Ignorant Economists, Amazon Bookstores, and Public Libraries

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August 9, 2018 by libroshombre

Martin Luther King, Jr. was spot-on when he said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” and that’s why I have to write this week about a glaring ignoramus instead of how the term “lily-livered” came to be, as I intended. The word “ignoramus” is “an ignorant or stupid person,” according to OxfordDictionaries.com, and comes from the title character in a play George Ruggle wrote in 1615 satirizing uninformed lawyers. He took “ignoramus,” which in Latin literally means “we do not know,” from the 16th century legalese for a jury finding of “insufficient evidence.”

Panos Mourdoukoutas emerged as the reigning ignoramus poster boy after writing in Forbes last week that America’s public libraries should be replaced by Amazon bookstores. Besides apparently not entering a library is many years, or even scanning a library website, he somehow failed to see the basic differences between stores selling information at a profit and libraries that share it. Besides, poor ignorant Mourdoukoutas didn’t mention public libraries’ wide range of free services and programs for children and adults, nor did he recognize the basic fact that “libraries are very popular, and with goodreason,” as Jason Passy wrote for Morningstar.com. “Americans still love their local libraries. A staggering 94% of American ages 16 and over said that having a public library is beneficial to the quality of life.”

Mourdoukoutas claimed he was thinking about Amazon’s stockholder’s profits, and that’s obviously how his thinking generally runs. But as New Yorker Magazine said in their response, “Amazon does not have an online library, as Mourdoukoutas claimed. “It has a store; these are entirely different ways of providing access to things. Amazon Books’ retail offerings are seemingly determined by an algorithm to push content already selling well on Amazon, not variety or access to information.” And as another online response noted, Mourdoukoutas “completely disregards that, if libraries were not much cheaper for a large slice of the public, particularly those who are financially disadvantaged … they would not exist.”

Mourdoukoutas’ inane recommendation certainly raised awareness about the continuing value of public libraries, especially since so many Americans are hurting financially. “America’s Middle Class Is Slowly Being WipedOut,” a NYPost.com article from last week, described findings in Alissa Quart’s new book, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.” “Middleclass life is now 30% more expensive than it was 20 years ago,” she wrote, with high costs of housing, health care, and child care being most responsible. Quart quoted a PEW study: “Before the 2008 crash, only one-quarter of Americans viewed themselves as lower class or lower-middle class. No longer. After the recession of 2008 … a full 40% of Americans viewed themselves as being at the bottom of the pyramid.”

Historically public library usage always soars in hard financial times. That’s when people need even more self-improvement, educational, and entertaining resources they can afford. Quart decried the situation in high education, for example. When I graduated from college in 1974, teaching was done by “full time tenure-stream” professors. “As of 2011, they are only 24.1% … Middle-class parents are spending all their savings to pay colleges where [their children] are going to be taught by people making $3,000 a class per semester. It’s going to change the quality of education, because people are teaching four classes a semester for no money.” Quarted citied the many “middle-class” families that pay20-30% and more of their income on day care, with housing and health care decimating the rest.

It’s unsurprising that Mourdoukoutas is the head of the economics department at Long Island University, for his writing mirrors that sort of insulated, hothouse thinking. He did reap a nasty whirlwind in response to his foolish and ill-conceived suggestion. For starters, Forbes immediately removed Mourdoukoutas’ article from it’s website, saying “Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of subjects, including those that often take a contrarian view. Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

            Perhaps Mourdoukoutas has learned something, though his heated Twitter responses to critics belie that. Someday he might learn that a trip to your library can be informative.

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