Five Best Tuesday Columns

D.J. Hoek on the price of public libraries, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on the narrow worldview of economists, Geoff Mulgan on the upside of financial crises, Max Boot on (not) apologizing for the Iraq War, and Kyle Wiens on the necessity of digital ownership.

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D.J. Hoek at American Libraries on the price of public libraries Libraries are considered a crucial thread of our civic fabric in large part because they appear to be free: you can read and return hundreds of books without paying a single dollar. That's not quite true, says D.J. Hoek, who attempts to clarify the value of public libraries by emphasizing the taxes which fund them. "Rather than promote the 'free library,' let's remind our communities of their great investment and of the tremendous wealth of returns they derive from that investment: materials, specialized assistance, and programming," Hoek writes. "That doesn't mean libraries are free. It means that the cost of libraries is worth every cent."

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at Forbes on the narrow worldview of economists We like to think of economists as sages of wisdom — think Paul Krugman, or Greg Mankiw — but, as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes, they're informed by a fairly obvious set of biases which in turn influence their supposedly frank opinions. Going off of economist Tyler Cowen's recent op-ed in The New York Times, Gobry investigates why economists tend to emphasize the college wage premium while ignoring the marriage wage premium: "Economics as a profession ... self-selects people who on the whole enjoy higher education. Economists by and large enjoyed college so much they decided to stay there for the rest of their professional lives."

Geoff Mulgan at The Guardian on the upside of financial crises Who benefits from the turmoil of financial markets? According to Geoff Mulgan, we all do. Mulgan acknowledges the flaws of capitalism, which "rewards takers and predators, the people and companies who extract value from others without contributing much in return," after emphasizing that confusion and chaos tend to strengthen our civic institutions. He points to the historical precedent: "The last great financial crisis, in the 1930s, unleashed war and chaos. But it also led to an extraordinary period of social creativity that left large parts of the world with welfare states and Keynesian economics, the UN and human rights."

Max Boot at Commentary on (not) apologizing for the Iraq War "I would not have backed the invasion if I had known what we now know—that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction," writes Max Boot, who investigates the morality of supporting a war that, after it started, was found to be based on bad intelligence. "Having started a war, we had an obligation to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion," he argues. "Just because the war turned out to be a lot harder and bloodier than anyone could have imagined at the outset doesn’t mean we could have simply abandoned it — any more than we could have ... abandoned the Second World War after the setbacks of Pearl Harbor and Kasserine Pass."

Kyle Wiens at Wired on the necessity of digital ownership Kyle Wiens starts off with a simple question: "Who owns our stuff?" The answer seems obvious; but according to Wiens, the real answer is much more complicated: "Once we buy an object — any object — we should own it. We should be able to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it … without asking for permission from the manufacturer. But we really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do." Wiens places blame on our broken copyright system: "As long as we’re limited in our ability to modify and repair things, copyright — for all objects — will discourage creativity. It will cost us money. It will cost us jobs. And it’s already costing us our freedom."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.