Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spending other people's money

Nothing is easier than spending other people's money. My first demonstration of the wisdom of this old saw occurred in 1976. You may recall that this was the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence--or was it the Constitution--anyway, one of those things. This important event had happened 200 years previously (or according to Ezra Klein, it was 100 years ago. But let's not quibble. It was a long time ago, and none of us were old enough to remember it). Anyway, the library I was managing then was encouraged to apply for funds from the Florida Bicentennial Committee, which we were to raise money to match. We did it, I forget how--maybe it was a bake sale, now illegal in several states because of the trans-fat issue. We raised our share and got the matching funds. Good so far. Then, as 1976 was winding to a close, we were informed that we had two weeks to spend the money, as someone in Washington or Tallahassee wanted to close the books on the Bicentennial. The board members, the mayor and I met in an emergency meeting because we had no idea what to do with the money. We finally came up with a plan. We would furnish a Bicentennial Room in the new library which was to be built shortly. In a lightning swift second meeting, we selected the furnishings of the room down to the color of the drapes and the frame on the picture of George Washington to be put on the wall. It was a piddling sum, but spending it was effortless; none of the group had to look at our personal finances to come up with the money. We could have spend 10 times that, 100 times that, if necessary. My next fun experience was in New Jersey. A bunch of us librarians were drafted to approve proposals for county arts projects. There was a finite sum, and we were to divide it among the candidates. We gave some money to several singing groups and to a group who wanted to paint a mural on a former but now derelict bowling alley in West Milford, NJ. It was fun, and I got an inkling of how much God must have enjoyed making the world and all the people and animals in it.

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