor or foundation or at least that is what I meant.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
          Ignored
          says:

          What do you suppose the “greedy ghost” is here, if not the entrepreneur?

          The professional “taxation is theft” libertarian, of course.Report

  12. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Yes, rich philanthropists have funded libraries. Yes, the Gates foundation funds them now as well. This does not mean that publicly funded libraries are any less necessary. I would rather depend on the tax revenues of a democratic society than on the beneficence of a wealthy foundation which can unilaterally change its mind at any time and cut off funds for any reason. I would rather fight it out in the townhalls and ballot boxes of America than grovel for grant money (though there’s no reason we can’t do both).

    Nor is this some indictment of capitalism, per se. It’s an indictment of the sort of capitalism that believes that the government simply runs out of money all on its own and therefore, hey we should cut funding to libraries and schools and poor people! It’s out of money! (But let’s not mention that we fought tooth and nail against even the whisper of increased taxes!) Capitalism doesn’t somehow magically cease to exist once redistribution enters the picture either. That’s just a strawman. Rich men like Carnegie would still have been rich with more redistribution and better conditions for workers. Maybe not as rich, sure, but maybe that would have been better to begin with. Not because we necessarily want Carnegie worse off, but because if he’d paid his workers better they would have been able to fund their own libraries and wouldn’t have needed the Carnegie libraries to begin with.
     
    And, while we’re at it, at some point that capitalistic Carnegie foundation must have realized that the libraries weren’t exactly profitable ventures and would be better off in public hands. Or wait, does that make it a socialistic foundation instead?Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to E.D. Kain
      Ignored
      says:

      This is where I think the right has put themselves. I include libertarians in this sadly.

      In their attempt to lock their opposition out of the public conversation by yelling socialism/communism/tyranny at the drop of a hat they have locked themselves out of the realm of understanding their opponents.

      A self-constructed-cage.Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to ThatPirateGuy
        Ignored
        says:

        James Joyner also makes the point.

        “Similarly, the psychotic rantings of Glenn Beck invite ridicule on the rest of us. Legitimate points are inevitably countered by comparisons with absurd variants by Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh, and others who make a living stoking the fears of the base. This is, at best, a distraction from the debate and, often, makes intelligent discussion of the issues next to impossible because they’ve been preemptively framed by the loudest, most shrill, most hyperbolic voices.”

        http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/cocktail-party-fallacy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+OTB+%28Outside+The+Beltway+|+OTB%29Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ThatPirateGuy
        Ignored
        says:

        No plan survives contact with the enemy and no -ism survives contact with reality. The Libertarians and Bearded Prophet Types of the Right who warn us of the dangers of Communism and other Whores of Socialist Babylon aren’t entirely wrong: even a blind pig will find an acorn from time to time. Too often, these Level Playing Field schemes end up with the shortages divided among the peasants.

        I am old enough to remember the confiscatory tax regimes of the Carter era. They were dark times, and morale was very low. Taxes were simply too high and so were interest rates. It was about this time when offshore banking reached its zenith: money was moving all right, away from the USA. Wages stagnated and they have yet to recover in real terms.

        Liberal that I am, I still believe Liberal derives from Liberty and that means personal autonomy. Redistribution via taxation is not always the wisest route: the money passes through too many hands on its way to any practical effect on society. We have created a society dependent on credit and removed incentives to savings and investment. High capital gains taxes mainly hurt the elderly who have saved and invested: the truly rich aren’t much affected. They can endow a hospital wing or a museum.

        Redistribution is a worthy goal, in some respects, but in practice, it has served as a serious obstacle to wealth creation for those who most need it, the middle class.

        Beyond a certain point, riches fail to gratify and even the most hardened old chiseler will endow a university or two: it’s the last, greatest pleasure in life, to give.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP
          Ignored
          says:

          Redistribution and wealth generation are both important and a balance must be struck. Nobody wants Carter era rates or wage freezes or any of that. But we are a long ways from Carter era taxation.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain
            Ignored
            says:

            Unfortunately, Capitalism does somehow and entirely un-magically cease to exist once redistribution enters the picture. You may not have it both ways. Nobody in the history of the world has ever gotten rich on a weekly paycheck: wealth is earned by sound investments over time. The rising tide that lifts all boats will lift an ore freighter just as much as a canoe.

            For the poor to emerge from poverty, it seems the wealthy must become even wealthier. Really, it’s not that hard to grasp: remove the obstacles to wealth creation and even the poor man will act in his own best interests. All this class warfare talk is so much prattle: the already-rich have the means to employ battalions of tax attorneys to protect themselves. In our redistributive zeal, we are stepping on those we most want to help, the folks who can’t afford those attorneys.

            Yes, we have instruments like 401(k) and Roth IRAs, for those who make enough money to wrap around the month. The problem is, this idiotic society simply will not face facts: we borrow where we ought to save and invest. How that problem may be corrected I leave as an exercise to the reader, but it will not involve raising capital gains taxes.Report

            • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to BlaiseP
              Ignored
              says:

              Amazingly the last few years have shown us that a falling tide will small boats whilst rising big boats.

              Other countries have less inequality and less poverty.

              I’m not against wealth concentration. I’m against poverty distribution.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ThatPirateGuy
                Ignored
                says:

                Depends on your viewpoint. Ever seen the city of Mumbai? Or Rio de Janeiro? Or Mexico City? Staggering wealth alongside grinding poverty, the like of which there is none in the USA.

                I’m against poverty, period. But we will not lift the poor from poverty by condescending to them with li’l Gummint Handouts.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m talking about the Canada’s, England’s, and Scandanavian countries.

                It is even harder to come out of poverty when dead or maimed due to inadequate health care condescension or no.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ThatPirateGuy
                Ignored
                says:

                Just so. Societies don’t just happen. When common sense triumphs over all the -isms, the Libertarian sees the wisdom of having a fire department to call when his own house catches fire and the Conservative fears the mob enough to ensure their children of the poor do not die of measles.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy
                Ignored
                says:

                “Real” countries?Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Sadly the other countries are real. Full of real people with real problems who deserve better than they are getting.

                They just don’t happen to be the ones I was refering to an example of well-run with higher than our countries taxes. Because the are not well run.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP
              Ignored
              says:

              BlaiseP:

              Unfortunately, Capitalism does somehow and entirely un-magically cease to exist once redistribution enters the picture. You may not have it both ways. Nobody in the history of the world has ever gotten rich on a weekly paycheck: wealth is earned by sound investments over time. The rising tide that lifts all boats will lift an ore freighter just as much as a canoe.

