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Sunday, February 08, 2009
A transformational conversation
Charles Burris shares a fascinating story at the LRC blog:
Several years ago I went to downtown Tulsa's Central Library for their Saturday morning book sale. This was where the Library sold its out-of-date materials. I had gotten in the habit of buying many of these surplus items -- hardbacks 25 cents, paperbacks a dime -- for students to use in my classroom. As I was paying for a couple of books (one being Rose and Milton Friedman's Free To Choose) the elderly gentleman behind the cash register desk commented on the book, expressing his approval. I agreed but said I preferred economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Milton Friedman. He then proceeded to tell me the following anecdote: In 1962 he was travelling from Tulsa to Denver via a train (trains, you remember trains, don't you?). The trip was in the nighttime and early morning hours. Most passengers were asleep. But this gentleman was kept awake by a nearby conversation of four men. They were discussing socialism. Since this gentleman considered himself a socialist, he paid particularly close attention to what was being discussed. After a while he got up, gently interrupted the men, and remarked how fascinating he thought this conversation he overheard had been. The men asked him to join them. The conversation continued. When he reached Denver he was no longer a socialist. The four men were Ludwig von Mises (the 20th century's most brilliant economist), Henry Hazlitt (the journalistic champion of Mises), Lawrence Fertig (the businessman who raised the money for Mises's NYU professorship, and Leonard Read (president of the Foundation of Economic Education). Imagine this chance encounter with those particular four libertarian giants! The elderly gentleman had gone through a "Saul of Tarsus" conversion from socialism to individualism and the free market. He soon headed up Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign in the Sooner State, which at that time was a gathering for proto-libertarians and anti-collectivists. I shook his hand and told him how honored I was to have met him.
I can't help but point out that the man in the story was working (probably volunteering) for a PUBLIC library, perhaps illustrating the distinction between a "public" institution and a "government" institution.
Posted by: anonymous | 2009-02-10 1:57:17 PM
Although in this case, the library was probably both a public and government institution, the distinction you note is an important one.
It may me a statist corruption of our language that "public" (e.g. in public sector) is a word which is taken to mean state-owned.
Perhaps for this and similar reasons, there is often the assumption that because something is a "public good" that it must necessarily be provided by government. However, there is a large economics literature on the private provision of public goods, beginning with Ronald Coase's famous article on lighthouses.
There is no reason to believe that if not provided by government, libraries, parks, museums and other "public space" (in the sense used by urbanist Jane Jacobs) would not be able to be otherwise provided to the public either for free or at some cost.
Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-10 3:04:45 PM
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