No More Library Fines?


The San Diego Library System wants to eliminate overdue book fines. So no more fines if you don’t return a book. To which you obviously respond, “why would anyone ever return a book?”

We need to do it to help the poor!

This is the headline in our local paper “San Diego may eliminate library fines to avoid cutting off poor.”

Everything about this headline is wrong.

The library isn’t cutting off the poor. A person is cutting themselves off from having access to the library because they’re not playing by the rules.

The rules are very simple: You go and you get to take a book for free. For months! Totally, completely, free! All you have to do is bring it back before the due date.

This is not a super high expectation to have of people. And if you don’t abide by these rules, then you cut off your own access to the library. That’s your doing.

The library says more poor people have overdue book fines, and the fines prevent them from going back to the library.

I don’t buy that.

If you’re wealthy enough to borrow a book from the library, how can you be too poor to return it?

If you are able to go to the library and get a book, then you’re also able and competent enough to go to the library and bring the book back.

If the argument was poor people can’t’ get to the library or there aren’t enough library locations in poor neighborhoods or near bus routes or within walking distance, okay. I’d like to see the data, I can hear that. But you can’t say people are too poor to return a book. They weren’t poor enough to borrow it in the first place!

There’s a couple of reasons why I’m against this and with more passion than is probably necessary.

First, if no one returns a book now, they’re not going to do it when there are no fines, and that reduces access for me to the library. Catering to someone who is not following the rules, hurts people like me who do follow the rules, because they now have that book I want to read. They’re reducing my access.

And when people never return a book, it’s higher taxes we all have to pay to replenish the book supply.

But here’s my main frustration: I get annoyed when people remove all personal responsibility and agency from a situation. We’re living in a society with zero personal responsibility. Again, the library says the fines cut off access for poor people.

No.

Someone who doesn’t follow the rules cuts off their own access.

There’s this coddling of the poor. It’s the victimization of the poor. When if anything this is evidence of probably why this person is poor.

Many poor people are poor because they make bad decisions with money and make bad life decisions often.

The book Hillbilly Elegy is about a guy who grew up in rural Kentucky and rural Ohio and then he went on to the Marines and then Yale Law School, so he lived in two very different cultures in his life. He wrote about working in a tile factory growing up in Ohio. There was one employee who was so horrible he would take three or four bathroom breaks every day, each over an hour. Everyone would set a timer and take bets on how long he’d be gone for his break. That’s when he did show up for work.

He was fired.

This was after his girlfriend was fired from the tile factory as a secretary because she missed work every third day without notice.

So she was fired and then he was fired. When he was fired, he confronted the manager who fired him, “How could you do this to me? Don’t you know that I have a pregnant girlfriend!”
He thought that getting fired was something done to him. A complete lack of agency and personal responsibility.

Same thing with library fines.

We don’t expect poor people to follow basic rules? We don’t expect a poor person to be able to return a library book after a few months of borrowing it? How insulting honestly is that to a poor person.

This is what’s so funny, and why I get angry at this. I’m the insensitive person here for some reason, because I say, “Hey poor person, you’re fully capable of returning a book on time. You can do this. You are capable of borrowing the book, I’m glad you did by the way. You’re capable of bringing it back.”

That makes me the bad person.

But the person over here, the bleeding heart liberal, says “oh, poor poor person, you’re so pathetic, you’re so weak, you are incapable. You can’t do this. We can’t expect you to. It’s okay, no more fines for you.” That’s the caring and compassionate person?

No. That person is horribly insulting. But I’m the bad guy.

But back to the main point, could it be true that many people are poor because they don’t show up on time / they’re not good employees? Talk to any manufacturer in any industry and they’ll talk about how taxes are too high and regulations are oppressive, but one of the hardest things about being in business is finding good employees; people who will show up on time, pass a drug test and not steal from me.

It’s hard to find just that bare minimum of people. People make bad choices. Many people make bad choices. Don’t rob them of their agency. If you tell someone that their bad choices aren’t their fault, then you’re telling them they’re not capable of ever making good choices. And they’ll never get better.

If anything library fines should go up!

It’s thirty cents a day. It should be thirty bucks a day.

But ideally, we got to get back to a society where people bring books back right away, just because it’s the decent thing to do. It’s a common courtesy to others. That’s a virtuous society.

Look how far we’ve fallen.

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