Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Libraries As A Threat To The “Perspective” That Virtually Everything Should Be Dictated And Run By The Forces of Market Capitalism

Covering the subject of the current popularity of socialism On The Media used this visual for socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with (library defending) Zephyr Teachout.
WNYC’s On The Media ran a segment July 27, 2018 in which the value of public libraries was discussed (again).  Their value was discussed in terms of the threat public libraries pose to those wanting to promote the idea that capitalism should control and set the terms for virtually all our social exchanges.  (The title of this post of ours intentionally refers to “market capitalism” not “free market capitalism,” because the corporate monopoly markets of today are a sad and far remove from Adam Smith’s idealized environment for “invisible hands” to be at work, but that’s another, longer discussion.)

The OTM segment was about how, with capitalism increasingly unpopular, people, especially Democrats and young people increasingly prefer socialism to capitalism.  This is along with polls that show self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, who did better in many Trump-voting districts than Hillary Clinton, would defeat Trump if paired in a future election.  (Just like polls showed that Sanders would have defeated Trump in 2016.)   Sanders is currently the “most popular politician in America.”  The segment is: "Socialism" in the Air.

On The Media’s visual for the hour long program, of which the segment is a part, is of socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with (library defending) Zephyr Teachout.  Teachout is now a candidate, in a very important race, for New York State Attorney General.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the organizer for Bernie Sanders who, while she was largely ignored by mainstream media, surged to popularity and a surprise victory running as a candidate for Congress. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is the one who is now, in a rush of fairly embarrassing haste, retroactively getting the mainstream media attention she previously deserved.
Cover of New York Times Sunday Review: Socialism because capitalism makes us less free.
Why is socialism increasingly popular?  As discussed in the OTM segment, it is probably, partly because it appeals to “an egalitarian instinct” and to a sense of fairness and justice associated with a “fair distribution of resources.”  This is not to mention how we are seeing capitalism’s proclivities pushing us perhaps irretrievably over the brink where runaway global warming may destroy most of the life on this planet.  Then there is simply the feeling that, compared to what we’ve got, socialism affords more real freedom.

Here is how during the program, On The Media host Bob Garfield discussed with socialist Nathan Robinson, editor-in-chief at Current Affairs magazine, how libraries are a threat to those who want everything filtered through market capitalism structures:
NATHAN ROBINSON:  . . .  I just read an article about public libraries, why socialists love public libraries. They are places that are free for everybody. They’re controlled by the local people who have authority over them; they’re not controlled by a company. And there is that sense of everyone is equal in a public library.

BOB GARFIELD: Although it does, to some, seem fearsome. It’s the kind of socialism that is usually prefixed with the word “creeping.”

NATHAN ROBINSON: Well, public libraries embody an egalitarian spirit and they do sort of challenge the perspective that almost everything other than basic services, like police and the military, should be left to the market. And public libraries show an example of a well-run state institution. They kind of prove something, which is a little dangerous to a certain kind of a free-market orthodoxy, which is that they suggest that state-run institutions aren't necessarily a nightmare. So the public library kind of provides a vision of a way that common ownership and common control could work. So I, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to view it as creeping.

I think it does creep.
Very similarly, in 2013, National Notice postulated that with no good reason for the Koch brothers to want to deprive U.S. citizens of healthcare, there can be no other explanation for the Kochs to be fighting healthcare so vigorously except for the Kochs' fear that if we had the example of a national government working demonstrably well to provide people with something they very much want and need, good health care, the national agenda would then move on to other obviously necessary top priorities with a stronger, more highly regarded government tackling climate change.  Addressing climate change would hurt the Koch fossil fuel industry profits.

If we conceive that well-run libraries are, indeed, a somewhat “fearsome” example of a public commons that is “dangerous to a certain kind of a free-market orthodoxy” because it provides a vision of a communal escape from the strictures and dictates of private enterprise, then perhaps we can better understand what is being done to New York City’s libraries by the private enterprise enthusiasts who have gotten in charge of them.  These enthusiasts don’t necessarily want libraries to be well run or to succeed in the traditional fashion.

In 2003 and 2006, respectively, two perspicacious writers with intimate knowledge of the libraries and their traditions wrote books warning about how libraries were being destroyed as new management forced libraries to kowtow to and fall in line with capitalist modes of operation: The books are “Dismantling the Public Sphere- Situating and Sustaining Librarianship In the Age of the New Public Philosophy,” by John E. Buschman and “Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good,” by Ed D'Angelo.  At the time he wrote his book Mr. Buschman was department chair, collection development librarian and professor-librarian at Rider University and was a co-editor or the journal Progressive Librarian.  When Ed D’Angelo, who has a philosophy background, wrote his book he was a librarian working at the Brooklyn Public Library where he was working until recently for many years, including at the New Utrecht Branch.

