Free Market Disco Inferno

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Memo to Obion County, TN: YOU ARE DUMB.

Goddamn, Tennessee. You're taking this Dumbest State In The Union thing really seriously, aren't you? Every time some other state starts to creep up in the rankings, you leap to the forefront with something like, oh, say, fee-based firefighting that leaves firefighters standing around watching as a house, with pets inside, burns down.

Apparently, the city of South Fulton only agrees to cover rural homeowners if they pay a $75/year subscription fee for fire protection services. Obion County homeowner Gene Cranick, didn't pay the fee. So when firefighters arrived on scene, they did nothing. They wouldn't even accept payment at the time, because, well, if word got out that they could pay for fire services only when shit was actually on fire, that would ruin the subscription system.

This is, of course, the ultimate in American libertarian insanity. Why not charge a $75 annual tax to cover fire services and make it mandatory? Because taxes are the government stealing your money! Can't have that! That'd be wrong. It's much better to run a fee-based protection racket and make an example of the people who refuse to pay. That way you won't have Michelle Bachmann's "gangster government" problem.

Here's the kicker, and the ultimate illustration of why fee-based fire protection is beyond stupid. The firefighters eventually did leap into action when the fire spread to Cranick's neighbor, who HAD paid the fee. But if the firefighters had acted sooner, in the best interests of the neighborhood as a whole, the neighbor's property never would have caught fire in the first place.

This is the whole point of taxes. There are things that simply work better when everyone pays a little bit in so that the government can afford to do them properly. One of these things is PUTTING OUT FUCKING FIRES. And the reason for this is because fires do not ask you for a receipt before they leap onto your property. Fires spread. And the longer fires go unchecked, the farther they spread. A fire that starts on a poor person's property spreads just as fast as a fire that starts in a mansion... unless, of course, you live in rural Tennessee.

Fee-based firefighting makes the likelihood of disaster in the entire community relative to the income of that community. It is patently insane. And thus, it has plenty of defenders, from the pages of the National Review to their intellectual equivalents, the mouthbreathers who comment at the Star Tribune. ACTUAL QUOTES TIME!

"Here’s the more important part of the story, letting the house burn — while, I admit sad — will probably save more houses over the long haul. I know that if I opted out of the program before, I would be more likely to opt-in now." - Jonah Goldberg, whose pants were eight ounces lighter after writing this for some reason.

"He had no right to be angry, America has no room for free-loaders because we already got too many on welfare..." - "kumashirosan", shortly before going to sleep with his anime body pillow.

Now, both Goldberg and kumashirosan have a point, and one that I actually agree with - given the existence of a fee-based system, the only rational option available to a homeowner is to pay into it, and the only purely rational option available to firefighters interested in maintaining the integrity of the fee-based system is to let shit burn down. If you're stuck in someplace backwater enough to have a system like this, for fuck's sake, pay the fee.

But what that leaves you with is a situation where the best-case scenario, everyone pays in, is indistinguishable from just paying taxes, and that all the cases worse than that best case lead to property damage, pet death, and other forms of tragedy. And the only reason to accept that tragedy is so that rabid conservatives and teabaggers can feel good about not paying as much in taxes as they could.

That is some seriously indefensible bullshit, which is why everyone defending the fire department is focusing just on their actions, and not the value of the system as a whole. Especially because it's an argument that scales. Once you admit that it's a good idea for government to collect taxes for things that benefit society as a whole, a whole bunch of conservative arguments come crashing down like diapers around David Vitter's ankles.

In some ways, I'd actually like to thank Obion County for the clearest illustration of teabag glibertarian philosophy to date: let the poor burn.