The Social Compact Destroyed

Sunday launches National Library Week. As I write this, the Republicans, held hostage by a bunch of well-intentioned but wrong-headed folks known as the Tea Party, seem bent on forcing a shutdown of the United States government. And while that is extreme enough, the assault on publicly funded services that used to be considered necessary – like libraries, schools and health care for the poor – has been under way for some time.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the dispute between libraries and HarperCollins, a publisher that wants to curtail the number of times someone can download an e-book from a library, which would force the library to re-purchase the e-book more frequently than is required now. Understandably, libraries are balking at this proposal. Library budgets have been under siege ever since the beginning of the recession, when local governments started to feel the squeeze of lost revenues. They are an easy mark, unfortunately. And they may be the canary in the mine.

Libraries provide a societal service that in some ways is unquantifiable. The benefits to a community are obvious to those of us who recognize the value of reading and literacy. Schools are part of this equation. If we educate all of our children, the community as a whole benefits: educated youngsters means fewer aimless kids on the streets, fewer who turn to drugs or crime to make up for lost opportunities; fewer taxpayer dollars spent for remedial services or incarceration.

Our Republic is founded on the concept of shared responsibility for all, because in the end it benefits all.

Yet in just the past week national leaders, people who are supposed to understand this social compact, have proposed cuts that would decimate funding for reproductive care services for women (a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood); the arts (which enrich the lives of everyone; guess the Republicans think the arts and arts education should only be available to those who can afford them); support for organizations that build homes for the needy; programs that provide services for the elderly; and many other programs that serve those less fortunate in our communities. The amount of money they say all these cuts would save is a pittance compared to the overall discretionary budget.

One has to ask, whose interests are these people serving? It does not appear to be the country's.