The land of no libraries

You simply must read this New York Times story about a community in Oregon that voted to kill its libraries.

For generations in America, small cities like this declared their optimism and civic purpose with grand libraries that rose above the clutter of daily life and commerce. But last fall, Douglas County residents voted down a ballot measure that would have added about $6 a month to the tax bill on a median-priced home and saved the libraries from a funding crisis. So this spring, it has been lights out, one by one, for the system’s 11 branches. The Roseburg central library here is the last to go.

The reporters quote someone who proposes the possibility of "eventually bring[ing] back the library system here in a new and creative way, perhaps through some combination of volunteers and privatization." That, of course, isn't a library. A library is staffed with professional librarians, and a library is free. The idea of a Little Free Library Emporium Powered by Starbucks™, or whatever a volunteer-private consortium might look like, isn't a library.

We are in a dark age for the public good in America. Even here in super-liberal King County, conservative forces like the Seattle Times has pushed back hard against County Executive Dow Constantine's proposed arts levy, which would "dramatically increase funding for arts, science and heritage institutions to provide in-class learning experiences in every county school district, along with providing students with transportation and free tickets" in exchange for an increase in sales tax — to the tune of one penny for every ten dollars spent.

Of course, the tax structure here in Washington is exactly backwards. (I talked about this in a recent podcast episode at my day job, if you're interested in learning more.) Our sales taxes are too high and our income tax is, well, nonexistent. While we do have plenty of rich people who contribute to our arts and culture through sexy events like the Upstream Festival, those charitable donations don't often cover the day-to-day goods that government provides.

The solution is obvious: Tax the wealthy more. Tax capital gains earnings. Tax luxury goods. Close the gap between the top one percent of all wage earners in the US and the bottom ten percent. Because we're about to learn what happens when a society decides that things like libraries don't matter, and I suspect that things are going to get really ugly really fast.