Thursday, February 28, 2008

"disaster apartheid"? subsidize the rich or have them pay their own way...

From Matt Welch in Reason, an interesting account about trouble with the public provision of fire services in California, some privatization of fire services, and the firestorm caused by the differential-- ironically, against those who pay their taxes and then pay for private services on top of that...

When Southern California really burns, as it does every fourth October or so, there can never be enough firefighters....Doing so would require standing fire squads of at least triple their current size, with nothing much to do until the next far-off catastrophe except draw salaries and qualify for pensions. So in the most recent conflagration the state of California bolstered its ranks of roughly 9,000 firefighters by deputizing more than 3,000 prison inmates to go on the front lines and recruiting an equal number of reinforcements from other Western states.

That much was uncontroversial. Then the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News revealed the shocking news that the American International Group (AIG), an insurance company, had been adding a very modest supplement to the firefighting effort—six trucks—on behalf of its clients. For premiums averaging a hefty $19,000 a year, AIG policyholders in the fire-vulnerable “wildland-urban interface” have their homes assessed for vulnerability, kitted with sprinkler systems, and doused with fire retardant. When wildfires rage within three miles of a covered house, AIG-contracted teams come out to lay down a fresh perimeter of retardant and check the roof and nearby brush for stray embers (the cause of most housing tract losses during an inferno). According to Bloomberg, AIG firefighters saved at least six houses, including one lucky enough to be next door to an AIG client.

You would think that the creation of supplementary firefighting capability—the costs of which are borne entirely by the homeowners who choose to live in fire zones, instead of taxpayers—would be a cause for at least mild enthusiasm. Instead, it was greeted with howls of class warfare.

The leftist critic Naomi Klein called it “disaster apartheid”...The liberal historian Rick Perlstein called it “a sickening indication about how the conservative mania for privatization is beginning to create two Americas: One that is protected from fires, and one that is not”...

What’s noteworthy about his critique is that it’s almost the exact inverse of what L.A.’s influential socialist/apocalyptic critic Mike Davis argued in his famous 1996 essay “Let Malibu Burn,” which complained bitterly about “public subsidization of firebelt suburbs,” “cheap fire insurance, socialized disaster relief and an expansive public commitment to 'defend Malibu'.” Davis resented—and rightfully so—a system of government incentives that rewards development in fire zones that no private companies would insure while transferring tax money from the poor to the rich.

This year’s critics, by contrast, balk at letting the wealthiest Californians finally pay their fair share. Since the Naomi Kleins of the world don’t want the rich to get more public protection, and they don’t want the rich to get more private protection, what options are left? Burn, Malibu, burn.

2 Comments:

At February 28, 2008 at 4:12 PM , Blogger Chris said...

This is ridiculous. If the rich have their own fire department, on top of paying taxes for the 'common man' fire department - wouldn't that leave more time for the fire dept to protect the 'poor' houses? Improve everyone's lives?
Sounds like Ms. Klein is a fan of the misery index and wants everyone to get their share...

 
At February 28, 2008 at 9:05 PM , Blogger dudevf1 said...

For valid reasons, the State's approach is often to get as many people out of the way in advance and then let the fire run its course. Whereas the private insurance actually provides specific fire defense for your residence. These 2 approaches are complimentary at the very least. The other angle not discussed is that the State still refuses or is incapable (because of union requirements??)of accepting help from the military resources that are availabe to fight fire from the air. The latter is embarassing at best as the State will only allow State approved spotter directed flights and the State employed spotters are not around to do the work. Literally they have 48 hours to report to duty, which of course is when they can be most useful at fighting a newly started fire. If that one role were privatized or at least simply excused or done away with altogether, we would have more efficient use of fire fighting resources.

 

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