Provision of a public good…to mandate or not
Center for Business & Public Policy suggests some complications with public goods and taxes/fee for service in the case of the Obion county, Tenn. man and the fire department story. One is freeriders, but there appears to be more than that:
The city of South Fulton in Obion County, Tennessee, offers fire protection to households living outside of the city limits for a fee of $75 per year. If you pay the fee, then if your house catches on fire, the fire department comes and puts it out. If you don’t pay the fee, they don’t. This sounds reasonable. People living in the city limits pay city taxes for city services. The city offers those services to people living outside the city limits when they can, but asks them to pay a share for them. Some choose to pay the fee and others don’t.
…problems with voluntary provision of a public good. If you ask people to voluntarily contribute toward a good like having a fire department or an army, the rational person says to himself “if everybody else pays, and I get protected even if I don’t pay, then why should I pay?”
Of course, if everyone thinks this way, nobody contributes, and nobody gets protected. One solution, the one that South Fulton and other governments use, is to use their power of taxation to force people to contribute and then provide the service to everyone. Another solution, also employed by South Fulton, is to find a way to exclude those who do not contribute from consuming the public good. In this case, county residents who don’t pay the $75 fire fee do not get protected. Of course, for that to provide people with proper incentives to contribute, you have to let their houses burn down if they actually do catch fire.
Finally, what are we to make of the owners’ offer to pay any price to have their house extinguished once the fire started? Surely, there is some price at which it would be beneficial to the city to send out the fire department. What about $20,000? What about $30,000? While there is certainly a number where the city would be foolish to pass up the opportunity, it might be rather high for a number of reasons.
First, the city decided how large a fire department to build based on the number and location of households it has to protect. Asking households to opt into fire protection probably helps with planning. Second, there is the question of how price negotiations will take place while someone’s house is on fire. Finally, there is the issue that someone whose house is currently on fire might not be in a position to enter into an agreement at all and may not have the assets necessary to pay the fire department’s ex post price. My guess is that it might be possible to enter into agreements before that say “we opt out of paying the $75 but agree to pay $10,000 if the fire department has to come to our house,” but much more difficult to enforce a verbal agreement struck in a house on fire.
The other party with a big stake in this issue is the fire insurance company. If standard fire insurance policies don’t already require payment of the $75 (as a condition of coverage), it is likely that the publicity over this incident will soon lead to the inclusion of such a requirement as a standard policy feature.
The guy whose house burned down was interviewed on Olbermann last nigh. The house in the background was al ashes. Seemed to one’s casual observation to have been made of sticks and twigs. There was almost nothing left standing. The ire must have been a significant sight. But his plight brings to mind th other potential down side of fee for service rather than tax ’em all approach. So his house is ablaze and no effort is made to extinguish the flames. What happens if the surrounding shrubs, trees etc catch fire and cross over to a neighbor’s house? Keith didn’t address the issue, but it seem to me that community fire fighting is for the good of the community, including those who may suffer unintended consequences of allowing on free loader to burn to the ground.
RDan says: ‘the rational person says to himself “if everybody else pays, and I get protected even if I don’t pay, then why should I pay?”’
I’m not sure this is in evidence. I read someplace that the firefighters were volunteer firefighters. If they were rational, according to the above thinking, no one would have fire protection, no matter whether they pay the $75 fee or not. Volunteer firefighters are not paid enough to compensate for their time. I’m not sure I know for sure they are paid at all. A similar thing can be said for public school teachers. Nobody teaches because it maximizes their income.
Actually, a small amount of fire did spread to the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor had paid, so the firemen put it out.
Given that the so-called fire department was already at the scene, I can’t imagine that it would be even $10,000. The marginal cost of putting out the fire is minimal at that point; the important aspect is the deterrence factor for other homeowners considering not paying. And people who don’t buy fire insurance are not making a rational cost/benefit calculation, so breaking out your actuarial tables won’t help. It just has to be “a lot more than $75” to act as a useful deterrent. I’d say $2,000 would be plenty.
Besides, anybody who can sit in a firetruck and watch a house burn down, is not a fireman, or much of a human being. Don’t they put any economic value on their souls?
