There are more public libraries in the United States than there are Starbucks coffee shops. And just like at Starbucks, patrons have access to free wi-fi. But unlike Starbucks, public libraries will usually provide the free use of a computer as well as Internet access. Perhaps it is their very ubiquitousness that makes them such a tempting target for libertarians like the Koch brothers and right-wing economists like the one who recently suggested a takeover of libraries’ functions by Amazon. Forbes quickly pulled the controversial op-ed by contributor Panos Mourdoukoutas, an economist and academic who felt that many of the functions of the local library, like free Wi-Fi, and movie rentals are already being filled by places like Starbucks and services like Netflix. Why shouldn't Amazon open stores to provide books to the public? His argument included the fact that public libraries cost taxpayers money (gasp). It would be so much nicer for him if he did not have to contribute a couple of hundred dollars every year to American literacy. The American Library Association reports that the actual annual cost is $36.96 per person.
For decades prior to the 1980s, governments around the world increased the scope and magnitude of their activities, taking on a variety of tasks that the private sector previously had performed. In the United States, the federal government built highways and dams, conducted research, increased its regulatory authority across an expanding horizon of activities, and gave money to state and local governments to support functions ranging from education to road building. In Western Europe and Latin America, governments nationalized companies, whole industries, banks, and health care systems, and in Eastern Europe, communist regimes strove to eliminate the private sector altogether.
Then in the 1980s, the tid