Libertarian Jackass

"Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak truth." -- Schopenhauer

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Thoughts On The California Wildfires

Since I have a blog, live in California and it has apparently become the height of fashion to write only about the "fires," I will offer another quick observation to add to LJ's previous insights.

There are two major problems in California directly associated with the wildfire situation: firefighting resources and property protection. First, in terms of resources, the news broadcasters cry about the lack of firemen, firetrucks, fireplanes and frickin' firedogs. Thank you, FOX NEWS! Any intelligent person must have already figured this out for themselves. The real question remains: why does this shortage of resources exist? The answer, I believe, is obvious. The production of firefighting services is, in a word, socialized. The money to fund such production is extracted directly or indirectly from taxpayers, not from services exchanged with demanding consumers. As a result, there actually is no rational way for the firefighters to allocate their services to valued ends, calculate how many trucks are necessary for any possible event, or even decide where to use the resources they have (Interestingly, because of a lack of resources, San Diego diverted its forces to San Bernardino, 150 miles north, while fires broke out in San Diego County unchecked). Therefore, the chaos described by media outlets is not the result of fires, but the organization of the production of firefighting services!

Second, while conservatives will likely blame the "Clinton years" for creating the conditions necessary for a fire to break out, the real issue is more fundamental. Much of the property is "publicly owned," and if you want to understand what this really means, go to a public bathroom. As for the private property burned, the problem is more complicated. With firefighting services socialized, individual property owners push the risk (and cost) of living in on property more prone to fire onto the rest of society. The socialization of this cost does not help society, in fact, it merely obscures any rational resource allocation (as noted above). It has always amazed me that firefighters pride themselves on spending most of their time at work doing nothing! Wouldn't a private firm, concerned with profit, spend most of its time working with property owners to prevent fire? Just like the public police, why is it that these clowns only show up after the damage occurs?

This is not to say the firefighters are not "heroic" or that the government does not provide a "valuable service" in firefighting. The question is whether the current form of organizing the production of such services (public government based on coercive taxation) is the best system.

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