FWIW, I wonder if anyone has taken into consideration the ramifications of the fire department making a mistake in determining who has paid the fee. If you paid the fee, but the fire department decided you were really the guy with the same house number on another, similarly named street, which guy didn’t pay the fee, and if they let your house burn down, would a lawsuit really serve to replace all your property? I suspect not, and I suspect such a lawsuit would be very expensive. Maybe it would be more expensive than the increased fire protection costs. A statistician would look at the expected cost. The probablity of a mistake may be low, so the expected cost would be relatively low. But even unlikely events happen, and a town’s ability to pay legal fees and judgements may be non-linear. By non-linear, I mean paying a $1.0e7 judgement may be more than 10 times as difficult as paying a $1.0e6 judgement.
I read that for .13 cents additional taxation, all residents would have been covered. The county decided not to raise taxes, and opted for the fee for service. In light of recent events, couldn’t the county require all residents to pay the fee? The possibility of putting other community property at risk would seem like a “state” interest. That aside, I think the fire department acted negligently. Showing up with the equipment necessary to put out the fire, and then standing by to watch the place burn down, seems like a cause of action.
Another problem with the firefighters accepting a spot fee is that this would send a message to other homeowners that if they have $10,000 (or whatever the fee was) in the bank that they could also use to pay a spot fee they wouldn’t have an incentive to buy the $75 coverage. There would still be a price for the fire department that would make this risk worthwhile, but it would have to be significantly above the cost of putting out the fire and significantly above the expected benefit of the $75 coverage to the homeowner.
Whatever. Live in an unincorporated area, don’t expect city services. They don’t take out your trash, don’t process your sewage, the post office won’t deliver mail to your door, and you shouldn’t expect them to put out a fire either.
Idiots deserve what they get.
Wkj has the fix for it the fire insurance company will require it, and if there is a mortgage on the house the mortgage company will also. In fact they fire insurance company might well pay the bill and add it to the premium. (It would be interesting to compare a premium written with no fire protection to one with the fire fee paid, I suspect the difference would be more than $75).
The problem with the county raising its taxes is that the city dwellers get to pay the county tax as well, thus paying twice for fire service. TN needs an emergency services district law if you want to go the tax rate, allowing residents outside the city limits to vote a tax to pay for fire services.
And what about the posibilty of accidental death caused by the fire that may have been avoided had the fire fighters intervened?
One problem with reduced services in cities in MA is the mutual aid pacts towns have with each other. That is unreimbursed but based on commonwealth. Some calls for mutual aid have had severely diminished responses.
Number of Volunteer Firefighters:0Number of Paid per Call Firefighters:20Non-Firefighting Employees:0Non-Firefighting Volunteers:2
Read again….from their website.
Ask the next CEO you see and see if that is an area of agreement….you know, work for common wealth should be enough. In this day and age of pretend individualism, how does that work?
If you get in a car accident, and paramedics assist you at the scene then take you to a hospital, you get a bill, and you have to pay it. The same principle would have applied if the firefighers had put out the fire. The law would not have allowed them to go without compensation, particularly when the guy promised to pay. There are well-established equitable principles such as promissory estoppel and quantum meruit that would have been brought into play.
And the fact is, nobody would have known that the homeowner hadn’t paid the $75 fee, if the fire had been put out. Do you really think the guy went around bragging about not having paid the fee? We only know about his lack of payment because that is the excuse of these fire watchers acting like jackals instead of human beings.
The fact that we are even having this conversation = WIN for Randian Conservative Individualistic “Thought”. Which immediately makes it suspect in my mind.
The entire question is ridiculous, and if the RW hadn’t spent the past thirty years pounding on the Commons as the source of all problems, nobody would even consider it.
This is a pure example of the classic free rider problem. The basic economics is that the firemen have to let the house burn as a warning to others to pay the advance fee to get firefighter protection. If they fight the fire, even after negotiating a higher fee, how would they ever get anyone to pay the fee. But if people do not pay the advance fee the fire department can not exist.
Originally firefighters in the US developed as private, for profit organizations. But over time this free rider problem lead to public firefighters displacing private firefighters.Practical considerations of the free rider problem caused the private firefighters to fade away.
The interesting thing is to watch all the people at the libertarian blogs trying to avoid taking the position their philosophy insists on, that the firefighters were right to let the house burn.
It is really funny that virtually none of them were willing to say the firemen were right to let the house burn.
