Carnegie’s Paternalistic Vision

There has been ongoing controversy over filtering online pornography at the Pima County Public Library. It has become a campaign issue.

Ray Carroll has led the fight in favor of filtering pornographic material. Most of the other county supervisors demur, noting first amendment concerns, and the imperfection of filtering technology.

The concern, of course, is the inevitability of small children walking by the computer bank while young adult males are viewing, well, you can imagine…then again, maybe you can’t imagine.

This porn problem is really a symptom of the public library concept, a concept originally put forth by the great industrialist, Andrew Carnegie.

In the early 1900’s Carnegie turned his focus from steel and other concerns to philanthropy. He envisioned community facilities that were a combination of free libraries and community meeting places. He provided startup money while the local government committed to providing the real estate and ongoing expenses. This was the original “public/private partnership.” He started over three thousand of these facilities across the English-speaking world.

We all find Carnegie’s vision cool, and these public libraries have enriched countless communities. The problem is, that as government entities, they try to be all things to all the people in the community. There is a touch of arrogant paternalism in the original vision that continues today.

Were libraries private businesses that had to respond to the discipline of the markets, they would identify specific information markets, and succeed or fail by how well they served them. If you are funded directly by those you serve, you keep them happy. This is called the discipline of the market.

If your funding does not come directly from those you serve, then you do not see a problem with little kids watching an erotomaniac get all jacked up over an online video. You are all things to all people.

Imagine little Susie coming home and her mom asking, “What did you learn at the Library today?”

Susie says, I learned about trains and highways, and I learned how to spell “transportation”.

“That’s wonderful honey!” says mom.

Susie adds, “Mommy?”

“Yes dear,” replies mom.

“What’s an Asian MILF creampie?”

Interestingly, to my knowledge, no one is pushing for an adult section of the library. It might solve the problem, but then the library would admittedly become purveyors of porn, not simply the homogenized source of all information.

In the end, technology and the private sector will make public libraries irrelevant. Online libraries, computers, and electronic readers will bring the information to the citizen – the citizen will no longer have to go to the information.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, Has his own vision. He’s sees the decline of the “dead tree world” of books. Last year he introduced the Kindle electronic reading device.

Among other things, the Kindle allows the reader to download books and periodicals directly to the device via the cell phone network. It is about the size of a trade paperback, and the screen does not glow. It uses “electronic ink” technology that looks like a printed page.

With this move, Bezos is making a down payment on the future of his book business, and keeping it on the cutting edge – good for him! More importantly, he is staying in the private sector, subjecting himself to market discipline – good for us!

It is hard to imagine Jeff Bezos being blasé about mixing together Dick and Jane stories with hardcore pornography. He is accountable to his customers in a very direct, dollars and cents way.

Hopefully, Jeff Bezos will stay a businessman and not become a philanthropist. We will all be better served in the long run.

Could Augusta’s plan to mine Rosemont Valley maybe, possibly, not be such a bad thing?

 

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1897. We are going to visit the United States Congress as they pass the Forest Management Act, which defined the mission for what will become the United States Forest Service.

Mr. Peabody might begin a history lesson in this way.

The Forest Reserve Act of 1897 created management provisions, provided funding, and defined the purpose of the reserves as forest protection, watershed protection, and a source of timber supply for the nation.

In addition to timber, today’s “Land of Many Uses” provides an array of materials and services including ore and recreation. As a forestry student said to me some twenty-odd years ago, “The National Parks are our Crown Jewels, and the National Forests are our industrial diamonds.”

The mining industry has profited wildly from these government resources. This, along with its colossal disruption of the countryside and toxic byproducts, make it second only to whaling in industries despised by the environmentally sensitive.

Could there ever be a “nice” mining project, or maybe just an acceptable mining project? If so, what would it look like?

Let’s try a little brainstorming. First, a nice mining project would buy the land it wanted to use, instead of paying token, below market fees for government set-aside land, as do the hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, and birders. Second, it would generate an independent fund to restore the site after it is depleted. Third, it would create an endowment that would support the local community. Of course, it would comply with the latest standards of worker and environmental safety.

Enter the Augusta Resource Corporation. Augusta wants to get at the rich copper deposits in the Santa Rita foothills. It’s proposed mine seems to fill the bill as a nice mining project.

From Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, to the folks at the Tucson Weekly, anti-miners stand in fierce opposition to the project. Those who are in favor, cite the need for copper, job creation, wealth creation, etc., while acknowledging the visual price and environmental risks. The anti-miners generally acknowledge many of these positives, but they see the environmental impact as a deal breaker.

Ironically, this whole controversy could have been avoided if Pima County had purchased the property, now owned by Augusta, from Yoram Levy when it had the chance. Levy purchased the land for $4.8 million, then offered it to Pima County for $11.5 million. The county passed on the deal, and he ended up selling it to Augusta for 20.8 million. Now, some might say that ol’ Yoram was a schmuck for trying to more than double his money with the county. Others might call him a fool for making the offer to the county when he could have (and did, in the end) quadruple his money with another buyer. You might even say that the county blew a chance to buy it at a $9.3 million discount.

I attended the meeting of the Pima County Supervisors in which Ray Carroll’s resolution opposing the mine was discussed. The Augusta folks made a presentation, and answered questions from the Supes. Ray Carroll did not miss an opportunity to bash the mine idea, or Augusta Resources. Ann Day got in a few licks, but did not seem very inspired. The rest were oddly silent.

The audience was one-third pro-miners, two-thirds anti-miners. Augusta “salted the mine,” so to speak, by filling the center section with friendlies.

The speakers were quite predictable, though one put words to a feeling I get that makes me squirm in my seat when these sorts of issues arise. A geologist named Ann Pattison made the following statements: “Some say that we should let all the mining be done in the Third World. That is Environmental Imperialism of the worst sort.” She went on to point out that if a mine were to be built, it would be far better, from a global perspective, for it to be built here. Our environmental laws, labor laws, and advanced technology would result in a much cleaner and safer operation.

From a strictly environmental perspective, that’s a tough argument to beat. Maybe we could make amends for our Environmental Imperialism by offering Augusta a tax break… just a thought.