In a Time Magazine special earlier this year, Reihan Salam rubbed his hands together excitedly and wrote this giddy little prediction:
Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.
Rural Tennessee -- at least this particular area of rural Tennessee -- looks a lot like Reihan's vision. Welcome to Gene Cranick's world, where taxes are anathema and for some communities, the opt-in model for public services leaves lives covered in ashes and whispers of the consequences of pure, unadulterated libertarian utopia. I agree with digby on this one -- it's not Randian or utopian or much of anything beyond just plain mean.
Glenn Beck thinks an opt-in fire department is just a terrific idea:
If you don't pay your $75 then that hurts the fire department. They can't use those resources and you would be sponging off your neighbor's $75 if they put out your neighbor's house and you didn't pay for it.
Gene Cranick, the homeowner, has a pretty practical response:
Why should I want to put up a business or build a new home around when they're not going to do you -- treat you right. And another thing is...part of my tax dollars comes back to this town, I think, for fire trucks...
See? That's the real problem here. This guy paid taxes and his tax dollars bought those pretty fire trucks, paid for fire hydrants and the water, but a failure to pay the $75 pay-to-spray fee cost him his house. Not just his house, but it also did damage to his neighbor's house and it killed his pets --- three dogs and a cat.
Perhaps we have some kind of weird generational disconnect here. I keep hearing this argument over and over with regard to health care reform, too, particularly the mandate. Unsurprisingly, I tend to hear it from younger people who think they shouldn't have to be a part of the bigger picture. It's the same argument that John Kyl used when he complained during the markup sessions that he shouldn't have to pay for maternity care since he would never be pregnant.
Utopia isn't served up one individual at a time. Everyone can create their own vision about their own utopia, but to do so while ignoring the larger reality that we actually DO live in a world with neighbors and people and random tragedies and disasters is nothing but self-centered egotistical thinking. It may work as an economic theory, but it doesn't transcend into the moral and ethical arenas at all. Forcing public servants to stand and watch a man's home burn down is immoral. They let his pets die. Didn't lift a finger to save them. It's cruel. It's evil. It's right-wing memes in living color, writ large.
If you've ever subscribed to AAA roadside service and accidentally forgotten to pay renewal fees, they don't leave you on the side of the road, stranded. If you call and your membership is expired, you have the opportunity to pay the back fees on the spot. When you do, they send the tow truck out to help. At the very least, they could have put the damn fire out first and handed Mr. Crannick a bill right then.
Or, they could do what responsible societies do. They accept that community is something larger than the individual, that all communities need to agree to pay to protect themselves with a police and fire department that doesn't discriminate on the basis of those who opt-in and those who do not. They accept that there will be some in the community who are unable to take care of themselves and should therefore have a safety net -- a net that only government can provide. They accept that basic services are part of a successful, thriving community, and everyone should be protected by them. Water. Electricity. Police. Fire. Health. Caring for the poor.
Fast-forward back to the town hall nightmares of 2009. Remember the one with Tom Coburn, a doctor? The one where he suggested to the lady who was losing all she had because of her husband's illness that she rely on her neighbors? Again we see through the nonsensical ideas of the right. What neighbors? Would those be the neighbors who stood there and watched a guy's house burn down while the fire department, with trucks on the scene, did nothing? We should trust those neighbors because why?
Utopias are perfection. Humans are imperfect creatures. The best we can do is understand that, and collectively protect ourselves as a community. United. Tomorrow morning I want to look in the mirror just like I did today and know that I have done as much as I can do as an individual and as a citizen to make this place I live in better not only for me, but for someone else. If my neighbor's home doesn't burn down, mine won't either.
I'm willing to pay a tax for that. How about you?