A Libertarian Wet-dream

The New York Times has a story today on the hottest new trend in Emergency response: fee for service.

ABOUT a year ago Cary Feldman was surprised to find himself sprawled on the pavement in an intersection in Chicago Heights, Ill., having been knocked off his motor scooter by the car behind him. Five months later he got another surprise: a bill from the fire department for responding to the scene of the accident.

“I had no idea what the fire truck was there for,” said Mr. Feldman, of nearby Matteson. “It came, it looked and it left. I was not hurt badly. I had scratches and bruises. I did not go to the hospital.”

Mr. Feldman had become enmeshed in what appears to be a nascent budget-balancing trend in municipal government: police and fire departments have begun to charge accident victims as a way to offset budget cuts.

The paper of record says these fees are a response to “budget cuts” and does not tie them specifically to tax policy, but it is undeniable that as the demand for unsustainably low levels of taxation continues to gain a foothold in the American psyche, and as the peculiar notion that progressive taxation is unfair becomes a more prevalent phenomenon, we are likely to see more, not less, of this sort of thing.

When a service cannot be privatized altogether, user fees have always been and continue to be the Libertarian’s favorite method of revenue collection, the toll booth his model for the ideal Internal Revenue Agency. It is not difficult to understand why. As you wait in line at the tollbooth look around you and you’ll notice how regressive a tax it is: the contractor in the beat-up 1998 Ford F-150 pickup truck is going to pay the exact same charge for using the road as the Dentist  three cars back in his $120,000 Porsche 911 GT3.

User fees are, of course, nothing new to the American taxpayer. As a graduate student in Charlottesville, VA in the mid 1990’s I found myself living in a town where garbage collection was paid for, not through general fun revenues, but by placing stamps on bags you wished to be picked up. The stamps themselves (yellow tie-wraps, actually) could be bought at most convenience stores and cost differently depending on whether they were to be used on a 13 or  a 33 gallon trash bag. But the net effect of the policy is always the same: any time government services are paid for by user fees instead of through the general revenue the result is that the net tax burden has been lowered on the wealthy while taxes have been raised on everyone else.

Of course, libertarians will counter that the sting of these new fees can be lowered by privatizing service delivery. Perhaps to some extent, yes, but ask yourself why and you may not like the answer as much: what used to be a comfortable, secure government job with good benefits that a worker could raise a family and retire secure in the knowledge that his pension will sustain him through his autumn years is now being performed by wage slaves laboring for the minimum wage with no pension benefits to cushion their retirement and minimal, if any, health benefits. And so the net drain of wealth from the working classes to wealthy elite is only further exacerbated.

It is not clear where this will all end up. The truth is that, though billions of dollars of propaganda is thrown at the American public every year promoting these ideals, in fact, once citizens begin to realize the true repercussions of Libertarian government they are not nearly as enamored of the practice:

The finger-pointing has left cities like Denver trying to figure out what to do. This year, the city considered fees for nonresident, at-fault drivers, said Eric Brown, a spokesman for Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. Mr. Brown said the city stood to recover about $500,000 a year for fire services.

But the proposal was criticized by taxpayers and the media. In an editorial, The Denver Post described the idea as unfair and unwise, saying it would put taxpayers “financially on the hook for supporting emergency services twice.”

The city decided not to decide.

“We shelved it for this year,” Mr. Brown said.

With Tea Party activists rewriting GOP platform documents to promote such absurd, a-historical nonsense as a “Return to the principles of Austrian economics” and with the GOP poised to make massive electoral gains in November it’s doubtful we’re that near the point where the vast majority of Americans realize the extent to which the rich are grabbing them by the ankles and shaking them for the pocket change they’ve still got left. The day will come, no doubt, but right now that day seems quite a ways off.

In the meantime it’s a great time to be rich in America. But then, what else is new?

29 comments:

9:33 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

It is not clear where this will all end up.

If it’s not clear, you haven’t been paying attention.

these new fees can be lowered by privatizing service delivery

Hahahahaha

10:01 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

I thought that whole ‘billionaires giving back’ charity announcement truly obscene. If they have that much money to give away they are obviously not being taxed enough. Which means, as SD points out, that the rest of us are supporting them. However, since our ad industry has actually convinced us that we like to eat McDonald’s hamburgers and that we think they are delicious and don’t taste like shit they can clearly sell us on anything.