              This strikes me as a fairly bizarre thing for a liberal to say. I guess it’s also hard for me to believe given the number of redistributive economies in the world including our own which still somehow manage to generate wealth via capitalist enterprise. We are all still able to invest in 401k plans despite the cut we send to Uncle Sam. The government redistributes our wealth into various programs, schools, food stamps, etc. and we’re all still plugging along. I believe the best welfare for anyone is a job, so I’m fully on board with the pro-growth team. Let’s grow and prosper and get people jobs. I think we can do that and have a redistributive state that pays for silly things like libraries and public schools.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain
                Ignored
                says:

                Less than half of working Americans have any money saved for retirement. The fraction has gotten worse: people have taken to raiding their 401k plans.

                It may seem tendentious and simplistic, yet I cannot make the point strongly enough: our workers are not saving nor are they investing. Growing and prospering are interesting verbs: both imply gains of some sort, starting with little and increasing to more. America and its citizens have become profligate debtors. The sum of credit card debt is truly astounding.

                How are these not Liberal principles? If a society is to benefit from Liberal virtues and FDR’s Four Freedoms, surely among these are Freedom from Want. In an era where the rights of the working man are ever more abrogated, the trade unions in headlong retreat, we have instead been granted the Conservative Right to Work, the nastiest bit of Newspeak imaginable. If Liberals are to stand up for the working man, a position they haven’t taken for a long time, they will start enumerating some of the cardinal Liberal virtues again.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                “If a society is to benefit from Liberal virtues and FDR’s Four Freedoms, surely among these are Freedom from Want.”

                Well, I want quite a bit. I want a BMW and a good job and a big house and four kids with free doctors and free education through college. Should I be free from those Wants?

                Or is “Freedom From Want” a fancy-sounding term for “don’t let people starve in the street”?Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                In order for someone to borrow, someone else must be saving, so where is all that credit card debt coming from? No, its not the Chinese or any other group of foreigners – US debt is overwhelming owned by US financial institutions and households. Younger people typically have lots of debt, older people typically have more savings, so the averages don’t tell you very much.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                If ever there was someone who ought to be driving a BMW home from a fine job, rolling up into the driveway of a six bedroom house, a more deserving soul cannot be found than you, DensityDuck.

                There was once a day when the rich feared the poor. Hie thee to Guatemala, pay a visit to my home in Guat City. It’s surrounded by a three meter wall, topped with shards of broken glass and electrified razor wire. The lovely turret rising from the center of the house with its crenellations is actually a firing platform with fields of fire cleared all around the property. While I lived there, my children had bodyguards and carried pistols: kidnapping is a highly profitable enterprise in those parts.

                Thus is life in a society at the terminus of unbridled capitalism. Everyone is employed: there is no safety net. Life is very cheap, though imported goods cost about the same.

                Today’s Banana Republicans, so intent on this Right to Work business should see how things turn out when their rules are actually applied. As goes it with the working man, so goes it with the rich. If you don’t want to live behind razor wire or have your children’s fingers delivered with ransom notes, give a thought to those crazy liberals and their demands for Freedom from Want.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                What was the point of that?

                I’m still not really sure what you mean by “Freedom From Want”. Like I said, men have many wants; at what point should they no longer be free of them?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                In the calculus of Freedom from Want, a point is just an infinitesimal, but I can give you a few functions. Start from the bottom. Take any society, show me how it treats:

                1. Prisoners
                2. The mentally ill
                3. Women
                4. The elderly
                5. Children
                6. Strangers
                7. Dissidents

                Those are your yardsticks for any culture. Show me how that culture supports its most disadvantaged. Or conversely, explain why that society won’t support them.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                so…what’s your definition, then? You clearly have one in mind. Why not just tell me what you mean and stop this dancing around?Report

    • Avatar 62across in reply to E.D. Kain
      Ignored
      says:

      E.D. –

      You say – “I would rather fight it out in the townhalls and ballot boxes of America than grovel for grant money (though there’s no reason we can’t do both).”

      I think the reality is that doing both is a requirement. The need is great enough to engage both public and private.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to E.D. Kain
      Ignored
      says:

      E.D.

      “It’s an indictment of the sort of capitalism that believes that the government simply runs out of money all on its own and therefore, hey we should cut funding to libraries and schools and poor people! It’s out of money! (But let’s not mention that we fought tooth and nail against even the whisper of increased taxes!) ”

      Last time I checked, there is not an unlimited pot of money for the gov’t to provide everything thing some liberals think it should provide at all times. Would your answer always be to raise taxes?Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Scott
        Ignored
        says:

        You went from some things being worth raising taxes for (i.e. roads, schools, etc.) to the straw man of “would your answer always been to raise taxes?”

        I’m fairly certain no one is asserting that position, but if you wish to joust with windmills than go ahead.

        There are some things that are worth sacrificing in order to sustain. What those things are and how much to sacrifice is up for debate. But just as the position that one should always raise taxes to fix a shortfall is preposterous, so to is the idea that every shortfall is a sign of government over reach.Report

        • Avatar Scott in reply to E.C. Gach
          Ignored
          says:

          E.C.

          Have you seen the recent figures from the fed gov and various states about their budget deficits? Clearly we can’t afford what we’ve been spending so it seems that cuts are certainly in order. The US corporate tax rate is 35%, among the highest in the world. How much higher do you think it should go?Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Scott
            Ignored
            says:

            As high as need be if it means maintaining schools/libraries.

            Corps exist to serve the public good. Not the other way around.Report

            • Avatar Scott in reply to E.C. Gach
              Ignored
              says:

              E.C.

              “Corps exist to serve the public good.”

              According to whom, the socialists? Maybe that was why Obama was telling the CoC yesterday that corp profits must be shared by American workers. No wonder they didn’t applaud for his socialist drivel. I guess he forgot that shareholders get the profits and pay too much in taxes on them.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Scott
                Ignored
                says:

                According historically to the granting of corporate charters. You think limited liability is a right? It’s a privilege.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                E.C.

                Limited liability is an important (but not universal) feature of a corporation. Yes, limited liability is a privilege but that doesn’t mean that the purpose of a corp is to serve the public good (whatever that is anyway) as you claim.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                If a corporation did not serve the public good, and in fact, dis-served it, why would any popularly elected government want to grant a corporate charter?

                I always thought when those on the right (I am not including you in this) spoke about free markets, it was generally argued that free markets were good because they were good for the public.

                Whoever says that corporations left to their own devices will wreak havoc, but that we should do it anyway? I thought most (though not all) arguments in favor of free markets generally were built on the idea that a free market could serve the public (as well as individuals) better than any other market set up could.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott
            Ignored
            says:

            This rather depends on the corporation. As a sole proprietor, I avoid loads of taxation through perfectly legal means, including charitable deductions. Of course, preparing my tax returns (I worked in six states last year) involves some serious coin.

            Riddle me this: why are so many corporations registered in Delaware?Report

  13. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
    Ignored
    says:

    There are some serious empirical questions going unanswered here, as well as some troubling assumptions about values.

