DMI Blog

Amy Traub

Public Options… Like Your Local Library

You might imagine, in the midst of an economic collapse caused by inadequate public oversight of corporate greed and avarice, we could reconsider - just for a moment - the unthinking glorification of markets and automatic denigration of public institutions. But no. The drumbeat of "Markets good! Government bad!" continues unabated. And it may have just killed our public health care option.

The scorn heaped on our public institutions is tiresome and predictable. Not content to draw parallels between a proposed new public health care plan and our existing public health care plans, we get endless comparisons to the Department of Motor Vehicles (we get it: people don't like waiting in line) and the post office. The constant references to completely unrelated government agencies suggest what's really at stake: the very idea of communally supported institutions operated for the public good rather than private profit. In this context, the breathtaking majesty of the national parks visited by the Obama family this week is as relevant as the DMV.

Or for that matter, your public library. You know: the place where you can borrow (free) books, movies, and music, enjoy the (free) air conditioning, use a (free) computer, browse (free) newspapers, enjoy (free) activities and programs (I'm not the only mother of a toddler thanking my lucky stars for story hour)... The place that's connecting the newly unemployed to job resources (free), providing a safe haven for kids after school (free)...

Except that, of course, it's not free. Enter the dread specter of government coercion as your town ruthlessly forces you to pay taxes in support of an institution you may choose not to patronize. Worse than that, your public library tax dollars are doubtless used to provide books you disagree with, movies you think are trash, and programs you find to be a waste of time. People who paid lower taxes may wind up using the library more than you! And you have no choice but to pay up. Yet there's a great freedom here as well: for no additional cost, anyone can freely sample ideas, entertainment, research expertise... We collectively support our local library and provide the resources so that any one of us can freely check out the resources we choose. And you're still welcome to stop by the bookstore if these offerings don't satisfy.

The analogy between public libraries and public health care can't be pushed too far. But it's as valid as anything I've heard about the DMV.

Amy Traub: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:42 AM, Aug 18, 2009 in Health Care | Politics | Progressives
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