I am thinking of changing my name to Liberty Freedom. It has a certain ring to it.

10:19 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@Benedick: I will give you a dollar if you change your name to Cannibal Anarchy. Could mean a whole dimension for you in science fiction blockbusters.

10:24 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

Marginally related: anybody else getting the “Brown Bailout” ads pointing to http://www.brownbailout.com? Apparently, FedEx is sufficiently terrified that its employees might someday be able to strike that it’s running an ad campaign.

Mind you, you have to get about 6 pages into the right-wing standard boilerplate to actually figure out *what* they’re on about, and you still can’t completely understand it without an outside explanation of the Railway Labor Act.

10:35 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@al2o3cr: Yes, I’m getting the ad. Apparently the software that sorts and allocates ads ain’t too smart.

11:23 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@al2o3cr: That is a textbook example of what political types call an Astroturf campaign…FedEx is also terrified that some day the people working for them will be deemed to be employees versus independent contractors.

11:55 am • Sunday • September 5, 2010

“9-1-1. What is your credit card number? We accept VISA, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. . . . Calm down, sir, I can’t help you until I get your payment method.”

12:07 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@SanFranLefty: The Teamsters local office in Long Beach has a sign on the front door reading “No Fedex Deliveries”. UPS, by contrast, is mostly unionized. And don’t get me started about port trucking companies.

12:21 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

911 is a joke. And then there’s Duran Duran’s cover

No one in the ‘hood calls 911 for many reasons, mainly because they don’t come…

12:30 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

As regards wilderness rescues, the National Association for Search and Rescue opposes billing for such services. “Billing for search and rescue operations is a dangerous practice that should be avoided,” said NASAR President Dan Hourihan.

NASAR’s position:

To eliminate the fear of being unable to pay for having one’s life saved, SAR services should be rendered to persons in danger or distress without subsequent cost-recovery from the person(s) assisted unless prior arrangements have been made. The mission of SAR organizations is to save lives, not just the lives of those who can afford to pay the bill. As such, methods and means should be developed and used that diffuse the cost of humanitarian SAR operations among the many, allowing ­anyone to reasonably expect emergency aid without regard to their circumstances.

According to the release, “the idea of not billing for SAR services confuses many people. However, SAR professionals across the nation know of many instances in which someone – after an unforeseen accident, or spending hours searching for their missing companion – delayed calling for help. Each ‘remembered’ hearing, seeing or reading, ‘somewhere’ that rescues and searches cost ‘thousands of dollars’ – which they could not afford. Some have even chosen not to call for help, or refused emergency help.”

To underscore this fear, the organizations cited a 2006 case in which a young hiker became stranded on Colorado’s 14,270-foot Quandary Peak. “She called 9-1-1, but asked the SAR team leader just to ‘talk her out of the area,'” noted the organizations.

“The sun had already set and cold weather surrounded her in a dangerous area of the mountain. She repeatedly said the SAR team should not come to help her. After going back and forth with her on her cell phone, the SAR team leader finally asked why she didn’t want help. She replied, ‘I can’t afford it.’ He explained that there would be no charge and she then relented,” noted the groups.

12:35 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@redmanlaw: Ducks quacked the Lobos yesterday.

12:51 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@Dodgerblue: Hornets: 17; Tree: 52

1:13 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@Dodgerblue: 72-0. Dux were favored by 34. They more than doubled it even with the 2d and 3d strings in. Lobos fucking deserve it for scheduling that game.

1:39 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

TJ: Local radio station giving away tickets to see Willie Nelson at a local winery to callers 3, 5, and 10. I was caller #2. Damn!

@Dodgerblue: We can’t use FedEx to send in grant reports to one of our funders. Then again, the foundation was created by the founder of UPS.

1:48 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@redmanlaw: We used to go to Nebraska for payday games.

2:03 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@nojo: My brother had a cat named Husker Du back in the day, after the Nebraska team and the band.

