On that libertarian fire department thing

Just a note:

The city of South Fulton in Obion County, Tennessee, offers fire protection to households living outside of the city limits for a fee of $75 per year. If you pay the fee, then if your house catches on fire, the fire department comes and puts it out. If you don’t pay the fee, they don’t. This sounds reasonable. People living in the city limits pay city taxes for city services. The city offers those services to people living outside the city limits when they can, but asks them to pay a share for them. Some choose to pay the fee and others don’t.

…problems with voluntary provision of a public good. If you ask people to voluntarily contribute toward a good like having a fire department or an army, the rational person says to himself “if everybody else pays, and I get protected even if I don’t pay, then why should I pay?”

A public good is not a good provided to the public. It is not even something good which is provided to the public. It is something which is non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

The entire point of this story is that while fire protection is good for the public, is a good supplied to the public, it is in fact excludable and is therefore not a public good.

That was your economic pendantry note of the day.

4 thoughts on “On that libertarian fire department thing”

  1. That model of fire service provision works fine for rural communities with widely spaced dwellings, but in dense cities I’d say there’s a public interest in not leaving a house burning because the owner hasn’t paid their fire service fee, for obvious reasons.

  2. View from the Solent

    Dave,
    which is exactly the situation in South Fulton. Inside the city limits, the fire service is paid for by everyone via local taxes. The muppet in the story lived outside city limits and hence did not pay those taxes. He also decided not to take out fire insurance at 75USD per annum.

  3. View from the Solent,
    Yes, I gather that was the specific situation in South Fulton. My comment was in response to the way Tim seems to be using the South Fulton example to argue that fire protection is not a public good generally – my point is that while fire protection may not be a public good in rural areas, it is a public good in towns and cities – i.e. where most of the public live. The South Fulton example doesn’t show that the libertarian fire department has broad applicability as a model for the provision of fire protection.

  4. It’s also not a public good because it’s rivalrous, as the number of fire fighters and the amount of equipment is finite, so even if you accept that in some circumstances, fire protection is non-excludable, it would be a common good, rather than a public good.

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