This is not something I made up. Last week, it really happened. (Oddly, three years ago I drove within a couple of miles of where it happened, on my way to a nearby spot that charmed me).
Why did it happen? Well, residents of that county must pay $75 every year to get firefighting services from the city of South Fulton. This homeowner, Gene Cranick, had not paid this fee this year. (Apparently he has paid it in the past, but forgot this year). So he was not entitled to the service. His neighbour had paid. So he was entitled.
This kind of fee is part of what's loosely called "opt-in government", which can make sense in thinly populated rural areas. I have no argument with the fee. To a degree, I have no argument with the FD not responding to Cranick: he had not paid the fee and had effectively "opted out". OK. But then these firefighters turned up at the spot anyway, with the equipment and the expertise to put out Cranick's fire. They put out his neighbour's fire. So why would they stand and watch Cranick's house burn down, and do nothing to stop it? This seems just bizarre and crazy to me.
Bizarre or not, this episode has touched off a small storm among libertarians, the guys who make the case for small and limited government. Daniel Foster of the National Review ("I’m a conservative with fairly libertarian leanings") said he was OK with opt-in government, but then asked: "What moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground?"
His colleague at the magazine, Kevin Williamson, responded: "Dan, you're 100 percent wrong … The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates — and the problems they create for themselves are their own."
There was more. One thinker said that letting this house burn "will probably save more houses in the long haul". Another drew a line between "sogginess" and "crunchiness", saying conservatives need to "stand up for crunchiness" and "for the fire department to have extinguished the Cranicks’ fire would have been soggy." Right. What should we call watching a family's life go up in smoke then? (Links and comment available here).
And all this reminded me that I haven't heard of or from Indian libertarians in a long time. They referred to themselves as a cartel a few years ago. Has the cartel disbanded? Dispersed? Do they now call themselves the term some scorned, "liberal"? I've seen some evidence of that in recent times. (Besides, somebody informed me last year that "I am libertarian and hitting back at Muslims and teaching them a lesson is fundamental to our philosophy" -- I assume this guy is a crank).
How does the cartel see this firefighting case in Tennessee?
I am reminded of this image by Joel Sternfeld, one of my favourite photographers.