2:09 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

I’m not gonna look it up, but NYC had private fire companies in the 19th century. If I recall, turf wars ensued.

2:18 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@Dodgerblue: For years, Coors wasn’t available in Oregon because of the company’s labor practices. The issue was masked as lack of heat-pasteurizing for public consumption.

3:05 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@nojo: I’d rather drink piss.

3:06 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@nojo: Philly, too. You had to buy fire insurance and hang a little plaque on the outside of your (row!) house denoting which insurance company you were with. We have one, and you can see many still on the walls of old buildings in Philly.

This is what ours looked like until my father had me paint it psychedelic colors and destroyed any monetary value it once had.

They moved away from the private fire companies, because, well, it’s a stupid idea, especially in a city of row homes.

3:08 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@Dodgerblue: So would Bear Grylls! But in the Navy, I was a Coors Light grrrl. Kept me trim.

3:09 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@SanFranLefty: Boo! You could have asked him about his haircut.

3:14 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

TJ/ Just got done with emailing and calling my gov, my state and fed reps and our township. For almost a month, we’ve been trying to get the proper address to send Jr’s application for an absentee ballot for this upcoming Toomey nightmare. The township has NOT responded. I think I should hear from them by the end of the week. And we’re sending his application certified, return receipt, etc. Sucks living in a R stronghold. I also asked to have an observer come visit the polls out here one day. You’d be amazed at how many election laws these jackasses break every single time we go to vote. I think my favorite was when the guy who was running the booth curtain thingy pointed to the woman who had us sign the roll book, and he told us that she was on the ballot and to vote for her. O_o

4:59 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

@nojo: I believe you are correct. I also think that some of the inquisitors would charge their victims for their services back in the day.

9:13 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

We haven’t gotten that bad yet here in the desert, but there is a “stupid motorist” law that requires reimbursement of rescue costs for motorists who get stuck after driving past flood warning signs. I don’t have a problem with that because police are good about putting signs in the road saying it’s closed.

11:09 pm • Sunday • September 5, 2010

Is it Saturday or Sunday or Monday? Can’t remember the last 3 day weekend where this happened. Mr SFL and I discovered an amazing wilderness hike today about 1 mile from our home. How we’ve missed I don’t know, but I now have a trail running route….

6:37 am • Monday • September 6, 2010

many years ago, my insurance company was billed for a 50 foot piece of the expressway guard rail my car took out on a nasty skid. i don’t recall if it was philly or joisy, so this isn’t exactly new.
if fed-ex strikes, i’m truly left with the professor and a coconut over here.
no mail delivery, no services of any kind. we don’t pay taxes, so we have to meet and greet the competing trash collectors and what not. most roads aren’t paved, you need taxes for an infrastructure such as. but we have a saying: i’d rather buy new tires than pay taxes. and it’s not like we’re saving money, everything here costs 3 times as much. jet fuel is a hell of a tax to pay, you realize when you pay 7 dollars for a tube of crest.
life is a racket.

10:52 pm • Monday • September 6, 2010

In my area, private ambulance companies are systematically shutting down our traditional volunteer ambulance companies. Its driven by the availability of insurance benefits that will pay for the service. It doesn’t cost $10,000 in campaign donations to buy a small town counsel in NJ, and in NJ, a small town has a pop of 20,000. They don’t even bother with astroturf “public” campaigns, they just buy the influence, and next thing you know, the town council shuts down the volunteer ambulance company, and contracts with a private company, announcing to the public that its a budget win-win, because the town will no longer have to subsidize the volunteer ambulance squad. The new private ambulance company, unlike the volunteers, profits by charging the auto and health insurance companies of the people it assists.

Privatization of previously public services is my particular policy wonk speciality, its fucking ugly, horrendous, its theft, its graft, its everything ugly and nefarious that is. I did an exhaustive study of New Jersey’s privatization of toll collection, it was amazing, the cost, the contract the State gave to the private company, was such a fucking enormous giveaway, that the result was, the State could have just eliminated tolls and would have been better off.

10:56 pm • Monday • September 6, 2010

Seriously, OL, can we talk about this?

@Promnight: it was amazing, the cost, the contract the State gave to the private company, was such a fucking enormous giveaway

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