Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We Don't Need No Government Funded Libraries

HARBESON: Dispensing some book learning

COLUMN NOTES: You really should go read the comments to this article. I'm particularly gratified that several people do indeed understand my points.

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Last week, as part of my decluttering column, I mentioned local libraries and used $2 coffee as an example of people’s willingness to pay for what they want. As if to prove my point, the same day the paper also had an article about a coffee shop opening inside the New Albany-Floyd County library.

The article made it sound like the library had an innovative idea, which I found odd because the private voluntary market has been pairing coffee and books for years and years. In fact, my husband will tell you that pairing coffee and books really improved his life.

See, my husband loves coffee. He can hang out for hours in a coffee shop. On the other hand, I love books. I can hang out for hours in a bookstore.

But I don’t drink coffee and although my husband likes to read, he doesn’t want to hang around very long in bookstores. He has a problem because when we are out together he always has to do what I want.

But now that bookstores have coffee shops, when we’re out together and I want to browse books and all he wants is coffee, we no longer have a conflict. We just go to a bookstore and enjoy ourselves immensely. He can sit, slurp and burp while I shuffle and skip merrily along the rows of shelves.

Until we get kicked out anyway.

This may be the only thing that is holding our marriage together.

To get back to my point, the idea of pairing coffee shops and books is nothing new; the private market discovered it quite some time ago. So even though the library is a bit behind the times, I’m glad to see the coffee shop open because no one can deny that people will pay for what they want.

Well, politicians will probably still deny it and try to convince us of the need to continue government coercion, but we don’t have to listen to them. We can just throw cold coffee on their drivel.

We don’t need to use government force against our neighbors when we want a cup of coffee and it should be the same when we want to rent a book. That’s mostly what libraries are you know — just coercively funded book rental shops.

People rent stuff all the time. Cars are offered for loan and people rent them. Homes, apartments, furniture and appliances are offered for loan and people rent them. Tools and equipment are offered for loan and people rent them. Clothing for special occasions is offered for loan and people rent them.

You can even rent a date, which I probably would have done if bookstores had not added coffee shops.

I could go on for pages but then I’d be taking up space that this newspaper offers for loan and that people want to rent. This kind of voluntary action happens every day, all day long. No government force involved.

If society is able to find ways to borrow and rent all of these things on a voluntary basis, why should books be any different? There’s nothing special about books as far as a product people want to use on a temporary basis.

It’s completely unnecessary to use the government to force our neighbors to pay rental fees for the books and information we wish to access for a short period of time. We know this is true because if people were really so against voluntarily paying for what they want and use, there would be no coffee and pastry shop inside the government library.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the best use for coffee, hot or cold, is throwing it on politicians’ drivel.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If Only I Could Clean Out The Clutter of Laws Too

HARBESON: Debbie de-clutters

COLUMN NOTES: A commenter on the newspaper's site said "The same argument you make for libraries, could just as easily be made for the existence of National Public Radio, Public TV, and for that matter, the National Endowment for the Arts." I agree.

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — The file I use to collect material for possible columns is growing kind of thick which means it’s time to de-clutter. So today let’s take a quick look at a few of these topics before I throw out the trash.

The first item is an article about the Jeffersonville Canal. The government has started purchasing homes in the areas affected but at least one property owner, Fred Collins, says he isn’t interested in selling. When asked how they will handle such situations, government officials said they’d be as fair as they can.

What does this mean? If those in government were truly concerned about being fair, all they have to do is respect his wishes as a legitimate property owner and simply leave him alone. If you have any respect for the principle of individual property ownership, please join me in supporting Mr. Collins as he struggles to keep his home. Don’t let the government treat him as if he’s a bothersome piece of clutter.

Next up in my pile is a letter State Senator Ron Grooms wrote bemoaning the property tax circuit breaker because it affects the funding of one of his most beloved coercively funded institutions: government libraries.

To make his case for increasing the library’s options for additional coercive funding, he points out how many people love the library and gives statistics on local library usage. Grooms wants us to believe this is a valid argument for coercion, but it’s just as valid to argue that popularity proves there is no need to coerce. Such beloved institutions can surely be self-supporting because the many people who use the library and/or claim to love its purpose, as Grooms does, will act to close the funding gap with no need for government force.

For example, according to the numbers Grooms gave in the letter, if the Jeffersonville Township Library only made one change and charged a fee to check out materials, the cost would be less than 60 cents to use an item for several weeks. What library-loving patrons holding their daily $2 cup of coffee or 89 cent big swig of soda would object to this?

Finally, I have several pieces in my file dealing with the crazy clutter of laws we have concerning alcohol. Indiana’s oh-so-wise politicians discovered that elderly people get irritated if asked to show identification when they want to buy a six-pack and have a lot of time on their hands to bug their legislators about the problem. So, to de-clutter their lives, i.e., get the old people off their backs, legislators are messing with this law again, hoping to find that sweet spot, the age where people are desperately clinging to the illusion that they still look young, but are much too busy to complain to their legislators when they realize that’s not why they were carded.

Let’s add one more alcohol-related item to this de-cluttering column. Did you know that wineries need special government permission to sell their product at festivals and can currently only engage in such business activity for 30 days a year? Well, thanks in part to the work of Representatives Rhonda Rhoads and Ed Clere, they might now be allowed to have festival permits for 45 days a year. Shall we all have a drink to celebrate this amazing freedom?

I just don’t get it. I’m sitting here looking at another item I’m about to discard, a postcard from Rhoads’ campaign that says she is for smarter government. Wouldn’t smarter government best be defined by the repeal of such idiotic laws rather than adding to them?

I guess I can understand why politicians love legislative clutter. It gives them work to do because there’s always something for them to “clean-up.”

