“Politicians treat firefighters like pawns. When my house burned down, I learned how valuable public servants can be.”
That’s the tagline of an article on Salon.com titled “Thank God for Taxes.” Naturally the author cannot imagine how firefighting could be better as a private business. It never occurs to him. He just praises public “servants” and calls for more taxes.1
If Andrew Leonard could imagine private firefighting at all, he would probably imagine something like the rival firefighters in 19th century America that fought violently over who would get to put out the fire while the house burned down. But of course, this was caused not by a free market in firefighting but rather a combination of public property (fire hydrants, roads), lack of private property rights enforcement (sabotaged fire engines), and political machines (Tammany Hall) — politicians like Boss Tweed using neighborhood firefighting departments for their own political gain.
We don’t want your money, let the motherfucker burn!
Or he might imagine private firefighters refusing to put out a fire until the owner paid some astronomical fee, which the owner couldn’t afford on the spot. In fact, he might vaguely recall an incident in Tennessee last December2 in which firefighters let a home burn down because the owner failed to pay a mere $75. “This is what would happen in a free market!” he’d cry, not recalling, or never bothering to learn, the details of the incident. But this was a government firefighting department rigidly adhering to bureaucratic internal rules,3 as government agencies are wont to do, not a private business responding to profit incentives.
But what we in politics wish to know is whether Mr. Minister X understands his business, whether he has initiative, whether he is informed, whether he steals more than is absolutely necessary, whether he lies more than is publicly beneficial, and so on …
— Eric Voegelin
In other words, just tweak a few things here and there and make sure you get the right politician (read: less evil than most) into office. Then the state will work fine — ordered liberty will be achieved; society and market will flourish; Leviathan will be indefinitely averted.
Paradox: How to achieve this when statist political systems favor the unscrupulous, incentivize their seeking and maintaining office and increasing their power, steadily erode what moral fiber they may have, and make useless or harmful to their political careers any truly important knowledge or skills (such as of economics or how to actually be productive in society).
I am on the board of the Austin, Texas-based Foundation for a Free Society, and one of our objectives is to put out professional, artistic, catchy videos that communicate the philosophy of liberty in a succinct and fun manner. This video is one of our latest projects and was recently featured on LewRockwell.com. If you think this is a cool idea, why not become a donor to F4FS? Trust me, it’s a GREAT cause. F4FS has been a great supporter of the student group I am involved in, the Libertarian Longhorns, and I can heartily commend them to you.
Isn’t that fantastic? Share it with your friends, maybe you’ll be able to teach them about liberty soon…
It’s not merely important to have principles, it’s important to name them.
Name them well.
One of the central insights of the French Liberal School of economics — and, since that school’s heyday, all of free-market economics — has not, to my knowledge, been given a technical name. Or, at least, a technical term that’s good enough. The principle in question is that of overlooking the unseen effects of an event or a policy in favor of the immediate, positive effects on the chief beneficiary. Bastiat wrote about it in “That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen.” Classic essay.
The basic notion has been recently described in a fairly rigorous way as the problem of dispersed costs and concentrated benefits. Surely someone has called this The Principle of Dispersed Costs and Concentrated Benefits, or somesuch. But I’m not aware of a pithier academic formulation that sticks. In my head, anyway.
And, getting it to stick is important. People forget, otherwise. And what’s the use of a principle that people forget?