Here's an interesting, if tragic, story in which a local fire department stood around and watched as a citizen's house burned to the ground, because the citizen had not paid fire protection. It's worth checking out Jonathan Cohn's post on this:
Fire protection is usually compulsory. You pay for it with your taxes, just like you pay for police protection, a national defense, and Social Security. But in rural areas, apparently, some people who could pay for fire protection don't--in the same way that some people who could buy health insurance today don't. The trouble with this arrangement is that some people who decline protection will need it.Foster (who, by the way, is a really interesting writer I just discovered a few weeks ago) says that the firefighters should have accepted the offer for payment, on the spot, and doused the flame. I'd go a bit farther than that. To me this is a classic case for requiring payment up front--that is, an individual mandate. People shouldn't have the option to decline fire protection if protection is available.If they refuse to pay the fees, assuming they are reasonable relative to their means, they should be subject to financial penalties. The same goes for health insurance. Don't let people go without basic coverage, but make them pay for it, to whatever extent their income allows. Does that make me a little paternalistic? You bet. And I'm ok with that. We all make really poor decisions sometimes.And while I think suffering the consequences of those decisions is generally a good thing, or at least a necessary thing, some consequences strike me as too extreme. Losing your life savings (or your life!) because you declined health insurance is one such consequence. Losing your house because you declined to pay for fire protection is another.
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