Wildfires & The “Free Market”

Sean Holman poses the question of the B.C. government: “Will wildfires burn a hole in the coming fiscal year’s budget?”

A: Yes, likely they will.

Which then naturally begs the supplementary question as to where the shortfall will be recouped from… And the answer to that, most probably of course, is discretionary spending — i.e., arts programs, environmental initiatives, or anything vaguely charitable that even remotely benefits the disadvantaged.

Or maybe not — but in any case, where is the “free market” when it comes to addressing problems such as this? Why isn’t the “free market” private sector collectively mobilizing its considerably wealthy means and abilities to combat wildfires? After all, for those who maintain that government is the nefarious root of all evil, shouldn’t independent businesses (including their investors and shareholders) immediately leap to the fore so as to protect their own feedstock?

Why should risk management, damage control, fire suppression, and other forms of hazard abatement be “socialized” activities where the cost is shared by everyone, but the profit and private enrichment from exploitation of those same resources accrue solely to corporate entities that evidently have little regard in terms of stewardship for their maintenance and long-term sustainability?

6 Comments

Filed under B.C. Government

6 responses to “Wildfires & The “Free Market”

  1. A good point, and one that’s been made a few times in the past month with the Haiti disaster. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that the standard libertarian response is to be expected: “The government’s existance and response are the reason the private sector doesn’t act. It doesn’t need to.”

  2. EM

    Parallels with the oil sands and Alberta’s ‘sole ownership’?

  3. I was actually quite surprised to learn some time ago that firefighting hasn’t always been a public responsibility and that up to the late 19th century it wasn’t uncommon for this service to be provided by private firms. People and businesses would have to pay for their “protection” and if not so insured against fire, their houses or buildings would simply be allowed to burn to the ground (unless they endangered a neighboring property that had coverage, of course). Wiki has quite an interesting short history of firefighting here.

  4. EM — I’m curious why Albertans don’t get more agitated about the oil companies dismal record when it comes to remediation of the land they’re currently strip mining. I know Suncor has made a few small efforts in this regard, but shouldn’t they at least be continually banking a hefty portion their profits into a clean-up fund? Or does the province imagine that the vast network of man-made lakes filled with toxic waste will just be permanent fixtures once the tar sand operations become uneconomical for whatever reason.

  5. Heh, there’s a great scene in Gangs of New York where there’s a fire and three different fire companies show up and start a brawl over whose fire it is while the building burns to the ground.

  6. Cool post thanks, sending this to my friends now.

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