Both men in both books recognized the interrelated importance of libraries and education to democracy and the necessity of a public commons for the kind of public discourse and exchange of ideas necessary for democracy to flourish.  In fact, before we decide to try to define libraries in economic terms we should remember that the economics in this country of ours are producing results that are highly unequal and not egalitarian.  Both men also presented strong cases for how libraries and what they can provide wind up dumbed down by the effects of the corporate consumer model, information capitalism, the relentless commodifications thereof, along with neo-liberal ideology and its “radically market-oriented public philosophy toward public cultural institutions.”  Both men concerned themselves with how librarians themselves were being de-professionalized by disdainful higher-up corporately oriented non-librarian managerial overlords with the resulting loss of meaningful curation of content and collections.

Buschman has an especially pertinent question about libraries shifting over to a market-oriented consumer model: He asks if libraries are not providing an alternative model, are not serving democratic ideals, "What public purpose is served by public funding of" projects that "are imitative of the private sector?  What right do we have to public funding to compete with [other?] businesses.  Perhaps more importantly, does society need another model of media-dominated, entertainment oriented consumerism in its public institutions?"

Conversely, why are market capital apostles so afraid of the success of alternative models for organizing society such that they have to deny the success of those models or snuff them out?

A Koch funded Mercatus Center study, although it was slanted and cherry picked while it worked towards a different hoped for result, recently found that the Bernie Sanders medicare for all plan would not only provide more health care while additionally insuring the currently 40 million insured Americans, but would also save the American public $2.1 trillion over ten years.  But much of mainstream media misreported the story communicating the exact opposite, that the Sander plan would cost more rather than more than $2 trillion less: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, by Justin Anderson of FAIR, July 31, 2018. . . .  Even worse, when Sanders pointed out how the study supported that his plan would save the public money, mainstream media wanted to debate the obvious facts with entities like the Washington Post and CNN’s Jake Tapper entering the fray to offer false facts that were opposite to the truth in the name of “fact checking.”  Elsewhere on CNN Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs reiterated that the results of the Koch funded Mercatus Center study were indeed being misrepresented in “frightening terms” essentially trying to ignore or bury the facts about the obvious and significant benefit and $2 trillion cost savings of the medicare for all plan.

As anyone paying attention to this back and forth knows, healthcare in the United States costs about twice as much, with less satisfactory results, than pretty much anywhere else in the civilized world.  Yet those who don’t want the government to succeed with medicare for all, because it is essentially a socialist kind of program, try to deprive the public of the achievable benefit by denying the facts.

In the On The Media’s segment, Bob Garfield noted that since the specter of “Soviet Communism” can no longer be invoked to scare people away from socialism “it seems to be Venezuela” that the mainstream media wants to use instead, and the segment provides two clips as examples of exactly that (emphasis supplied):
MALE CORRESPONDENT: My gosh, socialism has never failed so vividly as it has in the modern times, and yet, these guys come out there and say. that’s what America needs. I don’t think so.

FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Venezuela is currently at one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Hunger and crime are rampant, clean water and medicine scarce. So why on earth would anybody want to bring those catastrophic policies and conditions to the US?
    * * *

MAN: You know, as we look at other countries, like Venezuela, etc., where socialism is imploding their country, do we really want that here?

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: What happened in Venezuela? They call that Democratic Socialism but they don’t have toilet paper…

MAN: Note to socialism fans, go visit Venezuela.
But again, is it fair to allow Venezuela to be portrayed, for negative purposes as the alternative?  The United States has gone out of its way to sabotage the economy in that country and create hardship there (in fact, too many people in our government are also pushing to go to war with Venezuela.) To wit, consider this from FAIR:
The United States has for years undermined the Venezuelan economy with economic sanctions, but US media coverage of Venezuela’s financial crisis has gone out of its way to obscure this.

The intent of the sanctions is clear: to inflict maximum pain on Venezuela so as to encourage the people of the country to overthrow the democratically elected government.
See: Exonerating the Empire in Venezuela, by Gregory Shupak, March 22, 2018.

