44 responses to “Who is my neighbor? A lesson from the Fire Department.”

  1. vanbeast

    As is true nearly every time I read it, I am nearly overwhelmed by the urge to tell you that I love your blog and everything you post. This time I am acting on it.

    Thanks. I like what you are saying.

  2. capn_jil

    i like this post, too. from your blog and from your blog alone you seem to be an excellent man. you are excellent. please keep being excellent.

  3. rebelsheart

    simply awesome

  4. gcrumb

    Excellent analogy (though extended care vs crisis intervention would need to be addressed in a longer argument).

    The first few paras feel like an unnecessary digression. I suspect the argument is actually stronger if you leave mostly implicit the admiration we all feel for firefighters. Cynical of me to say this, perhaps, but downplaying the risk of their occupation is an oblique lead-in that leaves me feeling uncertain about whether you actually like firefighters. You could make the same point about how we resource them, for example, by leading with ‘nothing’s too good for our valiant firefighters’.

    I sincerely hope this gives pause to those who consider only the US’ pre-eminence in quality of available health and ignore its abysmally poor delivery of said service.

  5. scythrop

    Excellent analogy, and well-stated.

  6. microbie

    *applauds wildly*

    This is great. Everyone should read it. Mind if I link?

    1. stoatmaster9000

      Uhoh. I just flagrantly linked. I hope that’s okay.

  7. mcpino

    As usual, amigo, spot fucking on.

  8. wanderingaengus
  9. jamie_miller

    This is awesome. Can I please repost it on Facebook and link to it in my LJ?

  10. rollfizzlebeef


  11. eris_devotee

    I love this post, but I do want to mention… at least in Illinois, more than half of our fire fighters are unpaid volunteers (this is the list of all volunteer fire departments in Illinois)

    As for how that fits into your analogy – I’ll let you figure out.

  12. mcfnord

    Bomberos Internationale

    In Puerto Vallarta, the fire department will erradicate your killer bees… for free!

    1. hoyvenmayven

      Re: Bomberos Internationale


  13. mr_flippant

    ~via snuh

    Yeah, that sums up how I feel about this post.

  14. springheel_jack

    It’s interesting to note that this sensible argument cuts no water with libertarians, who would be happy by their own ideological lights to get rid of the fire department.

    1. jamie_miller

      I wonder if libertarians are in favor of decriminalizing child pornography? Aren’t those laws an unconscionable interference in the free market? Won’t “natural market forces” cause child porn to wither up and die on its own?

      1. Anonymous

        good job with the criminalization– since then, child porn has all but disappeared! and sick people get the help they need!

        OH WAIT. the state puts the few sickos it catches together in prisons, it doesn’t reform anyone, it lets them out with little to look forward to, and then it forces them to group together geographically (try drawing 1000 ft circles around every park, school, etc. and see what’s left).

        and now our children are being labeled Sex Offenders by the state for taking photos of THEIR OWN BODIES.

        there are problems that aren’t solved by free markets, that are ALSO NOT SOLVED by governments, no matter how totalitarian they get.

        1. springheel_jack

          Murder’s still around too. Let’s decriminalize that.

          Also breach of contract. That one might actually hit home.

    2. Anonymous

      Libertarians’ ideological lights

      I think libertarians would say that the US Constitution makes no mention of fire departments and therefore they should not be part of the federal government, which they are not.

  15. besskeloid

    *applauds until palms are all sore*

  16. jai_dit

    This post is absolutely fantastic. Thank you for it.

  17. hoyvenmayven

    I love, love, LOVE this post.

    *joins the cheering chorus*

  18. mordicai


    I like to bring up the military whenever anyone drags out the “the government can’t even run a post office!” argument (not to mention that the post office will send you crap all over the world for pennies or dollars…) or “do you want the doctor’s office to be like the DMV?” There is an entrenchment of idolization about the military that seems to be a nice conservative oriented debunker.

    1. taskboy3000


      How can I listen to any politician or former politician who espouses a hatred of government when they themselves willingly participated in it?

