Monday, October 04, 2010

Cranick's Folly

No, Daniel, this isn't "bad for the libertarians." It's bad for Gene Cranick.

I'm sorry the guy's house burned down, really I am, but given the circumstances it was the best thing that could have happened.

My guess is that homeowners in Obion County, Tennessee are lining up to pay their $75 and get their fire protection right about now -- and that local insurance agents are getting up form letters to let their customers know that their homeowner/fire policies will be discontinued if the $75 isn't paid.

When this is all said and done, the results will be that the South Fulton Fire Department will be better funded and better equipped, and that those homeowners will be better protected than they were before.

If the firefighters had saved Mr. Cranick's home, on the other hand, people who paid the $75 last year would have received a clear signal that they don't need to pay it next year, and eventually there wouldn't be a fire department to respond to county fire calls.

This scheme is basically a form of insurance -- a hedged bet. Your house probably won't catch on fire, but it's worth $75 to know that if it does, the guys will rush out to hose it down for you.

It costs a lot more than $75 to roll the trucks out and extinguish a single sizable fire. Those guys don't buy their trucks and helmets and oxygen tanks and so forth when they get the call that there's a fire to put out. They have to buy those things, and learn to use them, beforehand ... and that costs money. This insurance scheme lets them get that equipment and that training, and puts it at the perpetual disposal of the customer who will probably never need it.

Cranick's Folly makes it clear to everyone just what's at stake. That's bad for Mr. Cranick, but it's a good thing to the extent that it teaches his neighbors an important lesson. And it's much better than stealing $75 from every homeowner in the county, even the ones who are willing to risk losing their stuff in a fire rather than pay it, just because Daniel Foster's "moral intuition" tells him that stealing's okay if he means well.

A perfect example of libertarianism in action? No. For one thing, the fire department in question isn't, strictly speaking, a private organization (it's a public city fire department that offers its services in the county for that $75 fee). But a damn good one, and certainly not one that libertarians should give conservatives or liberals a bullshit "moral intuition" pass on.

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