Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

EMS and the Fire Department

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

My question relates to the morality of current government programs like the fire department and some EMS divisions.

I personally believe that no one should be forced to pay for these programs, but how would one go about defending against the practical argument of saving lives with them?

My friend, whom I've introduced to the Objectivist philosophy generally appreciates it, but he is working to become an EMS tech with his local fire department and he insists that these programs are necessary, either because he cannot see an alternative or because it sounds awful to him to let someone die, or their house burn if they did not pay a service fee.

How could I take the argument further than stating that it is morally wrong to force people to pay for such services and that the government's sole role should be...? Can the argument be carried farther? Does Dr. Peikoff address this topic in his podcast?

Also, I apologize for any faux pas. First time posting I believe.

Link to post
Share on other sites

he insists that these programs are necessary, either because he cannot see an alternative or because it sounds awful to him to let someone die, or their house burn if they did not pay a service fee.

An elementary lesson in logic would be that just because you can't see an alternative doesn't mean a conclusion necessarily follows. This would be a species of argument from ignorance.

As far people dying if the can't pay a fee goes, there exists evidence to the contrary. Is your friend unaware that there are private volunteer and for-profit fire departments and EMS services all over the country. Is that what they do? Do they demand you pay fees in one lump sum up front or else they let you die and/or burn down?

So long as the world is not transformed into the Garden of Eden, we all have to pay fees to live. If no one literally ever paid anyone anything, the entire human race would quickly die off. That is part of living under the division of labor. Production is required to sustain life, and the increased wealth to be had through association and cooperation compels men to trade and exchange.

Universalizing this principle (that everyone be entitled to some amount to not die or burn) is impossible. How much of a fee should someone be entitled to just for being alive and/or on fire, and where would this come from? Who is to be forced to provide it, and what about his life? Nobody has a right to force someone else to provide him with a ride to the hospital or put out his fire. To do should would mean those doing the providing are condemned to slave labor, which is incompatible with Objectivist ethics. What would be compatible is recognizing the right of the people involved to freely associate with those willing to give ambulance services or firefighting services for whatever price they deemed to be in their self-interest, leading to the mutual benĀ­efit of both parties to the exchange.

If free enterprise produces shirts, shoes, food, houses, cars, ambulance parts, hoses, tires, oil, electricity, etc. and is the most efficient way to ensure people get these vital goods, why not firefighting and EMS? If it is insufficient for firefighting and EMS, why not insufficient with those other things, or indeed every good and service?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that I recall news reports of volunteer FD's occasionally allowing uninsured structures to be destroyed as object lessons. 'Uninsured' in this case particularly meaning fire protection fees not paid. This may have been in Round-O or Branchville, South Carolina and perhaps in the late Seventies.

That said, I also observe that "volunteer fire departments" are properly non-existent if volunteer means unpaid. State and federal mandates have raised the costs of a VFD beyond "volunteer", and there are assumption of liability issues. Here, our HS students qualify as drivers, for instance, for the turn-out money.

I trained as EMT. I believe that some of the issues arise for emergency medical services going beyond "emergency" or "medical" or "service".

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the reply. I find myself ill-equipped to properly argue against many of the practical arguments presented against the philosophy and this most certainly helps.

Mises.org is a great place to find economic information and stuff about the practicality of following individual rights.

Just some random stuff:

The Development of Municipal Fire Departments in the United States

The Fallacies of Public Finance

Of course, it just might be that someone dies or has their house burned down, but it just doesn't necessarily follow (nor does it even follow that if anyone is refused service that "ergo government must provide it" for we are back to moral arguments, not practical ones), and there are very important incentives for this not to happen. Usually if a house does burn down, it's a government fire department, and they let it burn for failure to pay some arbitrary fee (see here.) If we have a firefighting service interested in maximizing profits, and someone's house is burning and they aren't a subscriber or have no insurance, worse comes to worse the fire department might just have an on-site emergency contract, and most people would probably be willing to pay to stop the fire. Most of these kinds of objections to freedom don't really stem from "I can't possibly imagine this being done without government" but more from a "They're charging money for this, turning it into a commodity, making a trade out of it! Filthy, filthy profit!" But this is, of course, a moral objection, not a practical one.

Edited by 2046
Link to post
Share on other sites

How could I take the argument further than stating that it is morally wrong to force people to pay for such services and that the government's sole role should be...? Can the argument be carried farther?