This is a real pure example of the inconsistency of the libertarian philosophy, and virtually none of them were willing to agree with their teaching of their own philosophy that the house should have burned.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it was right for the firemen to let the house burn, I’m just saying that is what libertarianism economics insist on.
no doubt. be interesting to see what you get. if there is a hell.
my instinct would be for the fire department to put out a fire they had the means to put out and then to send the guy a bill. i’m not sure the pre-fire agreement would work any better….
but you can see why the feds don’t pussyfoot around with “voluntary” taxes.
there is a difference between watching a fire burn someone’s house down and not delivering mail.
my guess is that both the trash and the sewage would become public issues and there would be no “opt out” . if the city don’t get ya, the county will.
look at J Godwin’s comment above.
I grew up in an area where an arrangement of this type was in place; people in town were forced to pay a tax and people in the country could pay a fee for service. This covered also the library and city parks. One problem with the setup was that the fire marshall could not enforce fire safety in the countryside. So there were always fires in the country brought about by reckless behavior: open burning on level ground which spread, large buildups of combustibles near residences, improper storage of inflammable liquids, blocked exits from buildings. In town these hazards were quickly corrected, outside town they were everywhere. This seems to have had something to do with the situation here.
A great deal of fire fighting is actually fire prevention, as I mentioned above. The fire marshall could only force safe practices on the tax payers. The rate payers did not need to follow his orders. Remember one fire in a hay loft, with ammonia stored beneath it. Big explosion that fortunately did not kill anybody. The fire fighters might have been wary of what was contained in the house.
Wal-Mart plays an interresting game in smaller villages and towns.
Whenever possible Wal-Mart locates in the township so as not to pay city taxes, knowing that most township volunteer fire departments have mutual aide agreements with the local villages and towns.
A little free riding.
Indeed. He was burning his trash so that he could avoid paying another fee for service product, the landfill.
I love how much bloviating Libertarians do when we’re talking about $75 to save one man’s house. But when it’s $700 billion to bailout Wall Street, not so much. And that is the essential problem with Libertarianism — it is a utopian fantasy. The rich and powerful will ALWAYS find a way to use government to keep their gains private and their losses public. It is only the poor bastards like this dude who we force to live the Libertarian ideal.
Would it change the calculus if this guy had a son who died in Iraq? Or if he was a 20 year volunteer at the local food bank? Or if he had saved somebody’s life when he was 20? If not, why not? Why are we refusing to help him put out his fire simply because he didn’t pay the $75? Why do we define him as a “freeloader” if he has contributed to his community in ways that many other people have not? And would our grandfathers have stood around watching their neighbors homes go up in flames without lifting a finger? If not, why are we chosing to change the America they left us?
I agree. What the firefighters did was wrong (the opposite of right). It was immoral (the opposite of moral). Whether it was legal or not is entirely besides the point. The fact is that the firefighters most likely would not have been legally liable for the home owner’s loss if they had refused to help and either (1) the home owner had paid the $75 fee or (2) the fire department was paid through tax assessments on the home owner. In the former case, any contract almost assuredly includes a waiver of consequential damages in case of breach. In the latter case, I’m not aware of any legal basis of liability that would cover inaction. And then there’s the concept of sovereign immunity.
The fact that these jackals didn’t have a contractual obligation to help the home owner when they were in the position to do so doesn’t make their actions any less immoral. And the neoliberal “law and economics” wing would argue that even if there were a contractual obligation, the firefighters would have been well within their rights to breach that obligation (i.e., efficient breach or ruthless default).
A functioning society holds its citizens to higher standard than what is punishable by law. The legal system should be the last resort, not the starting point of human interaction. The whole incident sickens me.
Did you send a son or daughter to Iraq? If not, aren’t you freeloading on the sacrifice of other fathers and mothers? And when did you first go to the doctor? At that time, had you contributed your share of the cost of educating your doctor? Or did you “freeload” on those of us who were older and had built the medical school where he attended? How about all that driving you do on roads outside of the state where you live? Why do you think it is okay to freeload without contributing to their construction and maintenance?
But the city will then be proactive and annex the plot where the store is located. Particularly when the city gets a cut of the sales taxes from the store.
What is needed to solve this is the ability to create an emergency services district that people can set up to pay for fire and the like. It would not be fair to raise county taxes, because people in the cities pay county taxes also, so they would get to pay twice for the service.
grandfathers watch….you bet some did.
