Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reasons why hate and envy never make for good political theory

This past weekend, Reason's Matt Welch asked, Is it "apartheid" to pay for extra fire protection?

The question was posed in response to liberals Naomi Klein and Rick Perlstein, who saw something terribly wrong with the fact that insurance giant AIG was providing their own fire fighters to supplement the public fire fighters who were already fighting the Southern California wild fires this past fall. This service was available only for homes in specifically at-risk areas for a premium of $19,000 per year. Or in other words, this was a service for really rich people in really rich homes, in an area where primarily rich people were being displaced and affected by the fires.

Klein called it “disaster apartheid,” proof that “the country is indeed in the grip of extremists who are determined to act out the biblical climax—the saving of the chosen and the burning of the masses.”

Perlstein called it “a sickening indication about how the conservative mania for privatization is beginning to create two Americas: One that is protected from fires, and one that is not.”

But as Matt Welch points out, Klein and Perlstein's criticism is,

almost the exact inverse of what L.A.’s influential socialist/apocalyptic critic Mike Davis argued in his famous 1996 essay “Let Malibu Burn,” which complained bitterly about “public subsidization of firebelt suburbs,” “cheap fire insurance, socialized disaster relief and an expansive public commitment to ‘defend Malibu.’ ” Davis resented—and rightfully so—a system of government incentives that rewards development in fire zones that no private companies would insure while transferring tax money from the poor to the rich.

As Matt Welch points out, if the public shouldering the costs of protecting these expensive, at-risk homes from fire is a problem and private fire protection service is a problem, then the only solution is to let the rich of Southern California burn. No, that's not literally what Klein and Perlstein want, but the implications are quite clear. This is what you get when you combine wealth envy, the fear of the monster of privatization, and a blind faith in the concept of public services.

The sad thing is, this is where libertarians and liberals should be able to come together- the sentiment should be, "good, don't make the rest of us pay for rich people to have their rich homes in fire prone areas." Instead we get nonsense like "disaster apartheid," and rants about how the rich paying to protect their own homes will destroy America.


Post a Comment

<< Home