      More seriously, government is a necessary evil. The idea that a modern country with automatic weapons and 300 million people needs *less* government boggles my mind. Perhaps libertarians have a lot more faith in the morality of their fellow men than I.

      There are other government programs that anti-government types use all the time. The USPS, Medicare/Medicaid and the Interstate Highway System all come to mind. Then the are the copious “background” services that we all benefit from, a short list of which would include: USPTO, CDC, Coast Guard, FBI, CIA, FDA, FAA.

      Frankly, I don’t find the anti-government argument intellectually rigorous or compelling. It’s wishful thinking.

      Those that deify the military (and I’d like to out myself as a war nerd) as the only thing the government does right probably never served. The armed forces are a bureaucratic nightmare, as nearly any veteran will tell you. The Pentagon is the worst example of profligate spender in D.C. (or Virginia). This isn’t just my opinion but Sect. Gate’s too.

      In closing, I’d like to say “feh.”

      1. jakeinhartsel

        Re: Also

        In (1) times of peace the military is almost totally a waste. In (2) times of War the military becomes an absolute necessity. BTW, by “Time of War” I mean a real and actual attack on the country not one of Bush’s Wars. By necessity to be prepared for (2), (1) is required.

        As for military medical, I think it is pretty good. Even the VA, which is not part of the military.

        And yes i am a vet.


        1. taskboy3000

          Re: Also

          I do not think that the military is a waste in peace time. It is useful in domestic disasters and engineering efforts — and, of course, as a deterrent against foreign aggression. The US used to disband most of the army after wars and that robbed it of the institutional knowledge of veterans (particularly snipers).

          And I’m glad to hear someone speaking in favor of the VA. You hear a lot of horror stories these days, but the VA has helped a lot of vets.

          1. jakeinhartsel

            Re: Also

            You are correct about the deterrent aspect.

            I know a lot of vets that have been helped by the VA and have taken a few back and forth to appointments. I have heard horror stories but you hear those about a;; medical services. I would guess that I know fairly well 100 people that have been treated extensively by the VA and none of them have expressed anything negative.


      2. Anonymous

        Re: Also

        When people talk of “less government” do you know what they mean?

        Do you think people should need a license to paint fingernails?

        Do you think the state should interfere with your neighbor watching your child, because they aren’t properly licensed?

        (Both of these are government intrusions that happen today.)

        Whom do you trust more, Consumer Reports or the FDA? The same FDA whose “food pyramid” is STILL a lie, paid for by big-agriculture.

        > Perhaps libertarians have a lot more faith in the morality of their fellow men than I.

        To want small government is to *recognize* that man has the capacity for evil, and that giving enormous power to a few people is a really bad idea. I suspect that you believe that government helps the little guy. How you can still believe that in these days of rampant trillion dollar thefts is beyond me. But I don’t blame you. You’re the victim of the same propaganda that the rest of us are.

        They have taught us very well to fear ourselves, to fear each other, to fear fear fear. And only they can save us! And they will only require most of our productive labor to do it. (If you balk at the word “most” here, you need to look beyond the income tax, to the thousands of other taxes, and know that they *all* end up, eventually, being payed by the final consumer of the goods.)

        That you include the CIA in your “helpful services” list demonstrates that you don’t really know what is going on in this world.

        If any of the other services you list are really desired by the people who currently pay for them (tax payers, or anyone who holds dollars [via inflation]), people would find other ways to get them done. Is that not obvious? “Oh, poor stupid people, can’t accomplish anything without big brother.”

        If you want to be treated like a child your whole life, that’s fine, hire someone to tell you what you can and cannot do, who you can deal with, what plants you are allowed to have. But please don’t support the ruling elite in doing that to the rest of us.

        1. taskboy3000

          Re: Also

          Do you think people should need a license to paint fingernails? Do you think the state should interfere with your neighbor watching your child, because they aren’t properly licensed?

          You sound like you aren’t aware of that infectious diseases can be spread by salons and barbers or that illegal day care centers are a vector of child abuse. All laws are there for a reason and many laws are actually helpful to all of us. So, yes, I believe that the market should be fettered with some regulation at times.

          To want small government is to *recognize* that man has the capacity for evil, and that giving enormous power to a few people is a really bad idea.

