How Its Done

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I once was interested in a particular policy issue—fire protection. The libertarian argument is that fire districts should be run the same way car insurance works—you buy what you need, and are responsible for whatever damage you cause through negligence on your part.

The socialist way is to have government do fire service for you. We have that in most modern cities, and it seems to work OK, except for the fact that we don’t have enough money in the world to pay the fireman’s pension.

There is another alternative, something I’ll call “the American Way”. It works like this.

One, do nothing. Two, rely on individuals to volunteer their time and talents. Three, pay them far below what they are worth.

This seems to work fine for the military. Nobody who joins the military does so out of greed. Most join because they want to give something back to the country. That’s the spirit of the American.

In Star Valley, Wyoming, I had a chance to talk with a distant relative who is part of the fire department there. He’s actually a volunteer fire fighter, which means he can be called up at any moment to respond to a fire or to a bad accident. He is trained and ready to help whenever he can. The number of volunteers for the area is astounding—roughly every able-bodied male who lives there is part of the fire department.

They don’t get paid, either, whether there is a fire or not. If they stick with it until 65, then they get a small pension.

Of course, they have equipment and dispatch, which require money to upkeep. This money comes from the county, which collects it as part of the property taxes. I doubt there is any waste here, however, as the same people who pay the taxes are the same people who are in the fire department. No one is getting rich.

Oftentimes, the best solution is to have the government do nothing. At worst, they might have to coordinate volunteers. The American Spirit is one of self-sacrifice for the good of our neighbors. If there is a need, then the true Americans step forward to fulfill it.

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