    On the empirical side: How much private funding is given to libraries per year? And how much public? I don’t actually know how they compare, and I couldn’t find either one immediately. It may be precipitous to assume that libraries can’t survive without tax dollars. Or it may be precipitous to assume that they can.

    As for the values: Why is it groveling when someone starts or sustains a nonprofit venture privately? Why is it not groveling when a nonprofit venture must go to the state for its resources? What makes the state so pure here? The grant writing process isn’t all that different. If you’re going to call it groveling, it’s groveling either way, is it not?Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      There is something beneath the insistence on statism and the failure to envision a private sector which provides public goods voluntarily. I’m not sure what it is, but it appears to be emotional rather than rational. Even moderate proposals to move toward free market solutions call forth derision and hysterical warnings of capitalist greed, loss of culture, neglect of the poor, starving children, forgotten elders and crass materialism. This emotional reaction is irrational on the face of it, so I suppose it’s a matter of ignorance — no one can any longer imagine a free market, since we have no experience of it in a true state of existence, and decades of statist rhetoric has perverted social imagination and creativity — State security and State paternalism has made the public fearful even of itself. Obama’s speech to the CoC was supposed to be a market-friendly speech, but it was really just another appeal for State/Corporate partnership, a continuation of State economic and social management — this is the true conservatism of our age. Nuance, balance and pragmatism — the code words of statism. Free market code words – charity, moral choice, creativity, dynamism and innovation.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
        Ignored
        says:

        State security and State paternalism have madeReport

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
        Ignored
        says:

        > There is something beneath the insistence on statism
        > and the failure to envision a private sector which
        > provides public goods voluntarily.

        There is?

        > I’m not sure what it is, but it appears to be emotional
        > rather than rational.

        I dunno, dude, it seems to me that in the annals of the Earth, we have lots and lots of case studies of “the state” providing public goods (albeit, to be fair in your sides’ defense, often inefficiently or badly). On the other hand, we have very few case studies of private organizations providing public goods (at least for very long), without serious organizational problems. Either the private organization’s effort scales outside of its capabilities, and they transfer functionality to the state, or the private organization’s greater mission begins to conflict with the specific service.

        For example, I actually give a great amount of credit to the Catholic church for its work in health services and education. However, it does not do a good job of separating either of those two missions from its religious motivations. If the Catholic church ran all the schools and all the hospitals, they’d also be setting all of the agendas for both of those public services.

        I think that’s a pretty bad idea, and I’m hugely unconvinced that another private market actor would choose to compete in providing that public good; or if they did, if the resulting competition would result in an equitable level of access to public goods unfettered by organizational motivations.

        Now, I’m the first to admit that this is neither an indictment nor an endorsement of either approach, universally. It’s just an observation.

        > Even moderate proposals to move toward free
        > market solutions call forth derision and hysterical
        > warnings of capitalist greed, loss of culture,
        > neglect of the poor, starving children, forgotten
        > elders and crass materialism.

        This is not unfair. On the flip side, however, I don’t normally see moderate proposals to move towards free market solutions that actually explain, in any detail, how their free market solution is going to leverage the profit motive to produce the outcomes you’re presumably looking for in providing a particular social good. “Privatize it and the market will fix it” seems more common than, “See, if we create a market for services like *this*, then market forces will result in *that*, and that’s as good if not better than the alternative”.

        There are, of course, counter-examples. Here’s one:

        In the state of California, highway rest stops are funded by the State. Assume for the nonce that having a clean place to stop and take a crap or a 30 minute nap to prevent driving while passing out from fatigue are established as something we want.

        However, in California, we lose funding for those places, and they are closed or cleaned infrequently, and thus don’t serve their purpose well.

        Utah has a number of private/public partnerships which leverage private actors to provide something of a market solution to this problem. For-profit organizations run the rest stop, and get to market and sell their goods. So the public good (the rest stop) is provided, a private actor is leveraged, and we actually get lots of bonus in that the private actor is present and maintaining the place better than the public entity would be, just due to manpower present on the scene.

        Does the Utah system work better? I don’t honestly know. I know that the bathrooms in the P/P rest stops in Utah are typically cleaner and better-maintained than their public-service California counterparts. Do those private entities pay an equitable cost for their partnerships’ embedded business opportunities? Do they gain an unfair advantage over competitors? What is the cost of auditing compliance with standards? How much effort is taken to prevent government capture in these cases?

        There might be answers to all these questions, but if we’re actually going to *know* (as opposed to guess) if this works, somebody has to be able to answer these questions.

        And usually, they’re not answered when people bring up private actor solutions to public goods problems.

        In my case, at least, my skepticism is empirical. Show me data that supports your proposed solution, and I can get on board with it. Tell me that it’s just going to work, and I’m going to be unconvinced.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pat Cahalan
          Ignored
          says:

          I’ll work on it after I get my desk cleaned off.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan
          Ignored
          says:

          “For example, I actually give a great amount of credit to the Catholic church for its work in health services and education. However, it does not do a good job of separating either of those two missions from its religious motivations. ”

          You’re begging the question of whether this is actually a problem.

          ““Privatize it and the market will fix it” seems more common than, “See, if we create a market for services like *this*, then market forces will result in *that*, and that’s as good if not better than the alternative”. ”

          That’s probably because “Privatize and the market will fix it” is easier and quicker to say than “here is a twelve-page plan outlining exactly how we will encourage private profit-seeking entities to best provide a service that benefits the public”. I very much doubt that, except for the anarcho-libertarians, they actually mean “shut down the Parks And Rec bureau today and everything will be fine tomorrow”.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            > You’re begging the question of whether this is
            > actually a problem.

            Whether what is actually a problem? The conflation of mission? I confess, I didn’t think this was “begging the question”, I assume that everyone would acknowledge that there have been historical problems here. You don’t?

            Do I need to point out specific incidents where the mission of the Church and its organizational rules conflicted with the best interests of the public they were serving?

            > I very much doubt that, except for the anarcho-
            > libertarians, they actually mean “shut down the
            > Parks And Rec bureau today and everything will
            > be fine tomorrow”.

            Probably not. However (at least in public discourse) I see a remarkable lack of what they actually *do* mean.

            In fact, many pro-market folks will turn around and ridicule public solutions for being full of bureaucracy and red tape and inefficiency while simultaneously not holding their own plans up for similar scrutiny.

            Again, this is not universal. There are people out there who write good pro-market solutions to particular problems. However, I have also noticed that many of the people who do write good pro-market solutions to particular problems also turn around and write opinion pieces criticizing public solutions to particular problems based upon their own ideological stance, and not a different solution based upon their ideological stance.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan
              Ignored
              says:

              “Whether what is actually a problem? The conflation of mission? I confess, I didn’t think this was “begging the question”, I assume that everyone would acknowledge that there have been historical problems here. You don’t?”