          To want small government is to hide from the complexities modern urban life engenders. Without a healthy government, crime rules in its place as we see in modern Russia today. But I do agree that power corrupts. The only hedge against that corruption is a healthy democracy. Whether that’s what obtains in the US is a matter of debate.

          “Oh, poor stupid people, can’t accomplish anything without big brother.”

          Two quick examples of what people can do without government. In 1982, former president Carter created the non-governmental Carter Center, which successful combated hideous diseases like Guinea Worm and river blindness in African nations. The second example is Bernie Madoff who predated on insular Jewish communities to defraud them of billions of dollars.

          So I do not deny that people can accomplish a lot without the government.

          What I’m suggesting is government can do and does good things all the time. Do bureaucracies do evil? Of course they do. However, public bureaucracies have a level of accountability that private ones do not. And make no mistake, we need bureaucracies. That’s how Stuff Gets Done in modern (even medieval) life.

          But I don’t blame you. You’re the victim of the same propaganda that the rest of us are.

          You know, I too was once greatly enamored with conspiracy theories. I’ve read Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. I continue to see the barrel of US foreign and domestic policy for what it is. But I also realized that while there are indeed many small conspiracies out there, most of what we see can be explained by the forces of entropy: greed and stupidity. Neither markets nor morality will protect us from each other. We need rules of engagement enforced by a third party. At its best, that’s what the government does.

          I suppose in this context, I come off quite the fascist. But then, what you suggest comes off as anarchy.

          1. Anonymous

            Re: Also

            Whether salons can be dangerous wasn’t really the point. :)

            The point I was actually trying to make is that you, a supposedly free person, cannot trade with me, a supposedly free person, for *whatever* service and for *whatever* compensation we consensually agree upon.

            Do you really think that another human being, squeezed out of their mother just like all the rest of us, somehow has the authority to tell you and me we can’t interact however we choose to?

            I see no reason to give up personal freedom for the “service” of protection from scary businesses. Not when there are other proven ways to achieve the same protection: see Ebay’s reputation system or Consumer Reports.

            (There’s another argument to be made, that government licensing isn’t actually about safety, but rather about intentionally limiting market competition to favor the entrenched business interests, such as limiting the quantity of taxi medallions in a given city, but let’s leave that for another time.)

            > However, public bureaucracies have a level of accountability that private ones do not.

            My guess here is that a) you believe democracy works and that b) you see the rampant corporate crime and attribute that to the non-government side of the equation.

            If democracy works, why do the wars never end? The people don’t want them. It takes massive scare tactics to bring a populace on board with any war. Remember when Obama was the anti-war candidate? Does democracy actually work if we elect him, then the wars continue? And actually expand? How exactly do you propose we stop these people from murdering innocents all over the world?

            I mean red team was clearly horrible. Then we switched to blue team, and it’s still horrible. What now?

            As for the whole “Government Good / Corporations Bad” idea, one thing we don’t learn in government schools is that corporations are a product of government.

            But is that not clear? For starters, they are nothing but a file folder in a government office. A promise of government protection (legal and physical) for a cut of the action (taxes).

            But beyond that, find me a big scary corporation that does not receive a huge amount of their income, legal protection, often military services, from government. Big corporations grow up with government. (This is historically true, as well, eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company )

            We can’t boycott Haliburton or Blackwater. But what would they do if the federal government disappeared? Either they would find a way to attract legitimate business or they would cease to exist as a business.

            And you know what? No one seems to want hyper-violence when they’re spending their own money. ;) I dare you to find one historical case of an individual spending their own money on a war. Has it happened once, ever?

            > You know, I too was once greatly enamored with conspiracy theories.

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to. When I said propaganda I was referring to the pro-government education, pro-government media, and the pro-government culture it creates.

            How hard is it to believe that an education system run by X, receiving all of its budget from X, somehow fails to reveal ugly truths about X?

            > But then, what you suggest comes off as anarchy.

            Anarchy, meaning lack of rulers, has been redefined by those who currently rule us as “chaos.” How convenient for them. ;)


            (When I refer to those who currently rule, I do not mean the few elected officials. If they held the real power, the US would not have had a consistent foreign policy of war and empire building for the past 70 years.)

