Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Hometown lesson on the failures of government

I am asked from time to time if there are moments in my life I can point to that put me on a path to become a Libertarian economist who blames government for everything that ails the planet. While there is a long list - probably dating back to my days in Kindergarten - one instance in particular helped shape my correct view that there is absolutely nothing government does as well as the private sector.

On May 19, 1990 - twenty years ago today - my boyhood home in Hugo, Oklahoma burned to the ground.

It was a beautiful home. It was built at the turn of the 20th century and totally refurbished by my grandfather during the 1940s. The exterior was all made of large stone. The interior was Colorado pine logs with wagon wheel chandaliers, a huge fire place and many other touches that made it a wonderful place to live in.

On the rare occasions when I visit my home town I always take my wife and kids down the end of Bluff Street. The kids especially enjoy running around in the big field that was next to my home. Where the home once was there is now nothing more than grass and a chain link fence that keeps people away from the low-income housing units that now sit in our former pasture.

The house would still be there if not for the failures of Hugo's government that night.

My brother started his new motorcycle near the window of my parents bedroom. When the engine started an explosion took place and flames shot through the open window and caught the curtains on fire. He immediately called the fire department. When they arrived and attempted to hook their hoses into the plug only 30 yards or so from our house, the fireplug did not respond. They rushed down the street to one over 150 yards away. It did not respond either.

Without access to water from the only two plugs in our area, all they - and my brother could do - was watch our home, and all of its contents, burn to the ground even though they got to our home when the fire was still contained to only part of the bedroom.

When an investigation was conducted as to why the plugs did not work it was discovered that the fire department had neglected to conduct routine maintenance (by flushing out the plugs) when it was supposed to. In fact, rather than coming out once every few months as the city required, it had been years since they had driven the five minutes it would have taken from the fire station to our house to simply do their jobs.

My parents considered pursuing litigation against the fire department only to discover from an attorney that cities in Oklahoma are under no legal obligation to protect citizens.
As a Libertarian I realize that my family has to bear responsibility for the cause of the fire. However, I also became well aware of another fact of life: If you count on a not-for-profit government agency that receives all of its funding from the forced taking of our earnings without the accountability that private companies face, then you better make sure that your insurance is up to date and your most important belongings are kept in a fire-proof safe.


  1. That's very unfortunate.. but at least the ending gave some sound advice. I look forward to your next blog.

  2. Another unfortunate reality is that some will read this essay and fail to see the logic and reasoning behind what you say. Instead, they will deem you a "nut job" because of your, in my onion, correct assessment of government versus private sector efficiencies.

    The comment that resonates the loudest is that of the "funding from the forced taking of our earnings without the accountability that private companies face". This type of reasoning is now usually met with the quip that you are just an angry , anti-government radical. In any other arena, who would not be upset by this notion?

  3. This is another unfortunate example of why the government sucks at their job. And we are talking about protecting your constitutional right to your pursuit of happiness (or property). If a "money hungry" private company had been running the fire department near your childhood home and the same situation happened, they would be out of business by the end of the week. If only we could shut the government down through a lack of demand for their services, but everyday it seems like the American people are demanding more from the government. We want "free" healthcare, retirement money, money when we can't find a job, and might as well throw in some money for this piece of junk car I have.