When asked by Garfield about consideration of Venezuela as the alternative Nathan Robinson was either too timid or too uninformed to offer such a caveat about problems there.  Instead, he feinted suggesting that “Venezuela doesn’t tell you much at all” and isn’t a “verdict” on the kind of socialism that “strongly anti-authoritarian” people “skeptical of the concentration of unaccountable power” like him would want because it doesn’t have the kind of democracy in the workplace that he’d like to see and “because we oppose every measure that would increase centralized and, and dictatorial power.”  But this goes along with another myth: That things are very `undemocratic’ in Venezuela.

After the last election where President Nicolás Maduro won a second term in May, the New York Times essentially led its reporting of the event (spelling his name wrong at the time- “Nicholas”) with a fairly outright implication that the election should be disregarded as simply“rigged.”
President Nicolás Maduro won a second term as president of Venezuela, a country in the midst of a historic economic collapse marked by soaring prices, widespread hunger, rampant crime, a failing health system and a large-scale exodus of its citizens.

Electoral officials declared Mr. Maduro the victor Sunday night, in a contest that critics said was heavily rigged in his favor.
However comparable or not comparable the very challenging situation in Venezuala makes that besieged country as the only possible alternative example to the neo-liberal, capitalist, private-market orthodoxy now routinely promoted in this country, plus whatever controversies can be intruded into the debate about President Maduro’s governance under those difficult circumstances, it is in the very least exceedingly glib to suggest that Mr. Maduro was not democratically elected: He received 5.8 million of the 8.6 million ballots cast, with a turnout of the electorate quite comparable to presidential elections in the United States and France even though the tactic of his opposition was to urge the public to boycott the election.  His nearest challenger in the election received 1.8 million votes.  Further, the country has a history of well run elections.

With calls for regime change the United State has called Venezuela an “extraordinary national security threat.”  Why?

It seems as though no matter what they look like, those in power in the United States don’t want any examples of functioning alternatives to capitalism. . .  As, for instance, in Chile with the CIA backed coup murdering democratically elected President Salvador Allende, or in Iran with the CIA backed coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.  Similarly, we couldn’t tolerate independence leader Patrice Lumumba as the elected president of the Republic of the Congo. . .

 . .  Not liking the communist country of Cuba so close off the shores of Florida, we have made life for that country as economically difficult as possible for decades.  Yes, the merits of our respective systems can be debated, but after the hurricane season ended in 2017 we could see the differences of those systems in operation after both Cuba and the United States territories of the Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were directly hit by that year’s powerful storms: The Cuban people were largely safe and well prepared and able to send out help to countries elsewhere in the region afterward; in Puerto Rico thousands of U.S. citizens unnecessarily died from what appeared to be malevolent neglect while monied interests viewed the disaster as an opportunity to privatize much of the Island’s resources for the benefit of the wealthy.

The United States under Reagan even found it urgent to militarily invade the tiny Caribbean Island nation of Granada, a recent former colony of Great Britain, to replace the new (in this case, not Democratically elected) Marxist government that took charge there through a coup.

It is not to argue that any of the above mentioned nations should be looked to as particular examples of socialism success (besides we also have other examples, from the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark* to the Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand and Canada). . .  But one must wonder at the regularity with which the powerful in the United States have the urge to snuff out such alternative systems and the speed and frequency with which that has often been done.
(* Actually, there are those striving to take away the Nordic nations as examples.)
Why snuff out alternatives?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis offered a concept that our federal system, where states are largely autonomous, offered the opportunity (one of its “happy incidents” he said) where, so long as it was the choice if the respective citizens of those states, states can operate as “laboratories of democracy” trying out “novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”  Concomitantly, successful policies can be expanded to other states or, if appropriate, adopted nationally.  Brandeis ventured that because the “denial of the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences” it involved a “grave responsibility” lest “prejudices” went unchecked.

The same principle could and should also apply to different countries. 

Henry A. Wallace, Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president, whose once immense popularity meant that he almost became president rather than Truman, envisioned that the United States and Soviet systems could compete in friendly, peaceful coexistence each endeavoring “to prove which can deliver the most satisfaction to the common man in their respective areas of political dominance” and that under such circumstances “the Russian world and the American world” would “gradually become more alike,” the Russians “forced to grant more and more of the personal freedoms” and the United States becoming “more and more absorbed with the problems of social-economic justice.”  Unfortunately, arguably mostly because the idea of peaceful coexistence did not appeal to the United States, the way in which the two countries grew more alike was, instead, in their increasing militarization preparing to defend against and confront the other, something the common man paid for.  The vast resources paid to build up huge parallel military establishments could easily have been devoted elsewhere ingeniously.