            Well, just some ideas, thanks for reading.

          2. torgo_x

            De Conspirationîs

            «You know, I too was once greatly enamored with conspiracy

            Gore Vidal once said something whose exact wording I wish I
            could recall, but the gist of it was:  There don’t
            need to be conspiracies- everyone running the place
            already thinks the same way, so it’s not as if they
            need to go circulating memos in invisible ink. 

            * * *

            You can get much of the function, if not form, of
            conspiratorial information exchange by simply having the same
            dizzy Right People running into eachother at the same
            restaurants and exchanging a few confused nouns (of meanings
            totally oblivious to them, but playing along) that
            will make full sense only to their assistance: “Hm, Tblisi,
            those airlines, ooff and the banks”.  Then an assistant
            kicks it down the chain of command until it hits someone who’s
            super-ambitious and will go do whatever.

            * * *

            I once saw a PBS show on “superspy” Robert Hanssen, who was
            super-jazzed that he got to go to some exclusive Opus
            Dei meetings and hear Father Magno-Sekreto say guaranteed
            amazing things that the average man isn’t privy to and can’t
            possibly understand with even 100% of his brain!  And
            Hanssen brought a friend, a confidant, to whom he could show
            off the awesomeness of this Opus Dei meeting.

            And the PBS show interviewed that friend— who might
            actually have been the guy trying to catch Hanssen.  And
            the guy said: it was crap.  No “but our strategy for
            converting souls in southern Egypt, against the threat of
            Islam, is…”.  No, it was just crap, blather, a
            Dissociated Press algorithm run on a corpus of Vatican memos
            that themselves weren’t about anything in particular. 
            Not even the sheer weirdness and pyrotechnics of Scientology,
            or the Saint Germain loonies, or the occasional Buck Rogers
            architecture of the Freemasons, or the… nonexistence of the
            Rosicrucians.  No, just crap.  And Hanssen was just
            giddy from it, just ’cause “TEE-HEE WE’RE IN A CONSPIRACY!”

            I figure that if there are conspiracies, that at least half
            of them are practically irrelevant, because they’re like
            that. Plus there’s lunatics inside who are trying to
            rob and embezzle entire hundreds of dollars!, and there’s also aimless political
            infighting, but to no real end except who gets the bigger
            office and the bluer Secret Stapler Of Power.

            Apparently if you just go around saying “we have secrets
            and we are hard to get at”, and people will beat down your
            door, and if there’s nothing inside, they will be in yet
            greater awe! And the you can try: “Guys, no, it was just a
            joke we were pulling on you, there’s really nothing here, the
            whole thing is… nothing!” but all you’ll get back
            is “You’re saying that only because you have things to

            So this is how far we, as a global civilization, have
            fallen: we can’t even have decent conspiracies.  Everyone
            involved ends up being lazy, stupid, crazy, or petty. 
            It’s like a state university English department.

            * * *

            Oh, but if you wanna read about a really fucked up
            and scary conspiracy, even type of conspiracy,
            read Sterling’s Heavy Weather.

            A fun (short-story) flipside of it is his
            >”Maneki Neko”

  19. jakeinhartsel

    Good analysis and analogy.


  20. mistersmearcase

    A bunch of my friends on here are your friends on here, so I saw two links to this. I’m glad I did. It’s fantastic.

    So the next question is: why do people (except the most trying-to-make-a-point libertarians) feel fine about fire departments and not health care? Is it just how these things have been framed for them by politicians and talking heads? Is it an unspoken assumption that fires are accidents but sickness is somehow a sign of some failing? And if it is, where does that come from and what the hell can be done about it?

    Because as much as I agree with you, it’s important not to think of people who oppose universal healthcare as just plain wrong through some inherent conservative smallness of spirit. I mean, I do, but I am trying not to. It’s better to be able to engage with it.

    Um hi I don’t know you and maybe this is presumptuously much commentary from a stranger.

    1. lewhich


      This must be required reading for all senators and congressmen.
      …. Now linking to this post.

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