Thursday, October 21, 2010

The libertarian ideal

A couple of weeks ago, a news report came out wherein firefighters in Tennessee refused to come to the aid of a homeowner whose house was burning down because the homeowner hasnt paid the annual fee of USD 75.00. (The fire department serviced a particular community for 'free'. For those outside it, they charge an annual fire services fee.) Even after promising to pay whatever fee is due after the fire has been put out, the fire department refused. As a result of this callous act, one family lost their home. Statists from all over weighed in warning that this is what would happen if limited government people, libertarians, anarchists, and Randians had their way. "The free market is evil," they cried. "We need government to provide these services. Only government could be trusted to protect our lives and property."

"The libertarian ideal," said a pal on my plurk timeline. That's what they say this illustrates, implying that those who hold libertarian views are amoral, selfish cranks. But is it the libertarian ideal?

Let us forget the fact that the fire department was a government agency, not a private one. The fee has been in place for 20 years. The fee in question was a government fee and the charging of the fee was government policy. Leaving that aside, why is this being used as an illustration of the 'libertarian ideal'? It is because we grew up thinking that government is good. That's what they teach us in school. So we better let them confiscate a huge chunk of our earnings to spend on whatever it is they deem for 'the common good'. And woe unto those who refuse.

In the libertarian ideal where the market is free, there would be no monopoly. Here was a homeowner who was irresponsible enough to forget to pay for fire insurance. A fire begins to destroy his home. Before the fire does a lot of damage, he calls his fire protection service provider, who refuses to help him. He then promises to pay whatever fee is due. The provider still refuses. In the present system, that's the end of that. His house burns down, his family loses a home. This will not happen in 'the libertarian ideal'. In the libertarian ideal, the homeowner simply calls another fire protection agency and tells them of his plight. This provider wouldnt have refused simply because he would welcome the opportunity to get another customer for his services and wouldnt want the bad publicity of refusing to help a family to get around the market-place. The house would be saved, the provider gets a new customer and adds to his income (and continues to employ firefighters), and after word gets around about how the previous provider refused to aid the family in dire need, they would begin to lose clients to other providers and eventually closes shop. That is the libertarian ideal.

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