A secondary argument would be that such a policy does not provide incentive for people to be responsible and self-aware.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Of course, it just might be that someone dies or has their house burned down, but it just doesn't necessarily follow (nor does it even follow that if anyone is refused service that "ergo government must provide it" for we are back to moral arguments, not practical ones), and there are very important incentives for this not to happen. Usually if a house does burn down, it's a government fire department, and they let it burn for failure to pay some arbitrary fee (see here.) If we have a firefighting service interested in maximizing profits, and someone's house is burning and they aren't a subscriber or have no insurance, worse comes to worse the fire department might just have an on-site emergency contract, and most people would probably be willing to pay to stop the fire. Most of these kinds of objections to freedom don't really stem from "I can't possibly imagine this being done without government" but more from a "They're charging money for this, turning it into a commodity, making a trade out of it! Filthy, filthy profit!" But this is, of course, a moral objection, not a practical one.

I could not have said it better.

You should definitely mention to your friend, as others have stated, that a private fire department would almost certainly let someone who had not bought a coverage policy in advance have his fire extinguished for a large fee payable over time, rather than just letting the house burn down, in which case no one makes any money (I am, of course, assuming a subscription model like insurance, where one pays a small fee every month when there is no fire in order to have one's fire put out for free if there is a fire). It is not in the fire department's self-interest to just let the house burn. Only government does things that evil just because someone did not "follow the rules".

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 10 months later...

Turns out that insurance companies hire fire-fighters in some situations.

If fire departments were to be private, and if membership was optional, insurance companies would probably make it expensive not to be a member of a fire-station. What if someone does not buy insurance? Well, today, if you take out a mortgage the mortgage company can ask to see your insurance documents. Often, the mortgage company will do a deal that encourages the mortgagee to create an escrow and pay insurance and property-taxes out of that escrow.

If someone owns their house outright, with no mortgage, they can always choose not to buy insurance. If fire-fighter protection was optional, they might also choose to opt out of fire-protection.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If we have a firefighting service interested in maximizing profits, and someone's house is burning and they aren't a subscriber or have no insurance, worse comes to worse the fire department might just have an on-site emergency contract, and most people would probably be willing to pay to stop the fire.

You have a somewhat optimistic idea of worst comes to worst (at least from the perspective of the potentially burning family).

Stripped of morality and in interest of only profit, it might very well occur to the fire department that allowing the occupants to die would in fact be more economically advantageous in that it provides an object lesson to those others whom have not paid for the service. After all why shouldn't the fire fighting company be entitled to not with hold a service if the withholding garners them more profit at the mere cost of human lives?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Stripped of morality and in interest of only profit, ... ...
False dichotomy here. Morality and profit are not opposed. Profit is simply a sub-class of morality: it is one of many values that human beings ought to pursue.

After all why shouldn't the fire fighting company be entitled to not with hold a service if the withholding garners them more profit at the mere cost of human lives?
Of course they're entitled. A government ought not force private citizen must be forced by law to rescue others. The question is: why would any home-owner with half a brain not insure his home? You seem to be suggesting that home-owners must be forced to insure their homes and pay for fire-protection, in order to protect themselves. This is a typical nanny-state approach: the assumption is that the majority knows best, when it acts via its elected government. Even when people harm nobody but themselves, the majority has the right -- you claim -- to force them to act against their own judgement, and according to the dictates of the majority.

Of course, if we're speaking of a home in a sub-division where homes are close enough to endanger each other, chances are that one would not be able to buy a home there unless one agreed to take out some type of cover against fire.

Link to post
Share on other sites

False dichotomy here. Morality and profit are not opposed. Profit is simply a sub-class of morality: it is one of many values that human beings ought to pursue.

Are you sure we are talking about profit of the same sort? I'm talking about profit in the more common sense, ie. getting something which one feels has more value than one feels was invested in effort and resources to obtain it. This is not a sub-class of morality. It can be admiriable moraly if done in a certain manner in certain circumstances and for certain types of "profit". In some forms and circumstances it's pursuit can also be immoral. It is not necessarily linked to morality. This can happen to coincide with the domain of being a moral activity but that's an overlap, not a subset.

Of course they're entitled. A government ought not force private citizen must be forced by law to rescue others.

I agree the fire company is entitled to do this from a legal standpoint, but that doesn't inherrently address morality. Would you also argue it would be morally wrong for them to do more than the minimum required to help another if doing so would jeapordize their profit? And how do you define profit in this case?

A government ought not force private citizen must be forced by law to rescue others.

They ought not to be forced by law, one would hope they were compelled to without any law required. I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant though :)

The question is: why would any home-owner with half a brain not insure his home?

for example...

1) He lived in a condo, and without pesky government intervention in such manners, he didn't realize that his condo board had the option to opt out of fire service this year.

2) He thought he had, but the fine print said the fire service doesn't protect against fires originating from forest fires. This fire started from the forest adjoining the back of his house

3) He thought he had, his bill to renew his fees was lost in the mail and he's a day overdue.

etc. etc.

You seem to be suggesting that home-owners must be forced to insure their homes and pay for fire-protection, in order to protect themselves.