@Lyle: I think this is the second time you’ve made this point. It would appear that the county chose to institute the 75.00 fee in lieu of raising everyone in the coutny’s taxes. Setting up a fire district an levying a surcharge tax for fire protection would have covered all resients outside the city. Perhaps county supervisors were reluctant to raise taxes for fear of being labeled as “big spenders” come re-election time. Or maybe folks in rural Obion County, don’t like the government telling them that something is mandatory. 67% of the County voted for McCain/Paliln.
Umm, slight problem here. Fire protection is not a public good.
A public good is not what is good for the public nor is it goods which are supplied to the public. A public good is something which is non-rivalrous and non-excludable.
Yet, clearly, fire protection is excludable. Don’t pay and don’t get, as the story shows, protected. Which means therefore that fire protection, while it may be good for the public and is also a good which is provided to the public, is not in fact a public good.
And yes the distinction is extremely important. We sibsidise basic science because it is a public good. We ought to be subsidising vaccinations: herd immunity means that they are a public good.
That does not mean that we should be subsidising, say, the granting of patents because they are excludable, meaning they are not a public good. Similarly, hip replacements, while all fine and dandy and all that, are not a public good so that particular set of arguments us3ed to bolster public money paying for them should not be used.
Exactly. That is what happens with every other payment necessary to guarantee the mortgage. Problem is, mortgage companies tend to be large, and to commoditize mortgages. This little burg has decided to do something novel, which makes inclusion in the mortgage payment problematic. They probably shoulda thought of that.
In fact, this looks like one of those little experiments from which we learn. What we have learned here is that this effort by politicians to hide from unpopular duties (funding the fire department through taxation) has not worked out. Presumably, the plan will be dropped and some other cowardly scheme will be adopted in its place. If the next cowardly scheme works better (and it may, since we now have lots of people thinking the problem through), then we can expect it to proliferate, if it has not already proliferated elsewhere.
Those who do not “send” sons or daughters are merely following the law of the land. We cannot indenture our children. Not to master craftsmen. Not to the military.
Even ignoring the problem of liberty, those who do not “send” their sons or daughters to the military are not free riders because they have, in general, had no material benefit from the war in Iraq. Those who draw pay from the military/industrial complex may be exceptions, but we know what spencer does for a living, and it ain’t that.
Even ignoring the liberty issue and the lack of benefit, those who do not “send” their kids to Iraq are not free riders, because we have a professional army, paid for through taxes. spencer, I assume, pays taxes.
Childhood can, at a stretch, be construed to be one big free rider problem, only if we insist that our relationship to our parents cannot be considered. If it can be considered, then their contribution to society, through taxes, work, adherence to law and participation in community, pretty much covers the kids. But even if we exclude parental contributions to society, childhood free riding is common to all, and does not excuse grown-up free riding. Free riding is a problem because it is a problem, and so its existence in some circumstances – like childhood – is not an argument against dealing with free riding in other circumstances.
Then Wal-Mart moves.
There is this trick among economists of knocking a particular thing into the various services it provides. Looking at a house as the services it provides, as an the investment vehicle, and so forth.
If looked at that way, there is an element of public good in fire protection. It is the element which led the fire department to show up at the burning house, even though they had orders not to save that house. They were there to prevent the fire from spreading, and actually did take action to prevent its spread.
Think of the Chicago fire, the Great Fire of London and the like, and the non-rivalrous, non-excludable service provided by fire departments emerges. Not all of what a fire department does is a public good, but some of it is.
Last days of the republic.
In Rome, Crassus (see the word ‘crass’ and Spartacus’ ultimate captor and crucified 6000 errant slaves along the Appian Way) ran a business where his slaves were organized fire brigades. When there was a big fire spreading in the town he would buy up property he wanted around the fire and his slaves would then put the fire out.
I am not sure he bothered with selling subscriptions to his slaves’ services. If he did it was likely to owners of properties he did not care for.
Crassus operated in the First Triumvirate which predated Julius’ permanent dictatorship by less than 30 years.
Check out some of the Chicago suburbs. Many of the new ones that popped up in the last 10 to 15 years are not in any town or city, they’re unincorporated. No schools, no trash disposal that you don’t pay for yourself, etc etc etc.
Houses are dirt cheap though.
I don’t expect the Salem fire department to come to put out a fire in Beverly (barring a multi-alarm fire). I expect the Beverly fire department to do it. These people don’t have a fire department because they don’t have any sense.
It’s not like these fire departments showed up out of nowhere in the first place. The residents of the places they cover determined they were better off with one and either set up volunteer corps or they paid someone to do it.
