Privatise the Libraries!

Comments (2)
  1. Rayner Teo says:

    Lol you’ve read too much Ayn Rand.

    “Imagine a whole host of private libraries all competing with one another for profit. First, this would mean a diversity of libraries with their own values and hold their own books.”–no it wouldn’t; it would mean a vastly reduced availability of knowledge and library holdings. Library services, like many other goods that produce positive externalities, will almost certainly be underprovided if they were fully privatised.

    Moreover, the diversity of libraries, values, holdings and collections that you posit will almost certainly fail to materialise. If you apply the profit motive to libraries, they’ll likely end up stocking popular titles (e.g., ’00s of copies of Harry Potter) and neglect unpopular ones (e.g., libertarian political philosophy tracts). This might be mitigated to a certain extent by a subscription model rather than a pay-per-use model, but this would still be suboptimal compared to the present situation of government provision. It boils down to the reality that intellectual value doesn’t always translate into commercial value.

    It would have made more sense if you had suggested private and commercial libraries in addition to a public library system. But that’s the reality already–there is the Pelangi Pride Centre library.

    Your case for privatisation also rests on the implicit assumption that it is the only alternative to the intensified social conflict that public control brings. But there’re lots of political thinkers who have thrown up alternatives which would reconcile more expansive government with peaceful coexistence in a pluralist society. There’s the idea of deliberative democracy, for instance, or cross-cutting cleavages, or John Rawls’ overlapping consensus. And there’s Federalist 10.

    Privatisation can work for some goods, but not for others. I’d argue that it wouldn’t work in the case of a library system. Nevertheless, thanks for advocating non-mainstream views and promoting intellectual diversity here.

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