I don't think it's just the self. What about if I was visiting someone and had no idea they didn't have fire protection and was trapped in the burning building. Or I was a neighbour who had the misfortune to live close by. Or I was a town a 100 miles distant but once the fire had started on the farm and gained strength, nothing was not going to be able to deal with the fire. But my contracted fire service argued they'd only attempt to protect me once the fire got to my doorstep.

In fact it might very well be in the interest of the majority to stop a fire before it got out of control. Legislating that people should not be able to buy houses without contracting a service to protect the rest of society might not be such a bad idea? We do not live as individuals on an island. Sadly the stupidity of others can affect us.

This is a typical nanny-state approach: the assumption is that the majority knows best, when it acts via its elected government. Even when people harm nobody but themselves, the majority has the right -- you claim -- to force them to act against their own judgement, and according to the dictates of the majority.

Of course, if we're speaking of a home in a sub-division where homes are close enough to endanger each other, chances are that one would not be able to buy a home there unless one agreed to take out some type of cover against fire.

I don't believe that governments are ruled by the majority, even in a pure democracy with more than 2 options a majority needn't rule.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Are you sure we are talking about profit of the same sort? I'm talking about profit in the more common sense, ie. getting something which one feels has more value than one feels was invested in effort and resources to obtain it. This is not a sub-class of morality.
Yes it is. In fact, it is not just a sub-class of morality. When you put it that way it is morality. Morality is all about answering the question: "how should I act?" The assumption is that acting creates some type of outcome. The desired outcomes are called "values". Monetary profit is one type of value. A person who is moral seeks values -- by definition. According to some moralities, profit in the form of "stuff" is not a value, or a minor one. Of course, Objectivism does not denigrate physical values that make life comfortable. It sees them as the values they are: as things worth pursuing. However, they are only one type of value. If someone loves poetry and is good at it, they might get the most happiness in their life by pursuing this, even though it costs them in terms of various physical values (Rand's "The Fountainhead" stresses this).

As for the other points: if you and the government can think of these scenarios, then I can too. History is full of examples where people learnt and incorporated new clauses into contracts, etc. Typically, they do this intelligently. Whereas, government reactions are usually bureaucratic and will either stifle the good with the bad or will be worked-around as people stick to the letter of the law and ignore the spirit.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes it is. In fact, it is not just a sub-class of morality. When you put it that way it is morality. Morality is all about answering the question: "how should I act?" The assumption is that acting creates some type of outcome. The desired outcomes are called "values". Monetary profit is one type of value. A person who is moral seeks values -- by definition. According to some moralities, profit in the form of "stuff" is not a value, or a minor one. Of course, Objectivism does not denigrate physical values that make life comfortable. It sees them as the values they are: as things worth pursuing. However, they are only one type of value. If someone loves poetry and is good at it, they might get the most happiness in their life by pursuing this, even though it costs them in terms of various physical values (Rand's "The Fountainhead" stresses this).

As for the other points: if you and the government can think of these scenarios, then I can too. History is full of examples where people learnt and incorporated new clauses into contracts, etc. Typically, they do this intelligently. Whereas, government reactions are usually bureaucratic and will either stifle the good with the bad or will be worked-around as people stick to the letter of the law and ignore the spirit.

Is my buying a lottery ticket on a whim and winning, something that is inherrently moral?

If I fail to win and thus don't profit, does that make it immoral?

If I choose to pass the stand and not take my chances at all, am I being immoral or moral?

Or is it really just a thing I did with no particular morality involved?

Edited by Shion
Link to post
Share on other sites

Stripped of morality and in interest of only profit, it might very well occur to the fire department that allowing the occupants to die would in fact be more economically advantageous in that it provides an object lesson to those others whom have not paid for the service. After all why shouldn't the fire fighting company be entitled to not with hold a service if the withholding garners them more profit at the mere cost of human lives?

... Do you actually think that a company that literally and publicly stood by and let people die in a fire like that wouldn't suffer economically? Can you say boycott?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Is my buying a lottery ticket on a whim and winning, something that is inherrently moral?

If I fail to win and thus don't profit, does that make it immoral?

If I choose to pass the stand and not take my chances at all, am I being immoral or moral?

Or is it really just a thing I did with no particular morality involved?

Whether to buy a lottery ticket is a question of morality. Of course it is (typically) a small little issue. Here's the way to look at it. Can you ask this question about buying a lottery ticket: "is this a sensible thing that gives me value for what I spend on it?" If the answer is "no", but you're still buying it, then your action is irrational and you should not do it; otherwise do it. The point is: there is a way to figure out if you should do the action or not: that makes it a part of the larger topic of morality.