What if more alternatives to the dominating style of U.S. capitalism had been allowed?  What if more different national systems centered on ideas of communal welfare had been allowed to evolve and flourish?: Mightn’t some of those other countries have become leaders in a more rational world approach to ensure that mankind successfully forestalls climate change and survives by transitioning away from fossil fuels?

Before we jump on any high horse to argue that these two cold war enemies, the U.S. and the Soviets, could not have become more like each other, borrow from each other, or that their systems were like oil and water, incapable of mixing it up, it should be noted that librarian Ed D’Angelo ranges far enough afield in his examination of potential management systems (including the freedoms for individuals potentially or not provided within them) in “Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library” to note similarities between the Soviet state and American corporations in their top-down, centralized, hierarchical management approaches.  To wit:
The structure of both the state managed economy in the Soviet Union and the American blue-chip corporation of the 1950s could be traced back to the centralized, bureaucratic structure of the Prussian state.
That’s because, as D’Angelo lays out, that style of management (“Weber-Taylor bureaucracy” or “Taylorism” as D’Angelo refers to it, after Max Weber and Frederick W. Taylor) hails back to where it was “especially well represented in Germany” during the era of the Junker Aristocracy (from the late 1880's through the Weimar Republic that ended in 1933) “where monopoly capitalism was somewhat less restricted [back then at least] than in the United States.”  (Although D’Angelo does not make this particular point, the monopolies of monopoly capitalism tend almost inevitably to align themselves so as to act concertedly with the state, and the alignment of such corporations, or at least society’s economic elite, with an ensuing merging of the powers of the state, constitutes one of the classic definitions of fascism or the typical economics of fascism.) 

In turn, the “Weber-Taylor bureaucracy” style of management influenced the United States (“Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller admired* the German model”) and Vladimir Lenin who imported it to the Soviet Union (“Lenin believed that it would be possible to retain the technical advantages of the Weber-Taylor bureaucracy while subordinating it . . to the interests of the working class” and “Lenin sought to do for Russia what the Ford Motor Company did for the United States”).
(* Some of the admiration flowed mutually: Hitler had a life-size, full-length portrait of Henry Ford on his office wall in Munich; the German’s awarded Ford and he accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, in 1938, that nation's highest decoration for foreigners; and Ford subsidiaries busily manufactured armaments that the Nazis used against the U.S., trucks and plans.)
We, ourselves, have gone rather far afield discussing management theory, except that it is worth circling back to say that, D’Angelo asserts that given their totalitarian traits and lack of freedom for the individual, systems incorporating “Weber-Taylor bureaucracy” do not constitute “socialism.”  Nor, for that matter, is that the way libraries have historically been managed.   Further, given a similar lack of freedoms, D’Angelo views as a new tyranny capitalism’s more recently evolved “market populism” incarnations and theories around which capitalists would now like libraries organize themselves.  He cites its enforcement of an unquestioning “humility before the market” and says that following the dictates of these theories reverts us to a `feudal age’ where ‘power is private’ and the `public realm falls into decay’ as high salaried “CEOs with inflated egos” and managers rule by fiat.

Why are some in such a rush to change the way that libraries are run?  What is the threat their traditions pose?  They are time tested institutions.  Isn’t it peculiar and also telling that, as Nathan Robinson suggests, it is their long-standing popularity and success that makes them a threat?  What’s more, we don’t even know and can’t see clearly what is being substituted for the traditions that made libraries such strong, powerful and admired institutions.   . .   Neo-liberalism with its privatizing, let-the-market-prevail-in-everything schemes hasn’t been around long enough for most of us to get acquainted with it or recognize its ploys, let alone for its `promises’ to have been properly tested.  And when it comes to libraries, the neo-liberal proponents piggyback on arguments of change for the sake of change and technology for the sake of technology, thereby introducing huge unknowns.  Technology is changing so fast that, like neoliberalism, we can hardly catch up to acquaint ourselves with it its current incarnations or evaluate its implications.

But let’s keep the conversation simple: Both John E. Buschman and Ed D'Angelo presciently wrote books about how traditional libraries are being dismantled.  As Nathan Robinson pointed out on On The Media, there are those who, because they have a capitalistic private market bent, are more inclined to consider libraries as a “fearsome” threat to their orthodox belief systems, rather than hope libraries will continue to succeed.  Unfortunately, in New York City those people are the people who are in the driver’s seat as decisions are made about whether our libraries should change for better . . .  or worse.

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