[T]here are currently two competing visions of governance in the United States. One, the conservative vision, believes in the on-your-own society, and informs a policy agenda that primarily serves the well off and privileged sectors of the country. The other vision, the progressive one, believes in an American Dream that works for all people, regardless of their racial, religious, or economic background. The conservative vision was on full display last week in Obion County, Tennessee. In this rural section of Tennessee, Gene Cranick’s home caught on fire. As the Cranicks fled their home, their neighbors alerted the county’s firefighters, who soon arrived at the scene. Yet when the firefighters arrived, they refused to put out the fire, saying that the family failed to pay the annual subscription fee to the fire department. Because the county’s fire services for rural residences is based on household subscription fees, the firefighters, fully equipped to help the Cranicks, stood by and watched as the home burned to the ground.
David Waldman snarks on dKos:
If their house had been -- as Grover Norquist once counseled regarding governments -- small enough to drown in a bathtub, then they could have put the fire out themselves… But the fascinating part of this story for me is that the firefighters ended up having to put the fire out on the property of a neighbor who had paid the fee. That's actually why we have taxes and common payment for essential services like fire fighting. Yes, the Cranicks saved on tax-like fee payments, and yes, they suffered the consequences of doing so. But their neighbor paid for protection, and suffered fire damage anyway. And not because of random accident, but because the firefighters were forced to refuse to come to the Cranicks' assistance. If they had, the neighbor would have had no damage at all. It's also why we do things like treat even undocumented immigrants in hospital emergency rooms. No, they haven't paid. But yes, you stand a much better chance of not getting their tuberculosis when you hire them on the cheap, pretending not to notice their immigration status… The silver lining here is that local water utilities now have a new and untapped revenue source. They can begin squeezing fire departments every time they want to open a hydrant. Be on the lookout next summer for pay-to-play fire departments dropping lit matches around town to drum up business. And remember, if one of their fires melts your Medicaid-paid mobility scooter, you can still get another free one in time for the next Teabagger rally.
Government isn't a company. The profitable provision of private goods via regulated competition is different in kind from the equitable provision of public goods via civil government. The failure to grasp this difference -- as market fundamentalist neoliberals and libertopians routinely and insistently do -- does not indicate that one has an interesting new idea about government, but that one is too ignorant to contribute seriously to the conversation about making government better. That the failure to grasp this difference is now general also indicates that the people who do grasp it haven't discharged their responsibility to educate people just as routinely and insistently about elementary but quite indispensable ideas on which good governance depends, which suggests that they are not particularly serious about making government better either.