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So a group of firefighters let a house burn down in a county in Tennessee.  Horrible, right?  Yes, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons.

In this case, the firefighters let the house burn down because the the home owner had not paid the protection fee.  Why was he expected to pay a fee rather than jsut get the service as a taxpayer?  Because the county has refused to staff a fire department.  As a result, the little towns in the county provide fire service to the rural county, for a small fee. The problem is that approximately 75%of the fire calls to those services are in the county.  And when the fire department tries to collect for the costs of going to put out fires, they are stiffed more than fifty percent of the time.  So the citizens of the cities are paying for fire protection for people who refuse to contribute the common good.  So, inevitably, they were forced to make a choice: enforce the penalty for opting out of the community or continue to pay higher and higher costs to protect those who refuse to be fully paid up members of society.

Fire fighting -- like all government services -- costs money.  Firetrucks need to be purchased.  911 systems need to be staffed.  Alarm systems need to be maintained.  Firefighters need to be clothed, housed and fed while on duty.  None of that can exist without money -- money that the residents of the county have refused to supply as a community and only sporadically as individuals.  So the choice is clear: let people freeload on the taxpayers of the municipalities that do support fire departments and eventually ruin their budgets or let houses burn to the ground.  It is, in other words, the perfect libertarian world.

Letting houses burn to the ground is the only result acceptable to a libertarian.  If you do not let the house burn to the ground, then you encourage free loading, which eventually bankrupts the fire department or the people who are willing to support the fire department.  And when we replace the notion of community and collective action for the good of the community, then we are left with the libertarian schemes that require firefighters to stand by and watch homes burn.

Some of you may think that is just fine, that the man got what he deserved.  I would argue that that is immoral -- that putting out fires is a community responsibility best shared by the community.  In this scheme, a person who is poor or down on their luck might lose everything because they could not pay the flat fee for the protection.  Someone just might forget, or have the paperwork lost.  It is not just to allow someone to lose their home or life to that kind of mistake if the damage from that mistake can be reasonable mitigated.

If morality doesn't sway you, then remember that the fire was eventually put out when it spread to the lawn of a neighbor, a neighbor who had paid for the fire protection.  So the man's mistake did damage to his neighbors and the community at large.  The only libertarian response is to have the neighbor sue the man.  And I am sure that the neighbor will be able to recoup the damages from a person whose house has just been burned to the ground.  The destitute are well known for honoring civil judgments.

This fire is a the result of libertarian land.  In libertarian land, collective action is forbidden so taxes cannot pay for fire departments.  Without taxes, you must rely on the voluntary subscription to services (or after the fact fees, but for something like firefighting that requires a large and constant maintenance cost, after the fact fees aren't going to be enough to keep a fire department active).  If you must rely on a voluntary subscription service, then you must discourage free loaders.  If you must discourage free loaders, then you must let the homes of the poor, or unlucky or plan stupid burn to the ground.  And if you must let the homes of the poor, the unlucky and the plain stupid burn down, inevitably you will have situations where the fire spreads and damages the property of other people, people who wont be able to recover their damages because their neighbor has probably just watched their largest asset go up in smoke.  Damage to the innocent -- even in the horrible way that libertarians define innocent -- is the inevitable result of libertarian policies.

When you think of the future that Rand Paul and Sharon Angle and Paul Ryan want, think of fire fighters watching houses burn to the ground and fires spreading to the homes of the innocent.  Forever.

Originally posted to kcr on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:09 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ayn Rand proved wrong (7+ / 0-)

    Libertarianism has been proven to be a failed philosophy with this event.

    Supporting the Freedom of Religion and opposing the Park51 Mosque are mutually exclusive positions.

    by Walt starr on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:28:11 AM PDT

    •  Walt - why is that? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JG in MD, Lord Sphere

      Why has this single fire proven Ann Rand wrong? Personlly I think the firefighters should have put out the fire, but this one fire does nothing to prove, or not prove, libertarianism. Houses burn to the ground everyday in communities that have traditional tax funded fire departments. In this case the owner of the destroyed house made an informed decision to not pay the $75 fire fee. In the view of libertarians, that is freedom of choice.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:36:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Right (3+ / 0-)

        this falls within the range of possible results.  It may cause folks to reconsider how much they agree with libertarian views - since reality and theory feel different.  And for some it may shine light on the lie of how superior Sarah Palin's "Real America" is in terms of morality.

        Although it is questionable whether the "decision" not to pay was an informed and willful decision.  I think this can be used as an example of how and why certain things should be provided by government for the safety and well being of all.  A better process, in my view, would be a County charge for all residents for the $75 to cover the cost of fire department services by the city department.  

        Libertarians can suck it.

        "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

        by newfie on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:46:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Fire protection is not individual choice (6+ / 0-)

        The only reason the municipal fire department deployed at all was because the fire spread from this idiot's home to a neighbor's property and that neighbor paid his subscription fee.

        Libertarian philosophy failed because it allowed a choice where no society can allow a choice. Fire protection must be mandated because fire does not affect any single entity, it affects all of society.

