One libertarian's view on public libraries
I think libraries are awesome! They allow people to check out books and use computer and often have community programs. Whats not to love about them?
Libertarians, like me, are often not against the idea of something but how that idea is implemented. A lot of people are forced to participate in funding, and it is this involuntary action, regardless of reason, that strikes at the core value of libertarianism. Many of us recognize though that things exist on a spectrum. I am far more concerned about a government that spend $80,000 on a missile to kill people overseas than some money trickling to a library, but questions like this don’t often acknowledge on the spectrum or entire system of government in play. Nor does it recognize the conglomeration that this is only one discrete part of.
To focus on this question, ignoring all attached government, I will say that I wish communities would come together and build centers like this voluntarily. Isn’t that the implied thought behind our system anyway? That a majority of people that it has decided that this place is a common good and necessary? To put it in an admittedly simple way: A good idea should not need the force of government behind it.
But lets not ignore the spectrum now. Let us acknowledge all that taxing and law making power to do force things into being, like a library. Well that same power is or can be used to do a whole slew of things we don’t like. I am sure any of us could sit down and list things that bother us about government and politicians. How many can sit down and just as easily make a list of things they enjoy? So really its about choice as well. The more we can voluntarily decide to give to the things we want to exist, like libraries, then the more we have the power to say no to the things we don’t want to exist. And yes, we must absolutely recognize that people will spend their money on things we disagree with. But is that not the right of a truly free person? These are the sides of the same coin. By involuntary force one has to fund that which one abhors by the same force one uses to make others fund what they want. So its not really about the idea of a library. It is about the ability to choose a library over something else. What if the city council believe my money should go to a library when I think it should go to a jobs program or a homeless shelter? What if I decide that I need to simply help my family for now? Free people should have the ability to set these priorities.
So then comes the concern of “well not enough people will care about what I think is important”. There may not enough people that also care about a library as me right? That is certainly a possibility. So now are we arguing about the difficulty of making others care or complaining about the lack of ability to force them to our will? In a free market of ideas we sometimes have to spend our resources to convince others to help. This is normal and should be expected. However, if we fall for the trap of deciding that we simply need enough force (government) to enact our will then who wins? One may win by getting their way, but what happens when we don’t? Again we yield power to others to do that wish we abhor. It becomes who has the greatest clout in a tribalistic eternal battle of beating the other guy to the finish line. Not hard to recognize in our system is it?
So I love libraries. I love giving people opportunities. I love that communities can improve themselves. I know some people need help. I know some people are disadvantaged. I know that some fall on hard times and are affected by shifting economies. I know that people are not inherently equal in life and are born with different levels of advantage. I know all this. What I believe is that if we truly want to improve this its isn’t about fight over whether government has the power to create libraries. Its about evolving society to a place where we recognize that society is our problem. Not something to scramble for power over and attack each other in some ironic attempt at “winning”. Its about learning what things are important enough to voluntarily work together and commit our lives to.
Again, I love libraries. Lets build some together. In peace and collaboration.
It is not the business of government to make men virtuous or religious, or to preserve the fool from the consequences of his own folly. Government should be repressive no further than is necessary to secure liberty by protecting the equal rights of each from aggression on the part of others, and the moment governmental prohibitions extend beyond this line they are in danger of defeating the very ends they are intended to serve. – Henry George