Free Markets, Free People

About that burned down house — let’s set the record straight

Lots of libs claiming, as Libby Spencer has, that the firefighters who watched a man’s house burn down because he hadn’t paid his fee is representative of the reality of a "conservative/glibertarian free market utopia" (her words, not mine) that we libertarians talk about.

As it turns out, it is nothing of the sort.

It turns out, though, that the fire department in Tennessee was not a private for-profit fire department. It was a government-run fire department. You read that right: the fire department that refused to show up and refused to name a price at which it would show up was run by the government of South Fulton.

Yes, that’s right, it was a government run fire department.  We libertarians are always proposing government do more, aren’t we?  To Spencer’s credit she mentions that factoid a little further on in her post . But she’s already poisoned the well by then. You’re left to think this is what a "for profit" or "subscription", or to use the words the left usually spits out when saying them, "free market" form of fire service might look like.

Not really.

As David Henderson points out, in the "free market" version, it is very likely the fire service would show up and charge you appropriately:

You would think at some price, the fire department would show up. After all, a private for-profit fire company could make some good money doing so and, by charging high enough, could limit the incentive for people not to pay in advance for protection.

Standing by is not logical for a company which gains its earnings by doing that sort of work and, at the time of the fire, it’s a seller’s market isn’t it?  But you don’t get paid unless you put the fire out. 

And there are examples of exactly what we’re talking about. Henderson links to one that provides services in rural Arizona.  Here’s a portion of what it says under “services”:

Service Models:

There are four different models Rural/ Metro Fire uses to provide fire protection services. Descriptions are listed below. If you are unsure which service model Rural/ Metro Fire uses to protect your home or property, please call customer service so that we can let you know.

Fire Service Accounts — In select unincorporated county areas where taxes do not pay for a Fire Department, residents are responsible for setting up an account directly with Rural/ Metro Fire Department to provide fire protection services. Annual fees are based on the square footage of the enclosed property. For more information on a Fire Services Account call your area’s customer service department.

Now you have a choice here, don’t you? Sign up and be protected or blow it off and take your chances. And while I’m not here to defend a government run fire department in Tennessee, it’s the same choice the man there had.  He chose to blow it off and paid the consequences for his decision, didn’t he?  But we know invoking personal responsibility is simply passé, especially if the person involved in the rant thinks they can pin something on the right? 

Anyway, the probable difference is in a “pay for service” libertarian situation, it is more likely that the fire service chief on the scene and home owner would have quickly reached agreement on a price to save his home.  There’s an incentive for the “pay for play bunch” to reach that agreement.

However, government is more about bureaucracy and rules than it is incentive.  If the fire chief on the scene was a government worker he would most likely have no power to make such a decision.  And the fire fighters in question would have absolutely no incentive to fight the fire and every incentive not too – after all, this guy was a deadbeat and their rules said no pay, no play and they saw no reason to break the rules and risk their lives for someone who hadn’t thought enough of them or their service to subscribe.

So in reality, this wasn’t some libertarian fantasy gone awry.  It was a government driven decision with a pretty drastic consequence.  Apparently the government had not been able to imagine a contingency where this might happen, or, if they did, they seemingly had no plan to address it.  Most would call that “inept governance”, not a failure of libertarianism.

Oh, and the “county mayor” of Obion County TN? A Democrat:

Benny McGuire is announcing his candidacy for re-election to the office of Obion County mayor in the May 4 Democratic primary. McGuire said the last 31⁄2 years have been very busy and have been productive for the entire county.

Hmmm … how inconvenient.



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24 Responses to About that burned down house — let’s set the record straight

    Libby and the Libs (Mighty Keith Olbermann!) are not going to let reality stand in the way of a good story Bruce, they never do.  Hey, ONLY conservatives would allow this sort of thing to happen!!!…..I mean, that’s just the way it is, everyone knows liberals are compassionate and would give you the shirt off a rich’s guys back the shirt off their very own backs in times of need.
    What’s important is that the story has been cast in the proper light, the right people have covered it, implying all the right things (that is, that the political RIGHT was behind the whole idea of allowing the place go up in flames).
    Sweet how the immolation of a man’s house and pets can be turned to useful political purpose eh?  Who says liberals don’t care.

  • Went over to the Impolitic and posted the permalink and a portion of the above post. Honestly, expecting a liberal to believe in personal responsibility is expecting a bit much.

