Home > Health Care > Good thing we’ve socialized firefighting: No more $500 charges EVERY time I’m pulled from a fire!

Good thing we’ve socialized firefighting: No more $500 charges EVERY time I’m pulled from a fire!

A Kingsport, TN, resident wrote in to his local paper, the Kingsport News, saying, basically, that America is already a socialist nation, so what’s a bit more added on top? “[P]olice stations, fire stations, education systems, libraries, public parks and lots more” are run by the State, because we “would all be a little upset if every time we got saved from a burning building, we had a bill for $500.”

It’s a fantastic point. All those times I’ve been saved from a burning building? Man, the fire department would be my biggest expense! Good thing the city runs it and I pay taxes year-round, year in, year out, for an expense that otherwise would really break my bank.

In all seriousness, I get it — I’m not about to argue that we should privatize the fire and police departments. But in part why they work as “socialized” entities is that they’re so localized that they’re fairly easy to watch-guard, and in part because we don’t want firefighters and cops running credit checks or swiping cards before they decide whether to come to someone’s rescue. That said, a conservative economist could probably argue that fire and police departments might be run more efficiently and have better safety and protection records than those run by the government, but certainly funding and payment issues tip the scales toward letting them through as a taxpayer-funded service.

But the letter writer’s argument — and I’m not trying to take him on personally; I see him as a proxy for a very prevalent mindset out there — breaks down when you try to apply the local-police-department model — one run by locals and fairly accountable to its constituency — to a health-care system that would service 305 million people, all of the decisions about which would be made in Washington. The lack of accountability and the inability to obtain redress alone should scare the wits out of people. Think about it: something goes horribly wrong when the firefighter comes to save your home, you’ve got a pretty decent shot at exposing the problem. Local news focuses on, well, local news stories like yours. Local politicians have nothing to do but, well, focus on local voters like you. Your chances of changing local ordinances or at least of exposing a local failure are pretty high.

But if you’re one of 305 million customers and, say, you’re denied a certain treatment or left waiting too long on the advice hotline or told to go home when it turns out you had appendicitis, can you imagine being told to “take a number and wait till you’re called”? In a system that services — again — 305 million people?

There’s apples to oranges, and then there’s apples to neckties; this guy’s comparing the health benefits of a locally grown apple to those of a necktie made in China. The comparison between a “socialized” fire department and socialized health-care for a nation of 305 million is so impossible that I had to completely rewrite the metaphor that best describes the attempt’s lunacy.

UPDATED: Upon further reflection, is the local fire department truly socialized? I’d say it isn’t. In fact, isn’t socialism defined precisely by the nationalization of an industry far away from those it serves? Isn’t its weakness as a system the very fact that decisions are made so far away from those affected? So, no, your local fire department isn’t socialized, at least not any more so than your local homeowner’s association is socialism — it’s people who all live within a stone’s throw of one another saying, basically, that we all have the same needs and about the same risk, so let’s pool money together and keep tabs on how it’s spent. That is much harder to do at the national level. Plus, let’s not forget that the “socialization” of fire and police services doesn’t create an incentive for people to light their homes on fire or commit more crime quite the way socializing our health-care system would incentivize abusing it.

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