People living in unincorporated places are radical fringe libertarians as far as I’m concerned 😉 Either that or they were duped by homebuilders.
What if the firefighters die fighting a fire that isn’t in their jurisdiction?
This one is easy. If your house cathes on fire, and you haven’t paid the fee, the city gets title to your house before they put out the fire. We can be “nice guys” and say they let you stay on as a tenant as long as you pay the mortgage off or have paid the mortgage off.
But you can’t leave it to anyone, after you die the city can sell it or turn it into a public park.
How do you fix the problem of double taxation given that in TN you have the county or a city no townships or other units covering unincorporated areas. The state has to allow a district to be set up to provide municipal services to unincorporated areas. Its not clear that TN allows this at present. Otherwise a majority of folks in the county are paying twice for fire serivce once in the city tax bill and once in the county tax bill.
And the city annexes again. Two can play that game.
or they are some dumb guy who just moved in and hasn’t figured it out yet.
interesting “solutions.” i am afraid at this point my solution would be to require the COUNTY resident to pay a fire protection fee and be subject to fire prevention laws. I actually hate that becaue I don’t like the county to tell me what to do. But something like the present event suggests the need.
As far as my own aggravations with the county telling me what to do, i’d like to think they could be made to be reasonable.
as to bargaining with the man while his house burns, or even getting him to agree in advance to a ten thousand dollar charge for putting out a fire..
i lived in a house that caught fire. the difference between “trivial” and “major damage” was about three minutes. the fire department said, and it looked to me like, another three minutes would have been the difference between major damage and total loss.
some guy looking at a then thousand dollar charge is all too likely to hesitate for three minutes. then it takes the fire truck another three minutes to get there.
Sure: “Not all of what a fire department does is a public good, but some of it is.”
Agreed entirely. But if we’re going to be using the standard public goods arguments (free riders etc as a result of non excludability, the essential finction of compulsory taxation in paying for it) then we’ve got to make sure that we’re discussing that part of a fire service which is indeed a public good.
Not the part that ain’t.
It is quite easy for the county to raise property taxes only in unincorporated areas. It is quite easy for the county to raise taxes and pay for these in common. The problem is it is a service with limited and unequal value because of time and distance to reach and react to such fires, though they could do the best they could. An option for the fire department would be to offer the choice of subscription or fee. As long as their fee schedule was known in advance, they should be legally entitled to collect if called. It would make planning and support more difficult so the fee would be substantially more, the question is whether it would be too much to collect upon which could well be the case. The value of a half burned house is not great. The value of it not spreading to another structure might be.
Or a member of the household dies while the fire fighters are scratching their heads wondering what to do and whether or not the occupant had paid for the service. I guess this incident can be filed under, “Just One More Stupid Small Town Council Decision.”
The first fire department was organized by Benjamin Franklin. Prior to his time, Fire Clubs provided protection to the members of their organizations. If you didn’t join the Club in advance, you had no protection. Firefighters might come to your house, but if you didn’t have the appropriate “fire mark” on the exterior, they would just let it burn to the ground.
In this case, I’m surprised that the individual’s insurance company didn’t require that the homeowner pay the $75 fee. I wonder how the homeowner would respond to a private market mandate as compared to a governmental mandate.
Life isn’t fair. We have allowed ourselves to become obsessed with taxes, to the near exclusion of many other things, often more important than taxes. A family which presumably pays something to local government and makes whatever other contributions it makes to the community, has lost what is very likely its most important asset – a lifetime of savings – to avoid a 13 cent levie? Double taxation is a problem? Then Tennessee voters and lawmakers can find a way to deal with it. Creating a system in which forgetting a stamp can lose you a house is the wrong answer.
The question of if the county can raise taxes only in unincorporated areas depends on the state law and what counties are empowered by their state to do. Given the existance of emergency services districts in Tx it appears that the counties can only do it thru creation of a district by popular vote in the district. So it very much depends on the state.
Agreed. What we have is an insurance problem, so we should consider the insurance problem. We have spent so much time thinking about medical insurance in recent years that I think sometimes that becomes the implicit model, but medical insurance is a truly strange bird.