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson de-clutters so thoroughly that she’s accidentally pitched her husband into the trash several times. No, really, they were accidents.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Can You Relate?

HARBESON: Relatively speaking

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Clark County Commissioners are sure in a mess, relatively speaking anyway. People are concerned about a conflict of interest because they hired the son of one of the commissioners to work for the county highway department.

The hiring came under scrutiny when other employees with more years of seniority were laid off and Commissioner Ed Meyer’s son was not.

Whether or not the commissioner’s son should remain in the position over the other employees is not the issue. The issue here is whether politicians should ever be involved in hiring relatives.

Government officials have consistently demonstrated a serious inability to see ethical issues obvious to those of us standing outside the coercive institution. At minimum, a politician should have enough sense to excuse himself from making any decision concerning a relative. Yet, we rarely see this.

Of course, hiring relatives also happens in the private realm. Large and/or publicly-held businesses try hard to avoid these situations and often have specific policies in place to protect against possible conflicts of interest, but close relatives often work together in small businesses.

So, there’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring relatives.

If a private company chooses to hire relatives, it’s a risk they take, like any other risk. If at some point, emotions get in the way of good business decisions, then the company faces the consequences. Those uninvolved need not concern themselves at all.

In addition, hiring relatives in the private market can be a positive move. Many companies gain goodwill when they promote their business as family-owned and family-operated, which obviously means relatives are working together.

New generations try to maintain the trust earned by the hard work of previous generations. These businesses will point out how long the business has been in the family, assuring customers that the basic values which made the company successful remain the same.

If people outside the family choose to work for such businesses, they voluntarily accept any consequences that may arise when relatives work together. Employees and customers are free to leave if they see issues or have concerns. So hiring relatives is simply not a problem in the private market. But things change when we move to a coercive, monopolistic system.

When controversial actions occur inside government, we are often treated to ridiculous excuses when those involved are questioned. In defense of this specific situation in Clark County, several government officials said that hiring relatives is extremely common throughout Clark County government. As a matter of fact, we’ve been told that “tons” of relatives are employed in county government departments.

This particular excuse is known as the “everybody does it, so it must be OK” defense. Most of us learned by kindergarten that just saying “everybody does it” isn’t an acceptable reason for explaining an action. But to politicians, the “everybody does it” defense is supposed to be considered a valid reason and should completely shut down any further discussion of the issue.

What’s interesting about such excuses is that when governments admit such truths they are always used as a means to continue doing what’s always been done. These truths are never used to open serious discussion as to the wisdom of continuing the current mode of operation.

Unlike private family businesses, governments just don’t go away due to bad management practices. As a matter of fact, bad management is often a good way for governments to grow.

If, after hiring Aunt Lulu, politicians learn that she just can’t quite handle the job, well then they can just hire Cousin Willy, too. After all, they’re spending other people’s money.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has “tons” of relatives, but she’s pretty sure there’s not a Lulu in the bunch.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Government-Cell Mitosis

HARBESON: Building a mystery

SELLERSBURG — When I first heard the town of Clarksville appointed two people for the building commissioner position, I was confused. Not about the fact that they squeezed two people into one job, but rather why anyone thought it was odd in the first place.

Why is this news? Isn’t this a normal course of action within government? Isn’t this what bureaucracy is all about? Haven’t we seen repeatedly that governments know how to reproduce and multiply faster than rabbits? Isn’t this just another case of government-cell mitosis?

We’ve all heard the common complaint that government offices end up with at least twice as many people hanging around “working” and being paid as are necessary to perform the tasks.

Of course when people make this complaint, they are only guessing. No one can really know if a government-funded, government-operated office is performing in an economically efficient manner because it’s a monopoly. Governments aren’t guided by natural signals that occur in a competitive market.

And yet, I do wonder how this happened. When it came time to choose someone for the position, did it simply prove to be too difficult for the council to decide between the two people who now have the same job?

Maybe those involved experienced such a bad case of indecisiveness that they had to resort to a coin toss and it somehow landed right on its edge. Nothing they could do would move it. Not shaking the table. Not stomping on the ground. Not even blowing lots of hot air on the coin managed to topple it over, so they just said to heck with it, let’s appoint both guys.

Or maybe someone suggested they resolve the issue by pitting the two guys against each other, making them skip around a circle playing a game of musical chairs and no one realized until after the music was turned off that someone had set out two chairs instead of one.

And I guess the music they played must have been one of Marvin Gaye’s albums which naturally influenced them to decide that in this situation, “it takes two, baby.”

You may be wondering why I’m speculating so much on this issue. Well, it’s because I have no choice. No one in charge really wants to talk about how the town ended up with two people in one position.

A reporter for this newspaper tried to get answers and information from the council person who is the liaison to the building commissioner’s office. She should be the person most knowledgeable about the situation. However, she told him to talk to the town council president.

When the reporter contacted the council president, he told the reporter to talk to the council liaison.

I’m not sure why neither of them would talk to the reporter. Perhaps they were attempting to demonstrate how well government functions when more than one person can be in charge.

One reason I can see for handing over this position to two people, assuming they expected at some point to reduce it to one person, is to entertain themselves as they watched the two fellows fight for the job — a sort of local version of “The Apprentice.”

But if this is the case, then residents should get to enjoy it, too. Everyone should be treated to the full show, just like Donald Trump offers, complete with bickering, bleeped screaming outbursts, phony suspense and bad hair.

But I don’t think it’s going to happen because that would require the council to actually explain their decisions and actions to the people they supposedly “serve.”

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson was given a lab coat to study government-cell mitosis but can’t figure out why the sleeves are so long and tie in the back.