The Ethicist on Library Late Fines

New York Times columnist Randy Cohen addresses whether it is ethical to keep an unrenewable book and pay the overdue fine when others are waiting to read it in his reply to the second of two questions in Sunday's The Ethicist column.

That the fee is inadequate to provide a proper incentive, that the library does not instead charge $25 a day or $250 a day or impose a vigorous flogging (as described in the no-doubt-renewable “Mutiny on the Bounty”), bespeaks ineffectual enforcement tactics, not the freedom to keep a popular book past its due date...
The injunction “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” is specious. It should be “Don’t do the crime.”

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