If I come looking for insurance once I have heart disease, the insurance company faces big losses right away, even if I offer a $10,000 bonus to get in. That has been a huge problem in medical insurnace, but other forms of insurance mostly don’t have that problem. Flood insurance does, but that’s why flood insurance is problematic. If I wreck my car and want auto insurance, the insurance company may consider me a poor risk, and boost my premium, but as long as I don’t want the company to pay for the car I’ve already wrecked, I can probably get coverage. It’s too late to save the car I already wrecked
So, my house is on fire. Fire department shows up. They will stay until they are sure my fire doesn’t become somebody elses fire, which means staying a long time. The cost of rolling equipment and of wages are already gonna have to be paid. The overhead of being prepared to come protect my neighbors is there, whether they put out my fire, or don’t. Letting my house burn doesn’t save much money. I’d be willing to bet it doesn’t impose a great safety burden either, cause if I said my kid was in the house, the fire fighters would get her, insurance or no. The ones I know would, anyhow. So we aren’t really talking about shedding large costs or about a big reduction in risk. We are just talking about reducing moral hazard on the one hand, and saving may house, on the other. Surely, once we have narrowed the problem down to its essential components, we can find a way through it.
But I would argue, we should not find a way through it. A system which complicates decisions which need to be made quickly is a bad system. There are any number of examples of critical decisions which involve complex issues, in which the decision making process is progressively narrowed to just a one or a few issues by the time the decision is made. Swing or bunt? Launch or don’t launch? Fold or raise? We ought not have decisions to douse or let burn be anything less than transparent and predictable, for all parties. Most jurisdiction have worked that out.
From what I can tell you are stating in a roundabout way that “because some people provide free things to the community sometimes, then (maybe) nobody ever takes things from the community”. In other words, you claim that the existence of volunteer firefighters displays the willingness of some community members to give to other community members without (adequate) compensation. Thus you question whether the obvious and well-studied “free rider” phenomenon exists.
It’s a logical fallacy, obviously.
Link please. And is that 13 cents (.13 dollars) or actually a fraction of a cent (.13 cents)? Per what? Per amount of assessed property value? Per year?
Why would you expect this guy who wouldn’t pay the $75 to pay his bill? Sounds like the last type of person who would pay his share.
i can’t tell what you are saying here, but “logical fallacy” is the sort of term people throw around who don’t have an idea in hell what “logical” means.
i suppose the free rider phenomena exist. i suppose there is a better answer to it that watching a fire you could have stopped burn someone house down and possibly kill someone inside.
i suppose the idea of community is a good place to begin to think about it.
or maybe the sort of person who could learn from the experience?
somehow I think that problem could be solved. lets say the city and the county authorities get together with a map and agree who would be the reasonable (closest) responder to a fire in a given location. then they agree on a tax sharing scheme.
i am not sure “double taxation” is a serious problem.
could happen. i like the picture of firemen standing outside a burning house wetting their pants in fear that they could die fighting a fire for a freeloader.
As my brilliant spouse pointed out to me:
There might be lots of reasons why you didn’t pay the $75.
There’s only one reason the FD didn’t put it out: they’re jerks.
This was pretty standard practice in the 18th & 19th centuries. Having fire insurance meant that when a fire broke out, firemen would come and try to put out the fire and salvage things. Houses used to have a small plaque on the facade so people would know which company to call, and the firemen would know that it was a house they covered. They didn’t have a police force either.
You might imagine that we have learned something since then, but a lot of the ideology in our current economic discourse flows from this era. Chemists were still arguing phlogiston, biologists the vital force and physicists perpetual motion machines, but they’ve all moved on. In contrast economists are well paid to remain stuck in that benighted era, despite the fact the we all know better.
Then Wal-Mart moves? Thank goodness! 😉
Our great-great-grandfathers did not just watch, they did what they could. Our great-grandfathers or grandfathers (depending) formed private fire companies that put out their subscribers’ fires, but no one else’s. After a while people realized that fire-fighting should be a gov’t activity. (We seem to have to keep learning some lessons over and over again. :()
Tim, you are overlooking the externalities. My neighbor’s fire, unchecked, puts my property at risk. So I should pay something to have my neighbor’s fire put out. There are other externalities, as well. For instance, even if my place does not catch fire, the value of my property will go down (as a rule) if my neighbor’s place burns down. Such considerations are handled by having the gov’t put out fires.
