How the coronavirus response reveals the arbitrary bullshit of so many US policies

Over at Slate, Dan Kois offers an incisive look at the status quo frustrations that have long affected daily American life — and how they're now disappearing, because we're in a crisis. To some people, this will of course conform to their aspirational perspective of the country: that the American system has always been great and good, and the fact that people (and corporations) do good deeds in times of crisis is proof that free market capitalism is perfect and thus good.

But what if we always offered paid sick leave to hourly employees? What if the Internet wasn't throttled by providers eager to make another quick buck? What if we never had to deal with the arbitrary airline limits on liquids, just to reinforce the TSA security theatre performance?

What if kindness and empathy were the rule, and not the exception?

Up until now activists and customers have been meant to believe that the powers that be could never change these policies—it would be too expensive, or too unwieldy, or would simply upset the way things are done. But now, faced suddenly with an environment in which we’re all supposed to at least appear to be focused on the common good, the rule-makers have decided it’s OK to suspend them. It’s a crisis, after all. Everyone’s got to do their part.


But it’s also worth asking if we are willing to allow governments and corporations to return to business as usual. When everything’s back to normal, will we accept cities cutting off their poorest residents’ water, or evicting the sick, or throwing someone in jail because they can’t afford to pay a fine?

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California public library drops late fees

The Oakland Public Library will no longer charge late fees and fines for books, because they don't incentive people to return books more quickly, it costs the library more money to process fines and fees than the revenue they generate, and fines and fees discourage people from using the library.

From KQED:

"It's a barrier that's unnecessary," said Library Director Jamie Turbak. "There's no impact to the rate of returned items when you eliminate overdue fines, so charging people fines more likely prevents them from using the library at all."

Under the old system, late fees ranged from 25 cents to $1 per day. If someone accrued $50 or more in fines, they could not borrow additional materials until the amount was paid down to less than $50. The library brought in $77,600 in late fees in the last fiscal year, but Turbak said it cost the library twice that to process the fines.

According to Turbak, a city analysis found that adults living in predominantly non-white zip codes were 5% more likely to have their account blocked due to fines, 26% more likely to owe fines and 45% less likely to use their library cards, even though many more of them had library cards.

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