Oh man, the progressives are really going nuts about this one. Apparently there is a fire department that watched a rural Tennessee house burn down, because the residents hadn’t paid the $75 annual subscription fee. (HT2 Krugman) Here is ThinkProgress’s initial reaction, and then see them cast National Review bloggers into hell.
This is a tough one. I am a wimp and agree with both sides. That is, I agree with Jonah Goldberg et al. for saying that hey, it takes real resources to field a fire department and be prepared to put out fires. If people don’t pay the measly $75 annual fee, then what the heck? Actions have consequences, and this will make sure people pay up. (My only personal addition: Krugman & Friends are going on and on about how much more compassionate they are than the heartless conservatives. But of course, the way Krugman & Friends “solve” this problem isn’t to chip in their own money to cover those who refuse to pay fire or health insurance premiums–no, their progressive, compassionate solution is to tell those people, “We are taking the money from you at gunpoint.”)
On the other hand, I also agree with the progressives that this is absurd. At the very least, the fire department should have put out the fire, and then charged the family a penalty rate. This is different from the auto insurance example that the fire chief gave. This isn’t like someone wrecking his car (or getting cancer) and then trying to sign up for insurance. No, the family would have been glad to pay the expenses (not just marginal but also average cost, as depicted in econ textbooks) for the firefighters to put out the fire, instead of standing there and watching it burn.
Last point: If we actually had a free market, with competing fire departments, there’s no way in the world this would have happened. If one company had gotten to the scene, and then watched the house burn down, everybody would have switched to a competitor.
But of course that nuance is going to be lost in this debate. Instead, we will have “conservatives” at National Review defending the “free market,” and progressives calling for compassionate coercion.