Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Free to Choose & Moral Responsibility

ThinkProgress has a link up about a house in Obion County Tennessee that was allowed to burn to the ground, while firemen stood by and watched. They watched and did nothing because the homeowner hadn't paid the $75 annual fee to get fire protection services. Obion County is outside the city of South Fulton, TN and for residents outside the city to receive fire protection, they must pay.

The conservative blogosphere didn't show much compassion for the family.

Krugman make's a useful comparison to the belief system that undergirds this situation and healthcare.

Me? I'm torn on the specific case, to be honest. No, the family didn't pay the fee and they made that choice, but I think the firemen should have fought the fire because that's their job. I don't know if I could have stood by and watched a family's house burn because they didn't pay $75. I understand their superiors might not have allowed action. It seems petty to me. Bill the family for goodness sake.

What if you contested your electric bill and didn't pay on time? Should the electric company be allowed to turn out the lights the day the money is late?

Course there are those that will say it was the homeowner's choice to not pay the fee and he must live with that choice. To me, that's a cold view of the world. I am left to ponder if people out there truly believe they have no responsibility to their fellow man. Isn't the world a scarier place in the face of this hyper-Hobbesian vision of something we once called society?

There is an overreach in the opposite direction where choice is denied to the individual in support of the collective, but when a house is allowed to burn to the ground over a $75 fee I think it's time to consider if the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Of course, that's not the message you'd get from the modern Republican party or the Tea party.


Colin said...

To me this is pretty straight forward: the guy didn't pay, so he didn't get the service. Apparently he didn't think his house was worth $75 ($6.25 per month!) so it's hard to have much sympathy for him -- especially when he's out lighting fires in the backyard.

If the fire department had put out the fire they would have sent a signal loud and clear that everyone else who had paid their fee were chumps. What is the point of paying if you're going to get bailed out anyway?

Frankly I am just shocked that the fire department had the cajones to go through with this. I wish those same people were in charge of government financial policy, where bailout after bailout (S&L, Long Term Capital Management) on Wall Street has produced a culture of extreme risk-taking where financiers are secure in the knowledge that they can privatize the upside and socialize the downside through bailouts.

In contrast, I can guarantee you that damn near every homeowner in Obion County right now is making sure they are fully paid up on their fire protection fee.

Frankly, the biggest problem here is that the fire department isn't a profit-oriented institution. Any capitalist worth his salt would have gladly put out the fire while charging the homeowner a pretty penny (after all, the fire fighters were already there, so to make a profit you would simply have to charge more than the cost of the water). A profit-oriented company would have had a pre-existing policy, something like: you choose, either a $75 annual fee or we charge you $10K for an emergency uninsured visit.

Only an organization hamstrung by rules like the fire department would have just sat there and effectively left money on the table.

As for the Republican party, these are the guys who have presided over a welfare state (up until 2006) that now spends trillions annually, so you are giving them way too much credit. I can only hope the Tea Partiers subscribe to the Obion County ethos.

Jason said...

I am unsurprised by your outlook on this issue and I'm a pretty grumpy, misanthropic bastard, but it seems to me if someone's house is on fire you grab the hose, not the billing form.