This is Your House. This is Your House in a "Free Market" Economy.

Category:  BloggERy
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 at 11:38 AM
This is Your House. This is Your House in a Free Market Economy. by Jay Stevens
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A Tennessee couple has lost everything after their home burned to the ground as firefighters watched and did nothing....

Vicky Bell told WPSD-TV that she called 911 when her mobile home in Obion County caught fire. Firefighters responded but did not put out the blaze because she does not subscribe to the local fire service....

And...

South Fulton Mayor David Crocker defended the fire department, saying that if firefighters responded to non-subscribers, no one would have an incentive to pay the fee. Residents in the city of South Fulton receive the service automatically, but it is not extended to those living in the greater county-wide area.

"There's no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department," Crocker said.

In the comments of a Think Progress post, commenter Lisa Humphrey explains the background of the incident:

...for over 20 years, the County of Obion has tried to solve this problem. Three times there was vote for a fire levy for the county to provide fire protection for rural residents and 3 times the rural residents voted it down. So the city of South Fulton stepped up, pretty much out of the kindness of their hearts, and volunteered to cover what area they could with their own fire protection service (which is paid for by the taxes of the city of South Fulton - not a dime of a rural Obion resident contributes to it) for a very modest fee, much less than the levy the residents had voted on repeatedly. South Fulton made sure that all residents in the area they volunteered to cover knew this service was fully voluntary - you did NOT have to take it, and that the $75 a year fee would cover the extra costs of covering a larger area. South Fulton receives about $8000 a year in these fees - not a lost considering the costs of fire equipment and trainning. They cannot cover as much as they would in the city - in the rural areas there are no fire hydrants or other ways to pump water with pressure, so basically they have to bring whatever water they can with them....

Some thoughts....

First, this is a great reminder about the value of tax-funded public services. In a perfect world, tax-funded services spread the cost among a community to offer a service to all, universally and equally.

It's also a great example of the destructiveness of anti-tax ideology, the idea that taxes are inherently a drag on the economy and family budgets. Three times the residents in rural areas of Obion community voted down their civic obligation to protect their community -- and themselves! -- from fire.

That ideology forced the South Fulton Fire Department to adopt a different kind of payment model: fee-for-service, akin to a movie ticket, the kind of payment model of most transactions in the private sector. It has a cost, of course. If you pay, you get the service. If you don't, you're out of luck. And there are reasons to not pay. If you can't afford it, for one. Or if you think the cost outweighs the risk.

For many transactions, this isn't a problem. If you can't buy, say, a bag of potato chips, little is lost, except for a moment of craving for saturated fats. In the case of fire, however, the community pays the costs in depreciated property values of the surrounding neighborhood, and in the opportunity costs of the lost labor and income of the homeowner, not to mention the costs to the family that had the fire.

In short, there are services that are much better served by public funding. Education. Universal mail service. A safe retirement pension. And, I'd argue, health care.

Privatizing these services -- as free-market ideologists would have us do -- would have disastrous consequences for most Americans.

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