And I’d venture the current crop of politicians is stuck at around 1788…
to reststate the obvious
this episode reveals the inadequacies of “libertarian” thinking.
if i finally understand goodwin above, he was suggesting that libertarian thinking got the homeowner what he deserved. but that itseld is libertarian thinking. we are none of us so smart we can count on never needing the help of our neighbors… much less realizing how we already depend on that help. on the other hand that is exactly why we can’t take the attitude that someone who isn’t smart enough yet to realize his dependance deserves to be shunned in his hour of need.
humans got as far as they have evolutionarily by cooperating, not by rabid competition, and while it makes sense to withhold cooperation from a “freeloader” up to a point. carrying that too far is about as sensible as leaving your two year old in the street because he demands to be carried.
to reststate the obvious
this episode reveals the inadequacies of “libertarian” thinking.
if i finally understand goodwin above, he was suggesting that libertarian thinking got the homeowner what he deserved. but that itself is libertarian thinking. we are none of us so smart we can count on never needing the help of our neighbors… much less realizing how we already depend on that help. on the other hand that is exactly why we can’t take the attitude that someone who isn’t smart enough yet to realize his dependance deserves to be shunned in his hour of need.
humans got as far as they have evolutionarily by cooperating, not by rabid competition, and while it makes sense to withhold cooperation from a “freeloader” up to a point. carrying that too far is about as sensible as leaving your two year old in the street because he demands to be carried.
Public agencies should not put themselves in the position of behaving like a private contractor, while being constrained by public duty.
They should either: 1) refuse to offer such services on this kind of basis, 2) have a method that allows for the saving of the property, along with a lien attached to recover reasonable costs.
There is just too much potential moral hazard and unintentional damage otherwise.
Well on my reading the fire did threaten to spread to the neighbor and the firefighters did put out that part of the blaze.
Maybe it will put my bleeding heart liberal credentials at risk but I am having a hard time mustering the same outrage. First thing i’ll bet big that fire department has a life safety policy that would mandate an actual rescue if someone was in the house. I doubt there is a firefighter in the country that would just watch some kid burn to death. On the other hand out here in the West and even the more suburban West there is no automatic presumption that community fire fighting is guaranteed. All of the more urban areas and most of the more suburban ones are covered by either city or a suburban/rural fire district, but if you live in a house on leased land or even on land in fee simple up within either state forest lands or the Baker-Snoqualamie National Forest your structure may or may not be a priority in the event of a forest fire, nor will the fire crews responding necessarily be trained in rescues from residential structures, those guys fight fires with bulldozers, chain saws and pickaxes and not hoses. And mostly wouldn’t have an adequate source of water if they did, the flow rate from a residential well not going to cut it. The attached map is a large PDF (2.1MB) and doesn’t even show the entire county I live in, but if you live outside those dashed red lines, and while there aren’t huge numbers there, people do. chances are good that you are on your own in the case of a fire, we’ll send search and rescue people as needed, by helicopter if necessary, but they will not be helping you drag momentos from your home.
Now I personally live in a fully sprinkled concrete and steel building across the street from a fully equipped fire station, so i am not personally living the life of a pioneer in this regards, but anywhere in the Far and Mountain West away from actually urban areas, there is nothing surprising about being an hour of more away from any public safety service, police, fire and ambulence, nor any automatic expectation that the fire services that do exist (i.e. state and national forest firefighters) will meet any more than purely life saving needs. Watch the video of a big California fire sometimes, as necessary they can and will just let a whole neighborhood burn to the ground if resource constraints exist, particularly up in National Forests.
“Out of our jurisdiction” sounds harsh and can be harsh but at times and places and depending on circumstances that is just how it is.
Hey it happens in California all the time. I doubt many western jurisdictions would just instruct their firefighters to let a structure burn because of an unpaid $75, but even with a extensive system of mutual aid you can’t expect an unlimited draw on shared resources, and in a big fire there is nothing extraordinary about the existing firefighters establishing and maintaining a fire line and watching houses burn as resources are directed other places. That is what happens when you have fires in steep bone dry canyons where the fire is as likeley to be measured in square miles as acres. Houses burn while firemen watch. And like those guys in Tenn are probably not happy about the whole thing.
And to repeat a point in response to Coberly. If there had been a person known to be inside I doubt there is a chance in the world that there would not have been a life saving attempt.
I worked for the County Tax Assessor a decade ago and in most tax jurisdictions those are known as ‘mil rates’ and are charged per $1000 of valuation meaning that a $100,000 property (in that area of Tenn a reasonably nice house) would be dinged for $13 dollars a year.