The typical example of a "amoral" choice is: choosing vanilla over chocolate. I'd warrant that for most people a choice like that just is...i.e. they cannot analyse it further, in terms of reasons. Clearly, a lot of choices like that do exist. However, morality is a much wider topic than typically believed... most choices you make can be analysed and you can try to figure out what value they give you in the short term and in the long-term, and you can also analyse the cost to you in the short-term and the long term. Going on a binge before exams after spending some years working toward that exam is irrational. Therefore it is immoral. The irrational is the immoral.

Link to post
Share on other sites
... Do you actually think that a company that literally and publicly stood by and let people die in a fire like that wouldn't suffer economically? Can you say boycott?
Also, these are simply leftist stereotypes. Typically, businesses often reach out to help people. The reason is simple: businesses are people. (One of the few things Mitt Romney got right.) Every business is just a group of people and the idea that people will typically stand by while someone dies -- in a situation where the bystanders can save them -- is totally against all evidence.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Whether to buy a lottery ticket is a question of morality. Of course it is (typically) a small little issue. Here's the way to look at it. Can you ask this question about buying a lottery ticket: "is this a sensible thing that gives me value for what I spend on it?" If the answer is "no", but you're still buying it, then your action is irrational and you should not do it; otherwise do it. The point is: there is a way to figure out if you should do the action or not: that makes it a part of the larger topic of morality.

Ah, but you said that satisfying the following definition was a moral action

" I'm talking about profit in the more common sense, ie. getting something which one feels has more value than one feels was invested in effort and resources to obtain it" <= ME

"Yes it is. In fact, it is not just a sub-class of morality. When you put it that way it is morality. Morality is all about answering the question: "how should I act?" The assumption is that acting creates some type of outcome. The desired outcomes are called "values". Monetary profit is one type of value." <= You

"A person who is moral seeks values -- by definition" <= You

So you argued that getting more than one feels was invested is inherrently moral by "definition". And if I were to win the lottery than I have gotten more than I feel was invested. So it seems that chance has made my action a moral one :)

Clearly we need to revise your original assertation, because now you seem to be arguing that the question of morality comes down not to whether you actually profit, but whether you are proceeding about profiting in a rational way. So the definition of being good is to rationally seek profit? This is quite a different thing than you'd asserted was good before. But let me understand if I have your new definition right. If I'm missing something perhaps you could clarify.

"Here's the way to look at it. Can you ask this question about buying a lottery ticket: "is this a sensible thing that gives me value for what I spend on it?" If the answer is "no", but you're still buying it, then your action is irrational and you should not do it; otherwise do it."

Link to post
Share on other sites

... Do you actually think that a company that literally and publicly stood by and let people die in a fire like that wouldn't suffer economically? Can you say boycott?

Well if the parish in which the fire station operated had a strong objectivist following, I think even the person would agree that the fire department was justified in their actions if they were motivated in seeking profit. Luckily everyones not an objectivist :)

Ok, to answer your question, we needn't consider publically doing something. Morality as defined by the objectivist in this thread, isn't really concerned with whether someone observes you trying to seek profit, only whether you do. IN order to seek profit I merely need to slow my response time just a wee bit to ensure a tragedy. No need to publically explain why its being done. In fact fessing up to the act might loose me profit and thus it is morally wrong to be honest in this situation.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So you argued that getting more than one feels was invested is inherrently moral by "definition". And if I were to win the lottery than I have gotten more than I feel was invested. So it seems that chance has made my action a moral one :)

Clearly we need to revise your original assertation, because now you seem to be arguing that the question of morality comes down not to whether you actually profit, but whether you are proceeding about profiting in a rational way.

Morality is about human actions. This is not something special about my form of morality: Mother Teresa would agree too. If someone is walking along and a rock falls on their head, we do not use morality to judge the rock, but the person's act.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Well if the parish in which the fire station operated had a strong objectivist following, I think even the person would agree that the fire department was justified in their actions if they were motivated in seeking profit. Luckily everyones not an objectivist :)

Wrong. Bernie Madoff was motivated by seeking profit, yet he was not justified in his actions according to Objectivism. Please don't pretend to understand Objectivism if you truly don't.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My point is there's more to it than simply obtaining a profit. So my question is that what under objectivist principles makes Bernie Madoff wrong? The little smiley face was to indicate that clearly this couldn't be the line of thought that an objectivist would hold. I didn't pretend to understand it should be quite clear if you re-read what I wrote.

Though objectivist leaning folks did support Roarks blowing up of the housing project he designed (ie. the jury). At what point do the consequences of that action cease to justify the ideal behind it? If they couldn't have gotten the night guradsman out, what then? There's a nother underlying principle.

It has now been argued that is is not the result of the action (making profit) which makes it good, but rather the intent behind it (the rational seeking of profit). Is this also your understanding of the morality of profit from action?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...