By Arnold Kling
David complained about an article in which the author blamed libertarians for the refusal of a fire department to put out a fire because the homeowner had not paid for fire protection. David’s point is that it was a government fire department.
I think, though, that from a government fundamentalist point of view, this was a libertarian failure. I have not looked into the story, but as I understand it, the homeowner had the ability to opt out of fire protection. That should not be allowed, if you are a government fundamentalist.
A market fundamentalist is someone who thinks that markets never produce bad outcomes, unless government interferes in some way. (I am not a market fundamentalist, by that definition.) A government fundamentalist is someone who thinks that governments never produce bad outcomes, unless they lack resources or power. In the case of the fire, the government lacked sufficient power to force the homeowner to pay for fire protection.
In general, government fundamentalism is irrefutable. If public schools fail, the government fundamentalist says that it is because the schools lack resources. If financial regulation fails, the government fundamentalist says that is because the regulators lack power.
Be careful how you tangle with government fundamentalists. For example, what do you think will happen if the opponents of the health care mandate succeed in their Constitutional challenge? That is, suppose the Supreme Court rules that citizens cannot be forced to obtain a service from the private sector. The reaction of government fundamentalists could very well be, “You know, that’s right. People should not be forced to obtain private health insurance. But universal government health insurance is clearly Constitutional. Look at Medicare. What the Supreme Court is telling us is that we need single-payer.”
[update: read Tyler Cowen’s take.]