        Supporting the Freedom of Religion and opposing the Park51 Mosque are mutually exclusive positions.

        by Walt starr on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:51:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  "There Is No Such Thing as Society" --Thatcher (0+ / 0-)

          We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

          by Gooserock on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 10:16:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  This was one of the reasons long ago that big (11+ / 0-)

          cities in the East switched over from a series of private fire companies, which is effectively what that county outside the town has, to a municipal fire department. The private fire departments were only obligated for the subscribers on their lists, as shown by plaques on buildings. If it didn't have their plaque, they would ignore it.

          A substantial part of several Northeastern towns burnt down that way, because Company A would take no responsibility for Company B or the no-plaques. So fires would be allowed to burn until they hit a subscriber, and only fought then. As here. In the process the fire got so large it could not be fought by individual companies at all.

          It did not take long for municipalities and other governmental divisions to realize that everyone had to be included in fire protection, and all pay for it usually via taxes, rather than individual subscriptions. Which led to the notion, which we last saw big time on 9/11, that fire fighting was a general community obligation, which is why all those companies came from all those non Gotham locations to help if they could, knowing that if it happened to their town, others would come to them in the same way.  Except for this county.

          The Fire Department here was shamelessly acting as the ancient subscription fire companies did, and literally watching the fire burn the house and animals until it hit a subscriber's lawn was just rubbing salt in the wounds.

          This 'we are not all in this together, only individually as we choose' notion is one which naturally would support small government and lower taxes, so 'we' would have more to provide individually for ourselves if we have moeny at all, and that others should not get 'our money.' These same people will be right there lining up for polio shots when an epidemic comes, and only the religiously refusing are exempt from getting shots. Smallpox the same. DPT the same. Meningitis the same. There are some things best done uniformly because it is more efficient and because it minimizes the affect of whateve the problem is on those who did not invite themselves into risk but are nevertheless there, and who are at risk for something that individual activity cannot necessarily avoid.  

      •  NO, he says he usually paid it but forgot this (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        erratic, millwood

        time, and they wouldn't take the money as the house burnt.

    •  Honestly, I don't think there's any version (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of libertarianism that can adequately handle modern infrastructure needs, eg roads and sewers. It's fine in a Mad Max world to just shit anywhere and drive all crazy, but the environmental reality of watersheds, and the economic reality of modern trade/population levels relies on better infrastructure than robber barons and people who wish they could poop anywhere like their dogs can, can provide.


      nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect

      by erratic on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 10:37:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  yes, but (0+ / 0-)

    Some of you may think that is just fine, that the man got what he deserved.  I would argue that that is immoral -- that putting out fires is a community responsibility best shared by the community.

    He did not want to be part of the community.

    If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

    by indefinitelee on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:51:25 AM PDT

    •  He Has No Choice. He's IN the Community. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lord Sphere, jan4insight

      You can't be in a community and not part of it.

      Not in any way whatsoever in which your presence or behavior can influence the community.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 10:17:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think it is fine with me that (1+ / 0-)

      The house burn down. We are able to compare and contrast shared responsibility in a community and those that oppose it.
      In the health care debate they argued against the mandatory provisions. They never thought to asked for who will pay for the freeloaders when communicable disease spread around the community without mandatory provisions.
      If you choose to live with people who don't want to pay taxes for fire department. You have to live with whatever come to you. This include the neighbor that paid his $75 dues

  •  Cost of County Fire Dept Would Be 13 Cents a Mo. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lord Sphere, jan4insight

    per county tax payer is the figure I recall Randi Rhodes citing.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 10:18:12 AM PDT

  •  Again, fish don't know they're wet. (5+ / 0-)

    Money, property, rights, peace, security, equality and justice don't occur in nature.  They are abstractions of the collective human mind, creations of law - of government.  Government, in some form, is like gravity.  We are always bound to it and to each other.  There is no escaping it.  Those who deny being creatures of it are delusional.

    Watching someone's house burn down is not freedom from government.  It's a perversion of it.

    Human reason treads water in a sea of animal impulses.

    by legalarray on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 11:58:44 AM PDT

  •  Preach it, brother/sister! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MaikeH, weinerschnauzer, jan4insight

    I was a little distressed by the cold-hearted response this story initially got on DK and the failure of many kossacks to acknowledge the flaws in such a system. Nice to see some firm opposition.

  •  Hypothetical twist in facts: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    What if the homeowner's two-year old had been trapped in the burning house?  No rescue?  Is the free market such a cruel taskmaster?
  •  Excellent commentary tonight (0+ / 0-)

    by Jonathan Turley on Countdown:

  •  Re: Firefighters in Obion (0+ / 0-)

    I spoke on this very issue myself in a recent posting.  Granted, mine was not nearly as eloquent and factual as yours is.  Good stuff.

    "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." -- Frank Zappa

    by SaintDharma32 on Thu Oct 07, 2010 at 01:11:55 AM PDT

  •  Since everyone feels it is a great tragedy... (0+ / 0-)

    Since everyone feels it is a great tragedy I am sure you will all immediately start a charity to pay for fire protection for those that cannot afford it? No, I thought not, you will settle for taking it from me by force. You will add it to my taxes and if I don't pay up the sheriff will stop by and evict me from my house. Looks like somebody ends up loosing a house anyway.

    The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell

    by tombeard on Thu Oct 07, 2010 at 01:34:13 PM PDT

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