The End of Public Goods in the US? From Privatized Health Care to Privatized Fire Services

The privatization wave has caught up with fire services, the quintessential public good in modern societies. 
"Ayn Rand Conservatism at Work — Firefighters Let Family’s House Burn Down Because Owner Didn’t Pay $75 Fee" is an insightful background article about the importance of public goods:

"Firefighting is like many other goods that are vital to a healthy society but which the private sector isn’t suited to provide. That’s why the conservative rhetoric about “limited government” is only appealing in the abstract — people really, really like living in a society with adequately funded public services. They like what government does in the specific, even if they have an inherent suspicion of the idea of “big government.”
Read the entire article.


Below is an example of an action alert, issued by PNHP California, that shows how to make the argument that all services we require to meet our fundamental needs, including health care, must be public goods.

From: PNHP California <>
Date: Wed, 6 Oct 2010 16:31:24 -0400 (EDT) (emphasis added in bold)

Action Alert: Burning down the House?

Dear colleagues, friends and single-payer supporters,

Watching the news last night I found myself in a state of utter disbelief that a family’s house in a rural Tennessee county was allowed to burn to the ground while the fire department stood by and watched.  That county has a subscription fire service and the owner of the house had not paid the $75 subscription fee.  Glenn Beck of Fox News supported the county’s decision to let the man’s house burn and implied that the man deserved his fate for being a freeloader.

My father was the Assistant Chief of the Fire Department in the town where I grew up.  He would be heartbroken and mortified if he were alive today and heard this news.  What does this say about who we are as Americans, and more importantly, about the direction we are going? Are we beginning to reap the rotten fruit of those who seek to delegitimize government and dismantle its role in protecting the common good?

Sadly, those of us who believe healthcare is a right know that this country has never assumed the mantle of providing healthcare to all its residents.  Currently we leave 50 million of our brothers and sisters uninsured; 45,000 of them die each year because of it. It is time for us to stand up and demand that our nation return to the real American values of empathy and compassion and caring about our neighbors’ wellbeing.

Last night we as a nation let a family’s house burn to the ground while those who could save it watched and did nothing. Everyday we let more than a hundred people die who have no health insurance.  Are we willing to standby and do nothing to stop it?

I urge you to pick up the phone and call your U.S. Representative today and tell him or her to co-sponsor HR 676 when it is re-introduced next year in Congress. Tell him or her that you are outraged at what happened in Tennessee and that these two issues, fire protection and health care for all, are one and the same at their core. They demonstrate the incontrovertible need for government to protect the common good, and for we Americans to show our humanity to each other.

Bill Skeen, MD/MPH
Executive Director