              Shouldn’t it be obvious that I don’t? If you feel that Catholic missions are proselytizing and that this is bad, then start your own mission. Or, as is the fashion these days, insist that if an organization gets one thin dime of government money, then it needs to abide by every moral standard the government espouses–and that tax breaks and fee waivers count as money.

              “[M]any pro-market folks will turn around and ridicule public solutions for being full of bureaucracy and red tape and inefficiency while simultaneously not holding their own plans up for similar scrutiny.”

              Is this a failure of the idea of private providers of public service? Or is this a specific failure of a specific person or plan?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                > If you feel that Catholic missions are
                > proselytizing and that this is bad, then
                > start your own mission.

                I don’t find this to be a substantive counter. There may be nothing necessarily wrong with proselytizing. However, this doesn’t mean that I should allow anyone preferred access to enable this activity.

                Let us presume for the moment that we decide to let an organization (of any sort) be a private provider of a public service. Even should we not provide direct assistance to this organization (in the form of tax breaks or whatnot), and even if that organization agrees to play according to the greater set of rules for service providers that may not apply to their own organization (they never seem to do this, but let’s say they do…) we are allowing that organization to build up a significant network effect. That network effect can be used both to further the specific goals of the public service that the organization is tasked as providing, and it can be used to further the specific goals of the organization, which are not part of the public service.

                I take it as a given that there will be times when the goals of the organization will run counter (or, at the least, non-parallel) to the goals of the greater society (trivial proof: if they didn’t, the organization would *be* the society.) When this happens, what do you propose is the audit and oversight mechanism?

                If your only answer is, “Well, then correct this by forming your own organization”, that’s unlikely to gain my support as a proposed corrective measure. I don’t proselytize myself. I have no desire to do so. I have no major objection to organizations doing so, when they are not granted special access. I have no desire to enable potential special access, unless there is a corrective mechanism in place to prevent one from overlapping the other.

                Put another way…

                There are soup kitchens that require you to listen to a preacher in order to get your food. I find this to be personally disgusting, but I’m certainly not going to prevent someone from forming their own soup kitchen with this as the default rule, nor am I going to infringe upon someone’s willingness to go acquire food there vs. elsewhere.

                However, I can state that I think it would be a bad idea if *every* soup kitchen required you to listen to a preacher before you got your free meal (even if they were all different preachers preaching different things).

                Further however: just because the I think that scenario is potentially bad doesn’t mean I would argue that *no* soup kitchen should be allowed to have that requirement.

                Further further however: I can think this is a bad potential outcome without taking steps to *prevent* it. That doesn’t mean that I think it’s a good idea to take steps that will *encourage* it, either.

                You may have another; I’m certainly willing to listen to alternatives.

                “Is this a failure of the idea of private providers of public service? Or is this a specific failure of a specific person or plan?”

                That’s a fair question, I readily confess I haven’t been keeping track so it would be difficult to make an even close to authoritative statement.

                Generally, I am under the impression that this is more common than not; I welcome information to the contrary.

                I don’t see very many think tankers of any political stripe, for example, authoring and publishing studies that happen to come to the conclusion that in a particular case their default policy approach is incorrect.

                I find lots of confirmatory studies of their own theories, and a lot of theory-based refutation of the other sides’ theories.

                Similarly, their opponents will produce studies that support their own theories, and publish a lot of theory papers that refute the other sides’ theories.

                This seems remarkable, to me.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                So an organization that supports a viewpoint should not be permitted to provide a public service?

                Congratulations, you’ve successfully argued that no non-government entity can be allowed to provide a public service, as it can always be argued that a private entity is “supporting a viewpoint”, even if that viewpoint is “eat at Joe’s”. Because if Joe’s is allowed to put their logo on the food containers or the servers’ uniforms, then isn’t that a form of advertising?

                And when you say “oh, well Joe’s can provide food containers with no logo and tell their servers to wear plain white clothes”, then I ask “how is that functionally different from having civil servants doing it?”Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                > So an organization that supports a
                > viewpoint should not be permitted
                > to provide a public service?

                That’s not what I said. (side note: your reducto is a little silly, as you can even take it one step further and claim that nobody can provide public service, since every individual will only support a subset of the State’s agenda, and not all of it).

                Case in point: the Catholic church and its support of traditional marriage. In some areas, this has led the Church, which is providing public services to some municipalities, to argue that they are *unable* to grant *legal* (never mind spiritual) recognition of relationships that are recognized by the State but not by the Church (amusingly, in other areas, this has led different leaders in the Church to grant legal recognition of relationships without providing any spiritual recognition, just fine).

                You don’t get to provide public service any more in the first case (but you do in the second).Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to MFarmer
        Ignored
        says:

        Yea they are an expensive gig to run.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_library#Funding_problems

      It appears the funding is mostly public, which is a problem when local and state governments are as cash-strapped as they are now.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Chris:

        So what is the solution? Is the only solution to always raise taxes? Or do we learn to live within our means as we can’t afford everything we want all the time. Is there another answer other than corporations are evil, tax them more?Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Scott
          Ignored
          says:

          If it’s decided that libraries are important, and an integral part of a free society where opportunity is made available to all, then it seems like raising taxes or cutting somewhere else is the only way.

          What exactly does living within our means mean? I think we would probably both have very different ideas of what our means our.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            What exactly does living within our means mean?

            To me, it means not spending more than you take in unless there is an emergency. The US gov’t debt is around 1.5 trillion which is not living within ones means. The implication of a debt that large are much worse than closing the branch of your local library. The fed gov (and states) doesn’t have unlimited funds for every feel good project folks think it should pay for and frankly, I don’t see large scale support for tax increases that some liberals seems to want.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Scott
              Ignored
              says:

              Scott, I believe the figure you gave is one projection for the deficit this year. If that projection is anything close to accurate, the debt will be close to ten times that amount.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott
              Ignored
              says:

              There’s a cognitive dissonance here, when it comes to what Liberals actually want. The era of LBJ trying to legislate poverty out of existence is dead and buried: the death knell of that movement was the implosion of the Pruitt-Igoe projects.

              This Feel-Good Project business is an equal-opportunity bipartisan movement. Without resorting to Tu-Quoque, it’s fair to say every Congresscritter’s fundamental job is to bring home the bacon. One man’s bacon is another man’s pork, and the Red States receive more federal dollars than they put into the pot. I don’t begrudge the Red States their share of the loot, they are poorer. But our current deficits are as much the product of two futile and never-ending wars waged on the basis of a pack of lies and continued on the basis of a Whole Lotta Happy Talk as they are on anyone’s feel-good project back in the States.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Scott
              Ignored
              says:

              “To me, it means not spending more than you take in unless there is an emergency.”

              What qualifies as an emergency?

              “The fed gov (and states) doesn’t have unlimited funds for every feel good project folks think it should pay for and frankly, I don’t see large scale support for tax increases that some liberals seems to want.”