  • You would think at some price, the fire department would show up. After all, a private for-profit fire company could make some good money doing so and, by charging high enough, could limit the incentive for people not to pay in advance for protection.

    Their collection rates were below 50%, so it doesn’t seem rational to just take the word of someone whose house is on fire.

  • Frolic and detour
    That’s why the fireman (from outside the jurisdiction) did nothing.  If they were to get hurt, or hurt someone/something else, the cost of damages would be on the firemans’ own dime (not to mention use of the city owned equipment).
    The uses to which others put their tax dollars, and the risks to which service-providers subject their lives, come at a cost.  If you don’t pay that cost, you should not have any expectation that others will spend their money and risk their lives for your gamble.  To quote the unlucky house gambler:

    “I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75, but I was wrong,” said Gene Cranick.

    Yes, you were.

    • I wonder if Mr. Crasnick would also consider it reasonable to “forget” to make payments on his homeowner’s insurance until after the fire had started, and then offered to make a quick payment to ensure that they would provide the necessary coverage for his home.

      • That is the way I see it, too.  Fire fighting services should be looked at as part of the insurance package.   The next question for Crasnick is if he told the insurance company covering his property that he had a fire department that would try to put a fire out.  If he did, would not having one void his insurance?   This could be the most expensive $75 he ever saved.

  • Oh.  I hadn’t seen it this way before  …
    Heartless government bureaucrats … and this is before the those Tea Partiers take control.

  • This is EXACTLY what would happen in a pure free market system, and you rightwingnutters know it. You want the police to protect you from an intruder in Palinamerica? Hope your credit’s good.
    To paraphrase a mind greater than yours: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

    • Really? Based on what data, Jason? We certainly have proof that it happens in a government run system. See the story.

    • want the police to protect you from an intruder in Palinamerica?

      In Palinamerica, we shoot them for breakfast (no police required)

      • What you’re getting at is the concept of personal responsibility.  It would appear that, in Palinamerica, people have some idea that they bear some responsibility for their own health and welfare.  In the other America, they think they are purchasing “civilization” with their taxes when what they are really doing is handing over not only their responsibility but their LIBERTY to the government. 

        What these clowns are ultimately buying with their tax dollars isn’t civilization: it’s a prison.

    • The market is run by the profit motive. A fire department that asserts “we will not respond for any price” is not driven by the profit motive as there is some price that will make the response profitable. 

      See Crassus for an example. 

      So to not respond for any price implies a service not provisioned by the market, ergo, one should expect that such a nonresponse would be made by a government agency, not a private company.

    • This is EXACTLY what would happen in a pure free market system, and you rightwingnutters know it.

      This is EXACTLY the response I would expect from someone who:
      1. Didn’t really read the article or understand the circumstances, and
      2. Has a complete, blind faith in the power of government to accomplish ends that it can’t accomplish, and such a bitter, unreasoning hatred of the free market system, that they must use examples of government malfunction to indict the free market.

    • >>>To paraphrase a mind greater than yours: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”
      That “great mind” also had this to say in Buck v. Bell:
      We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

    • I eagerly await Jason’s rejoinder…..

  • As a subscriber to that rural fire department (Rural Metro) here outside the Phoenix Metro area, we pay $240 a year, but if they are called to a non-subscriber’s house, the fee is a MINIMUM of $8000 and RM can file a lien against the property.
    AAMOF, we pay less in home insurance (proportionally) under RM than we did in the city we moved from a few miles into town.
    Just before we moved in, they built a new station, but used a “mobile home” as it was adequate. The city (Gilbert, AZ) was building new fire stations at nearly a $million a pop and the” firemen” are, like all government employees, breaking the city.
    Oh, and when my wife passed out in the driveway, they were there in 4 minutes (1 1/4 mile away) with a crew of five, an ambulance, and all the technical equipment they could cram into the living room.

    Better Things To Do
    Posted on October 4, 2010, 6:00AM
    When Chantal Desrosiers accidentally locked her 15-month-old son in her car on a hot day, the owner of the daycare facility she was picking him up from called 911 for help. But the dispatcher in Laval, Canada, told her that police don’t respond to locked cars and hung up. Fortunately, Desrosiers’ husband showed up about 10 minutes later and knocked a window out of the car.