Warder Public Library

Warder Public Library, Springfield, OH (Photo: Cindy Funk/flickr)

My wife, Disgusted in Euclid, actually came up with this, not I. She was saying that a lot of people confuse socialism with things like Stalinism and Maoism because of about a century of propaganda broadcast not only by capitalists, but by the old Communists themselves. “You want to see socialism in action? Go to the public library,” she said.

She’s right.

The public library is funded by everyone in the community one way or the other. In Ohio, it’s a combination of local property, sales, or income taxes supplemented by the State’s general fund, which is why Ohio has the best public library system in the country, according to the American Library Association.

Anyone can use the public library for free. Anyone can go to the library, browse, use their computers, check out books, movies, CD’s, whatever, all for free so long as one turns them in by the due date. Even then, if one doesn’t, most library fines are modest because they just want their stuff back so someone else in the community can use it.

Use of the public library is not means-tested, like food stamps or Medicaid. Jamie Dimon his own self can go to his public library along with someone stuck in destitute poverty and check out the same things for free. Only if the poor person checks it out first, then Jamie Dimon will just have to wait until the poor person returns it–his wealth gets no privilege at the library. Everyone supports the library, and everyone can use its services. Even if one does not have a library card, one can still go to the library and browse and read to one’s heart’s content until closing; no questions asked.

The public library system is socialism at its best, which is probably why the devotees of the capitalist system love to attack it and try to defund it at every opportunity. “No one is making a profit! Heresy! Destroy it!,” they cry.

They tried to do just that a few years back in Ohio. Democratic Governor Ted Strickland proposed cutting state funding of Ohio’s public libraries by 50%, with the full-throated endorsement of most Republicans and many Democrats. The libraries fought back. Every library posted the proposal at every check out counter with Strickland’s email address and phone number. You couldn’t enter a single library website without running into the same message.

Public reaction was swift and effective. The emails and phone calls poured in from all 88 counties, Republican or Democratic made no difference. Local media covered the story, and the outcry grew. Strickland backed halfway down; the state funding was cut by 25%.

So the libraries put levies on the local ballots. The Norquist anti-tax crowd, the Libertarians, and the Republican establishment vociferously opposed them. They nearly all passed with huge majorities. Why? Because this socialist system WORKS.

If it can work for the library, it can work for a whole lot of other things as well. It’s not a for-profit system, and it works better than its capitalist competitors(remember Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster Video?). It’s functional. It provides a social good that cannot be measured in dollars and cents, one that cannot by quantified and sold to the highest bidder.

The same model can, and has, been applied to everything from electric power to transportation to health care to education to the armed forces to space exploration to…well, you get the idea. Socialism can be self-sustaining because it can work. Capitalism, based on permanent expansion and accumulation of capital, can’t.

There you go. It’s one big reason I’m a Socialist.