              The argument here isn’t about funding every feel good project, it’s about libraries. Libraries are not very expensive, and they rely mostly on state and local funding. So the federal budget is irrelevant here.

              Whether or not people are willing to be taxed for it is entirely the point. I’m claiming that they should agree to higher taxes. Or if not, offer a way that private entities can fund them, even in conjunction with individual pledges, like public broadcasting.Report

  14. Avatar trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    There is a fair bit to pick apart here.

    I’m not sure that libraries are the best example because I think that there is a real argument that they have lost a lot of their utility over the years. So I’ll focus on things I am more concerned about: public transportation (buses, not trains), public education, and so on.

    I think these things should be free. I don’t even think that there should be (intracity) bus fare. I think public education should be free. But I cannot for the life of me imagine why I am supposed to get upset at the notion that somebody, somewhere may be making a profit providing these services on contract rather than the local and state governments.

    Yet I read words like Pullman and I feel like it is self-evident to him that we should be horrified that there might be money to be made (beyond that of the salaries that public employees draw). I disagree with the notion of some libertarians and conservatives that government operations (except police and military in the latter case) are never, ever to be trusted… but I also disagree with the notion that private industry (in this case, services provided to people on behalf of the city or state) is inherently nefarious.

    I’d trust my children’s education to a for-profit entity that I can pull my kid out of more than I’d trust it to a publicly provided entity that I cannot. Yet some people look at me like an alien when I say that.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to trumwill
      Ignored
      says:

      Yeah, I agree that’s strange. It’s like some people haven’t let go of the aristocratic disdain for the mercantile class.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to trumwill
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s not just that there’s a horror that money might be made. It’s a horror that all the things in our society will be replaced with things that make money. Nobody is railing against the book store. But a book store will only sell books that sell, whereas a library will keep books that are old, unused, forgotten. This isn’t to say that there’s something nefarious about it – it’s just the different nature of these things.Report

  15. Avatar E.C. Gach
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m surprised there aren’t more private libraries. Are they out there and I just can’t find them?Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to E.C. Gach
      Ignored
      says:

      Public libraries tend to have a lot of private funding, so its probably hard to tell the difference.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
      Ignored
      says:

      I meant private in that they require a paid membership. There is a huge disparity between those always at the library and those never there, and I can appreciate that I read off the largess of unknowing/uncaring neighbors. At the same time, 90% of what is at the library I have no interest in really. The other 10% will keep my busy enough. Which makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be more fruitful for certain groups of readers to make their own libraries filled with less popular volumes they are more interested in.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to E.C. Gach
        Ignored
        says:

        University libraries, for one, are usually private and exceptional.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Christopher Carr
          Ignored
          says:

          For the most part, but I think it depends on the university administration that the librarians have to contend with.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Christopher Carr
          Ignored
          says:

          Indeed, and most of this gripe came to be after coming home from university and finding that no libraries out of the 30 some in my populace county had any Wittgenstein, Foucault, or even a copy of
          Plato’s Republic.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            A suggestion.

            Go to a used bookstore. Buy some philosophy books. Read them. Heck, scan them if you like. Then donate them to the library. I’m fairly sure they will accept. If you ever want your books back, you can probably check them out again.

            Why is it that the voluntary solution occurs to precisely no one?Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki
              Ignored
              says:

              That’s why I mentioned the forming of a private library, for just that purpose. Where I and others could pool our money to buy and share obscure titles. I was pretty much saying that I and others with erudite tastes should stop freeloading off of the general populace. Why should my neighbor have to pay taxes so I can enjoy some non practical philosophizing?

              If only I weren’t such a helpless child of the local government, made weak and lacking initiative as I rely on alienated bureaucracy to fix my problems.

              But to your advice, I don’t just frequent used bookstores, I work at one! And yes, that is how I get them. On a brighter note, the death of cover price big box stores might lead to just the kind of quasi private library we both seem to desire: more used bookstores.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki
              Ignored
              says:

              > Why is it that the voluntary solution occurs
              > to precisely no one?

              Well, bibliophiles and avid readers have a tendency to be overlapping populations. So the avid reader is often also the sort of cat who buys books because they like to keep and own books.

              Although you see some interesting emerging approaches to just this question, Jaybird. Check out BookCrossing.org

              I’ve released a batch into the wild 😉Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                I tried something similar (I think) with: http://bookmooch.com/

                Didn’t work out as well, as no one else really had books I wanted. But I’m always interested to see new ways of exchanging books, thanks for the tip.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                This isn’t an exchange, which is something I actually like about it.

                You don’t get a book for a book. (Although, if you’re into that, check out Goodreads, as they have sponsored local book exchanges all the time and those are cool too).

                Here, you’re trading your book for the possibility that you’ll get to vicariously enjoy other people’s enjoyment of the book.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki
              Ignored
              says:

              Most libraries send the contents of the “donation” box straight to Goodwill.

              Of course, this is because most library donation boxes wind up stuffed with mass-market hardcovers. People feel stupid throwing away a $30 book they only read once. So it goes to the library, because hey, libraries are all about books, right? So here’s a book for the library to have! Yay! No guilt! I’m not stupid!Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                And, as a nod to the bottom-uppers in these parts, libraries will also do this because

                (books donated by people) have a different utility than (money that lets me decide what additional books to add to my stacks), if I’m a head librarian.

                It would not surprise me in the least if a great number of decent books (which aren’t already on my library’s shelf) get sold off for pennies on the dollar so that I can buy (a nice gold enameled set of leather bound works of Shakespeare) that will sit in the nice display case just inside the library door.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                “It would not surprise me in the least if a great number of decent books (which aren’t already on my library’s shelf) get sold off for pennies on the dollar so that I can buy (a nice gold enameled set of leather bound works of Shakespeare) that will sit in the nice display case just inside the library door.”

                As much as I don’t like librarians (at least the ones at my libraries) I don’t see them doing that/haven’t.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                I have. It helps that I know a lot of librarians.

                Note: this isn’t, in any way, common behavior. However, I’ve noticed that the same characteristics that lead one into leadership positions anywhere lead one to leadership positions among librarians.

                And while the vast majority of librarians are a decent bunch of people who like books and reading, there’s always going to be some overlap with the leadership cadre and the type of butthead who wants an engraved plaque on the display case telling nobody how awesome they were when they were in charge.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                They do often spend money in ways I disagree with, which is why I hate paying fines. I’d rather volunteer my time or pay my fines by giving them a check that would be used only to purchase books x, y, and z.

