Liberals have been beside themselves over an incident in Obion County, Tennessee where firefighters allowed a small home to burn to the ground because the homeowners had failed to pay a $75 annual fee for fire protection; an option given to each resident of the county. In typical fashion, the blame for this has been summarily placed on conservatism, libertarianism, and even Ayn Rand. The real culprit here is the government, not the private sector.
Most people expressing anger over this unusual incident have not been honest with the details about this incident; and their demagoguery is not going to rebuild the home that burned down.
The homeowners did call the fire department once they realized the blaze could not be put out with a garden hose; the call was ignored. Firefighters did respond to a call from a neighbor, who had in fact paid their fee, once the flames threatened their property. By this time, the fire had consumed most of the non-payer’s home.
Here are the facts that seem to have been ignored by many on the left. The fire department was not privately owned. It was contracted by Obion County from the City of South Fulton. This is a government-run monopoly, not a free-market enterprise. These firefighters were following the policies set in place by the local government, not edicts laid down by arguably uncaring capitalists.
This is not a failure of capitalism or of limited government; it is a failure of government. As Thomas Firey, managing editor of the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine, notes, a private company would have likely put out the fire and sent the homeowner a bill.
While there is a legitimate argument to be had for local and county governments to provide services such as these, paid for by whatever taxes they choose, the unfortunate incident that took place in Obion County, Tennessee cannot fairly be laid at the feet of limited-government advocates.