Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Moral Outrage and Rights

By now I'm sure you've heard about the fire department in Tennessee that let a family's doublewide trailer burn to the ground because the owner hadn't payed the $75 annual fee the department requires. Here's just one of many reports covering the story:
A small rural community in western Tennessee is outraged and the fire chief is nursing a black eye after firefighters stood by and watched a mobile home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn't paid a $75 municipal fee.

South Fulton city firefighters -- equipped with trucks, hoses and other firefighting equipment -- didn't intervene to save Gene Cranick's doublewide trailer home when it caught fire last week. But they did arrive on the scene to protect the house of a neighbor, who had paid his fire subscription fee.


Firefighters in South Fulton city are under orders to respond only to fire calls within their city limits, as well as to surrounding Obion County, but only to homes there where people have signed up for a fire subscription service.

Because Cranick hadn't paid his fee, firefighters doused the border of his neighbor's property to protect that house in case the flames spread, but wouldn't help him. He lost all his possessions, plus three dogs and a cat.

"They could have been saved if they had put water on it, but they didn't do it," Cranick told MSNBC. The fire began when Cranick's grandson set fire to some trash near the house, and the flames leapt up. Cranick said he told the 911 operator that he'd pay whatever fee was necessary, but it was too late.
Here's a representative sample of the majority of the comments left at this particular piece:
by MIteach on 10-06-2010 11:40 AM

They should have gone ahead and put out the fire, and then put the $75 fee or the cost of the fire run on his property taxes for the year. Either way the house would have been saved and the firefighters would have looked like heros. This is government at its best!!!


by jpinteriorsgo on 10-06-2010 11:43 AM

This is totally outrageous. How could anyone with any conscience stand by and let this happen? This family needs a good lawyer and the animal rights groups should protest. Basically this goes against EVERYTHING that firefighters stand for!


by SilverFin on 10-06-2010 11:46 AM

Unbelievable. I am shocked that they stand by what they did. It's horrendous. So does this mean that the uninsured and poor are left to die outside of hospitals because they can't pay? That rape and murder victims don't get police help if they don't pay their taxes? This is bullsh*t. How could any decent human being with the means to save another's home stand by and watch it burn, allow animals to die and this man to lose everything. Just standing there?!?! The firefighters may have followed policy, but they have no souls or human decency. Douse the fire, make the man pay the tax plus their time and a penalty after. But save his home. Pure crap to let this happen.
There's lots more like this, most outraged over the fact that a mere $75 fee hadn't been paid. One has to wonder if it had been, say, $1,000 if they'd feel any different.

Today Say Uncle linked to a piece at LeanLeft, Life in Libertarian Land, that stated that this is how the Libertarians want the world to work. Uncle characterized the piece thus:
Remember those government employees following government rules and letting house burn as sanctioned by government regulations contracted with another government? Seems that is a fundamental flaw in libertarian philosophy.

OK, then.
But Kevin (the other Kevin that blogs at LeanLeft) put it this way:
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.
Now, interestingly enough, not too long back I wrote a piece tangential to this topic in response to a post at Markadelphia's. In the comments to Mark's post "blk" wrote:
Most people would agree that protection by the fire and the police departments is a right. It wasn't always that way.
I responded:
Obviously I'm not "most people." I know better. I've lived where residents had to pay a local private fire company to get them to come to their homes if there was a fire. If they chose not to pay, the firefighters could choose not to come. Or if they did, the homeowner would get a big damned bill for their appearance afterward that would represent a lot more than a few years of subscription to their services. If the homeowner chose not to pay that bill, they'd be taken to court.

Does that sound like a "right"?

I also understand that I have no "right" to police protection. That happens to be just one of many reasons I'm an activist for the right to arms. As I said, I'm a pragmatist. I try to deal with the way the world works rather than how people think it ought to be.
(Emphasis added.)

Now, Kevin (the other Kevin) admits that:
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.
(Emphasis added.) So Kevin (the other Kevin) thinks that morally it's the community's responsibility to provide fire protection to all, therefore everyone ought to be forced to chip in and pay. This, of course, disregards the fact that "the community" is made up of people - people who decided not to pay. For Kevin (the other Kevin), forcing people to pay at gunpoint isn't immoral, but letting a home burn to the ground is.

Here's where our positions differ: He wants people to behave one way, and I know that given the freedom to choose they may not.

I'd rather people have that freedom. He'd rather they didn't.

Here's an example of a group opposing being forced to pay:
A proposed fire district annexation in Oro Valley has been met with opposition from a group of residents,

Nearly all of the 120 property owners in La Cholla Airpark have refused to sign annexation petitions circulated by the Golder Ranch Fire District. Some of the residents have organized a formal opposition to the move to incorporate the airpark and nearly 500 other properties, mostly in Pima County, into the district.

"I think it's just a big money grab," said Dick Heffelman, a La Cholla Airpark resident and one of the forces behind the group Citizens Against Annexation.

Heffelman said he wants to see less government and doesn't want to pay the more than $1,100 in secondary property taxes per year he estimates annexation would cost him. The total secondary rate in the district stands at $1.73 per $100 of assessed value.

"It's more than twice as much as I pay for insurance," Heffelman said.

Residents have proposed having all homeowners pay $1,000 into a fire-service fund that would be tapped to pay fees for emergency services.
Did you get that? "Nearly all of the 120 property owners" object. But hey! They're outvoted by the nearby municipality that wants to annex them! Now these residents say they're willing to pay $1,000 (one assumes annually) for emergency services, not the piddling $75 that the residents of Obion County, TN are required to pay, but you have to wonder about that, really. How many actually would?

But here's the thing I wanted to point out, one comment among the hundreds left to that original piece on the home being left to burn down:
by sekkymomma on 10-06-2010 12:19 PM

I have lived in Chattanooga TN for almost 4 years now and didnt(sic) believe the "statements" that we received in the mail stating that we needed to pay for fire service were real. I just assumed that it was a donation type thing. I live less than a mile from fire station and always felt safe knowing they were so close. After hearing this story we have since paid our "dues" which are $105.00! I think this is outrageous! Something needs to be done.
(Emphasis added.) What do you want to bet that a whole bunch of people just mailed checks to their local fire departments? And not just in Tennessee?

Human beings are human beings. They respond to incentives.

So yeah, Kevin, rather than let people freeload on the rest of us, occasionally letting a home burn to the ground because of someone's right to choose is A-OK with this small-"L" libertarian.

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