                You might have gathered that I pay a lot in library fines.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                Get an e-Book reader, dude. The Gutenberg Project will save your life and set your mind free and end world hunger and stuff.Report

  16. Avatar 62across
    Ignored
    says:

    Or are they out there and you just can’t use them?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to 62across
      Ignored
      says:

      Haha true. Still, I could see myself getting $150 together for a year subscription to a private library, where we drafted materials and because it served a more select group, I knew the library would have exactly what I wanted, for the most part.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to E.C. Gach
        Ignored
        says:

        What’s the point of a library that only has books you already know that you want to read?Report

        • Avatar RTod in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          For starters, it allows on to be secure in the knowledge that their worldview is spot on.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          Mostly classics. At least at my library, it’s hard to get much philosophy. We have maybe two or three books of Plato’s work, and maybe one about it. Most lesser philosophers are left out. A lot of the older literature has been shifted to make way for the new. So this doesn’t have as much to do with me wanting the “right” books, as me wanting a library that has more of the “Western Canon” available.Report

  17. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Found this link on charitable giving in 2010 at the Daily Dish.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2283782/

    “For this year’s Slate 60, total giving came to $3.36 billion—a princely sum, but nevertheless less than in years past….”Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    The problem is glibraries.Report

  19. Avatar Rufus F.
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve read about half the comments here now, which I’m not entirely proud of, but hey I didn’t make it through Proust the first time I tried.

    Anyway, it’s hard not to sympathize with you on this E.D. since I’m in an industry that is gradually being weaned off the public teat and treated more like a private industry (I think our “public” university is down to somewhere between 20-30% state money in its coffers).

    I don’t mind treating a university like a business per se; I just wish the people doing so weren’t making the same dumb mistakes they’re making in the business world- loading up the payroll with overpaid consultants, shifting the real work onto temps, and following every idiotic trend that comes along with no view to long-term health. This is why schools like SUNY Albany can see themselves as “making the tough decisions” by getting rid of the classics and language departments while pumping money into the sports programs. But if the trend you’ve noted over your one or two years in the profession changes? Well, let me just note that, when I first entered academia, they were talking about getting rid of the Chinese language programs because nobody was going to want to study Chinese anymore, and especially not the business majors.

    Seriously, all I can think of is the American auto companies making nothing but SUVs because we all know that gas prices will never go up.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
      Ignored
      says:

      But, for the record, I blame all of this on dipshit MBAs and really have no idea what libertarians would make of it.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t speak for libertarians, but, personally, from my libertarian perspective, business practices aren’t as important as establishing a free market. If certain companies act stupidly, the market, if free, will punish them, and they will gradually learn, but when business failure is subsidized, no one learns except those getting the subsidies or bail-outs– they learn that their failures will be covered.Report

        • Avatar RTod in reply to MFarmer
          Ignored
          says:

          Except in the cases I think you’re referring to when you speak of bailouts, those that caused problems for many and lead large interests to fail were greatly rewarded for doing so.

          And in a less extreme way, most publicly traded companies are rewarded for making decisions that make themselves weak in the long run but look strong in the present; in fact, those in charge are even greatly rewarded for doing it fraudulently.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to MFarmer
          Ignored
          says:

          Mike, I see what you’re saying and I suppose this is changing the point because I think where people get confused is that the libertarian emphasis on the self-correcting market is quite different from the same idea as bandied about by middle managers who don’t actually know how to run their business. As I understand it, libertarians emphasize the free market over government regulation and, in this case, I agree. The government stepping in and deciding how Shakespeare will be taught in colleges is a recipe for disaster.

          This is different, however, from MBAs mouthing wishful thinking about the self-correcting market because they don’t know how to make business decisions. The market is great, but you still need to know how to run your business and, what we get in academia, are bureaucrats who talk all the time about the market and listening to the market, but who are confused about who our ‘customers’ are in the first place. To my mind, they’re the businesses who will hire our recent grads and the grads themselves are the product- if our graduates can’t write a report or get the meaning from a book they’ve read, we’ve let a defective product off the assembly line. To admins, our ‘customers’ are the students and flunking them out just because they can’t read would be a bad business practice. Or flunking them at all. Hey, a lot of them don’t like studying and we have to “listen to what our customers are telling us”. I hear things like this all the time.

          You see the problem here? I think people deal with middle management idiots spouting crap about “listening to the market”- because they don’t know what they’re doing- and in turn they associate that with “libertarianism”. I’m not doing that. But I think that’s where some of that hostility comes from.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
            Ignored
            says:

            Hmmm… I guess much of this is what Phillip Pullman was saying in that speech anyway.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Rufus F.
            Ignored
            says:

            Middle managers and their skills or knowledge are a different subject. I suppose they need better education. But, if they make stupid decisions in a free market, then they won’t last long or be very successful. I’m not concerned with individual managers or indiviual companies, but with the system. I’ve worked in enough companies to know that there are good middle managers and bad middle managers — good companies and bad companies — the market will straighten it all out if left to its on devices. and I couldn’t care less about a middle manager who preaches a free market but has little understanding of one– that’s his problem and the company for which he works. None of my business.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
              Ignored
              says:

              But, I will say this too — I understand the superficial understanding of free market principles, and it’s a shame that business schools don’t do a better job of teaching the principles — our whole society seems to be ignorant of these principles.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                With this I’ll agree. It’s certainly the case that a decent grounding in the mathematics of basic economics is sorely lacking.

                I never understood the leftie obsession with denigrating profit. I like me some filthy lucre.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Profit is by definition extra. Profit is always a fine line between too little and too much. How much is enough to invest and grow? How much is just feeding unhealthy impulses? Profit isn’t bad in and of itself, it’s what it is than allocated to that can have positive/negative consequences. Often it is not allocated from one thing to another, but from one person to another. Excessive profits usually correspond to at least somewhat impoverishment at the other end.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                This is the disjoin.

                Profit isn’t “extra”. Profit is the purpose. That’s what you’re trying to *get*. Not the other thing.

                Generally, my worry isn’t with “excessive profits”. If it was, I’d be burning Steve Jobs in effigy, since his entire business model is selling “an experience”, not a product, and the markup for what he actually provides is criminal.

                I’m *only* worried about externalizing costs. If someone wants to buy Steve’s line of baloney, more power to them (and him). I just don’t want businesses to be able to amortize the cost of their doing business on everybody else.

                Don’t blame the profit motive. Blame the cost-shifting. More often than not, that’s the real woe.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Someone could invent a cure for cancer and charge tons. Their profits would far out weight their costs, i.e. huge margin.

                And this would not be a bad thing?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                What’s the utility for the cure?

                (Note: we’re now getting into Intellectual Property laws and I have serious crippling hangups in this area that make me froth at the mouth, so this is probably a bad hypothetical)

                Ground clearance for the sake of that aside: let’s say, for the sake of this hypothetical, that I’m doing this all on my own, that all of the costs are internalized, that I don’t use any research or any other products and that this is literally entirely my creation. I re-invent everything from scratch that is required to make my cure work.

                Are we judging “fair profit” on how much it costs to produce the thing, or how much it saves society to *have* the thing?

                If I can produce a cure for cancer, and the increase in productivity for all the people who are saved from cancer is a trillion dollars, how much of that do I deserve? I just saved the world economy a trillion dollars!

                If it cost me $0.10 to do it or a hundred million, does this matter? If so, why?

                Why is the only metric we are using to determine “fair” the *cost to me*, as opposed to the *benefit to everybody else*?

                (Not that we should necessarily use only the other metric).Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                I think I agree with you. Both metrics are important, utility as much as cost (and perhaps even some others that we aren’t mentioning).

                It just seems that cost is only brought up to show that something should be MORE expensive than it is, “See how expensive it was to make!” rather than, “see how cheap it was!”

                Assuming no competition, at least for a while due to copyright/patent, making a million off of a .10 cure would be fine, if that money was available for all those who could use the cure. But would the creator make it cheaper, say so it was affordable to the median income of cancer patients. They’d still make a bundle.

                Or what is more likely, the government would pay the outrageous prices and distribute it to the poor on behalf.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                > Or what is more likely, the government
                > would pay the outrageous prices and
                > distribute it to the poor on behalf.

                Ah, but isn’t that actually, in many ways, most equitable?

                I mean, if I save the world economy a trillion dollars, doesn’t it make more sense (on a scale perspective) for the world economy (proxied through governments) to pay me for the largess than for individuals?

                I’m just being argumentative, admittedly.

                “Cost”, “Worth”, etc. are all fuzzily defined. I don’t think trying to establish maximal definitions is useful due to generalizability problems (see the Categorical thread for more).

                Instead, I think it’s more useful to argue cases for matters like this.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s true. Any talk of fairness/just compensation, etc. is admittedly fuzzy and difficult.

                For instance, a lot of it seems predicated on having done certain things oneself. If the eureka moment was just lucky firing of neurons, how much are you owed?

                But we should probably leave that for another time.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                It isn’t a problem if the cancer cure guy becomes filthy filthy rich. That is a great incentive.

                It is a problem if we use the high prices he wants to charge as a reason to not cure people.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
              Ignored
              says:

              > Middle managers and their skills or knowledge
              > are a different subject. I suppose they need
              > better education.

              Interestingly, I’ve been reading a lot of organizational science (what people used to call management) and I’m struck by two things:

              1. Most of this stuff is not rocket science
              2. Most of the people who actually read this stuff and graduated with a Masters degree in Business Administration… then went out into the workplace and started doing exactly the opposite of what they had been taught.

              I don’t know that it’s a failure of education. I think it’s just the sad fact that we need a lot of middle managers, and there just aren’t that many people who are good at the job.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to MFarmer
              Ignored
              says:

              Mike, how exactly is the market going to correct this problem? What I’m talking about is an overall decline in academic standards- how in the world is the market supposed to straighten that out? Are the graduates going to come back and complain: “Hey! I’m not as smart as you people say I am!” Will 19 year olds en masse start boycotting universities that don’t assign them enough homework? So far, loosening academic rigor hasn’t resulted in lower enrollments anywhere that I know of. In fact, much the opposite. So I’m confused about the mechanism by which this is going to happen.

              Seriously, the market can’t straighten out every flaw in every human institution. I’m starting to think that libertarians are these guys who fall off the roof, break their arm, and then won’t let their wife take them to the hospital because, eventually, the market will fix it.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                Gonna have to come to the defense of the market, here.

                How is the market supposed to correct this problem? Maybe it’s not a “problem”?

                Maybe what the market is trying to tell us is that most people are just this side of the borderline of fishing incompetent at management and that’s what the workforce is going to look like, in perpetuity, unless and until natural selection forces a bit more pressure on the “get better at management or don’t reproduce” lever for the species.

                I don’t know that this is education’s problem to solve. I don’t know that this is the market’s problem to solve. I think it’s all wonked expectation.

                Guess what? Nearly nobody is Richard Feynman. Nearly nobody is Bill Gates. Nearly nobody is as funny as Jon Stewart. And of those three guys, I don’t know that any of them would make a particularly good middle manager.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Ah, sorry- what I wrote was confusing in light of the gripe about management- the problem I’m talking about is declining academic standards in higher education overall- across the board. I don’t mean declining standards in business and management education. What I mean is that the standards of university education are in an overall decline and it’s a problem that I don’t think the market (students) can correct, nor should it be expected to. I blame the middle management in academia because they expect the market to somehow fix the problem, and I think that they have thus dodged their responsibilities, but again that’s because I think it’s pretty silly to expect the market to maintain academic rigor.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                > What I mean is that the standards of
                > university education are in an overall
                > decline

                Yes. Why?

                Because it’s generally the case that it is regarded as necessary to have a bachelor’s degree in order to be hired, by both the general populace who wants to get jobs, and the first level screeners who run a pile of resumes through the magic “B.S. or B.A.” sifting machine before handing the pile up the line.

                So the students are more or less forced to buy a product they generally don’t actually want, and that doesn’t usually work out well.

                Hey, this is germane to that other topic we’re all blathering about!

                Generally, good teachers are those who make the student *want* to consume the product they’re actually delivering. This removes the disjoin (more or less).Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Pat, I’m a pretty great teacher. That’s beside the point anyway. I don’t have a problem with the students who don’t want to be there. Yes, I try to inspire them and, for the most part, I’m successful.

                But this is all beside the point. There have always been students who don’t want to be there and professors who don’t want to be there either. And, yes, both have a negative effect. But what really drives down academic standards are internal decisions- usually to lower those standards. What I have a problem with are administrators who tell the instructors that, since there are lots of students who don’t want to be there, they’ll take their money elsewhere if we ask very much of them. I think it’s a lousy, cynical way to think about education- as a consumer item in an open market- and it’s led to plenty of bad decisions. For instance, our university encourages us, unofficially, not to fail any students. The idea is that they’ll get discouraged by F’s and enrollment will decline as a result. And, yes, if it’s a consumer item, driving away any customers would be terrible business sense.

                But, again, I don’t think that’s the model to apply to every human endeavor. Not every problem requires that particular hammer.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                > What I have a problem with are
                > administrators who tell the instructors
                > that, since there are lots of students
                > who don’t want to be there, they’ll
                > take their money elsewhere if we ask
                > very much of them.

                and

                > For instance, our university
                > encourages us, unofficially, not
                > to fail any students.

                “So tell the university to take a hike and start failing students.”

                Sarcasm aside (and this may not apply in your particular case) isn’t this what *tenure is supposed to be for*? I understand that not everybody is tenured. I understand that universities are moving more towards associate professorships.

                But still, at least at most of the major 4-year institutions with which I have some familiarity, tenured faculty dominate the department. They certainly possess enough clout to collectively tell the administration to go bite a banana.

                So how can we place this all on the administration? The faculty are *empowered* to push back, and they’re empirically *not* doing so.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Pat, it is what tenure is supposed to be for. And, to their credit, the tenured profs here tend to hold the line, so to speak.

                But, a majority of the instructors here are not tenured and they (us) get the emails warning about the ill effects of failing students and, even worse, the email before the class starts telling them what the expected grade distribution will be (i.e. 20% As, 40% Bs, etc.) in order for the course to be considered “successful” (for their contract to be renewed next semester). I’m pretty sure the tenured folks don’t get these emails. But, they don’t teach a lot of the courses either.

                In fact, if I was really cynical, I might suggest the phasing out of tenure in higher ed (I think we’re up to 75% of courses taught by non-tenured people) is a backdoor way of institutionalizing grade inflation. But, I’m optimistic- I think it’s also about paying people very little to teach.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                As a personal note, I am a major pain in the ass here and have nearly been fired as a grad student instructor for- this is a direct quote- “caring too much” about instructing.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                “But, a majority of the instructors here are not tenured and they (us) get the emails warning about the ill effects of failing students and, even worse, the email before the class starts telling them what the expected grade distribution will be (i.e. 20% As, 40% Bs, etc.) in order for the course to be considered “successful” (for their contract to be renewed next semester). I’m pretty sure the tenured folks don’t get these emails. But, they don’t teach a lot of the courses either.”

                Sounds to me like you can ball up a bunch of documentation and give it to a reporter and get one heck of a damning story on the front page of some newspaper.

                You can even redact yourself out of it. Or you can go the other route, tarball up your email and send it to Wikileaks, and “infect” your computer for plausible deniability.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                What you write here surprises me, Rufus. I expect Canadians to be more sensible about this sort of thing than we are. My alma mater didn’t exactly want to fail students out, but the way that they are trying to address that is not admitting them in the first place and let them go to South By Southeastern State U instead.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Trumwill, I should probably say no more, but I teach in US universities and probably will until I get citizenship. Believe it or not the adjunct market in Canada is extremely tough to break into.

                Pat, a problem is these things are written in weaselly words- if they tell me a course will be considered unsuccessful if any of the students fail- before the course actually starts- is that telling me to inflate the grades or just do a really good job teaching? The worst was the email warning about how devastating it is for students to fail a course and how that affects “student retention”. I will say that, this semester, I’ve gotten none of these emails, so it’s possible that someone else raised hell.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Hmmm… I am, of course, tempted to ask all kinds of questions to incorporate your story into my body of shared experiences, but I understand the need to keep quiet. Thank you for restoring my faith in Canada.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                well, if education is subjected to the free market, you might see a difference. But individuals have a responsibility for their own education, too. All a university can do is teach a person how to think critically, the rest is up to the individual. An individual who enters a free market with sloppy thinking will soon learn he/she needs to improve their thinking. The first time I reached the level of having to deal with an executive who expected me to do the job or get fired, I learned quickly. Learning is not a 4 year experience in college — it’s a life-long pursuit. It’s the responsibility of parents to prepare kids for this — economic reality is what it is and we can continue on the subsidized, pretend course we’re on and face the punishment of reality, or we can adjust to reality — it’s our choice. Your sarcasm is very enlightening.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m sarcastic because I keep making a fairly non-controversial point and I can’t tell if you’re arguing with it in a roundabout way or just ignoring it.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                Rufus, if you want me to address the problem of lowering standards in a school to please the “customers” so they won’t leave and go someplace else, I’d say that’s a bad business strategy, because it feeds on itself until the quality of the product (an education) is so low the school gets a bad reputation and you attract the least serious students, and then this reputation drives away serious students and market recruiters. It’s a good strategy if making money short term is more important than long term integity and quality and reputation. But it depends on how this has an effect on recruiting, from a business standpoint. Most college kids want to go to a school that is respected by the market so they can get a good job. The business decisions at the school might be a balance act of retaining students but not becoming so lax that the reputation is ruined and kids don’t receive a good education. But if they are lowering standards just to retain students and this becomes a self-perpetuating strategy, it will likely turn the school into a factory for meaningless degrees which will hurt financially at some point, unless there’s a big market for meaningless degrees. Surely not all schools are following the same strategy.
                I thought you were relating this to free market principles, which is why I was saying the individul performance of a school isn’t indiciative of the value of free market principles one way or another.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                I see above that you say this problem is across the board — I wouldnt know about that, but it might be because education is tied closely to statist practices — education is not the paragon of free market princples. Perhaps statist principles have created the deterioration, not middle manager MBA types futilely dealing with the problems.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                Believe it or not, I’m actually defending free market principles- but I’m defending them from the people who think they can apply the language of free market principles to every human endeavor in a glib way and attempting to justify making bad- mostly short-sighted- business decisions.

                If someone is a university president, you want him to know what a university is, what it does well, and how to run a fishing university. You don’t want him to cut out the classics and foreign language departments because he claims “the market” is telling him it’s no longer academically worthwhile to study Latin or French. You want him to know why, in the long term, that’s going to be terrible for his university.

                But when these people make these lousy decisions (*cough* SUNY Albany *cough*), they claim to be hardheaded economic realists who understand how the market works and respect what the market is saying and a bunch of other terms they’ve heard but don’t understand. I just think the libertarians should tell them to shut the fish up.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                “An individual who enters a free market with sloppy thinking will soon learn he/she needs to improve their thinking.”

                In some cases yes, in others no. Would I be the first to recount experiences of coworkers horribly unfit for their position, but never the less continuing on indefinitely at their post?

                For lots of people the real world (post college) can be a kick in the pants, for precisely a lot of the reasons Rufus is talking about (i.e. colleges “taking it easy” on students).

                But for lots of other people, their families have contacts, or they make contacts, or they come off well in interviews, or know how to bullshit, or how to look like working without actually working, etc. And the free market, for all its wonders, is not always the best at routing this out (not that anything else is better).

                Especially at larger corporate institutions, it’s not hard to fly under the radar, that is until a seismic shift in the economy forces large labor cuts.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, of course, there is incompetence throughout every company, but if any one company is incompetent in critical areas, or the incompetence is too widespread generally, it will fail in competition — this happens all the time — no one is saying that the free market creates perfect little worker soldiers.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                Again, it’s not about individual workers or individual companies but the overall system and how it works across the economy.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                “there is incompetence throughout every company,”

                So unless there are critical areas of very unbalanced lazy/ineptness, all of these will even out. So my companies sloths balance out your companies sloths, we both stay relatively competitive, and the bottom feeders live on.

                I agree that the free market tends, better than other institutions to weed this behavior out, but like all human made/human based things, it is subject to the same inefficiencies. At some point, the market won’t cure it. That is why we are suppose to have social values of hard work/discipline/determination that build of this and try to address the individual on an personal level, whether through friends, family or the local community exerting social pressure.Report

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