Pick a View, Pick a Pocket

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Froma Harrop writes about the pressure group warfare endemic to fighting forest fires in the context of our mixed economy. Although Harrop is not one to see government ownership of vast swaths of land -- or the government fighting fires -- as a problem, there are plenty of indications to that effect in her piece. That said, Harrop does note federal encouragement of irresponsible building practices, which reminds me a lot of its storm relief policies on our hurricane-prone coasts:

[M]uch of the Forest Service's fattening bill for suppressing wildfires comes from the rising costs of protecting isolated residences in the so-called wildland-urban interface. About 10 million houses were been built in fire-prone rural areas last decade -- on top of 6 million in the 1990s.

The building continues apace because of a growing desire for homes with nice views and proximity to national forests. And because the feds deal with the worst fires, the state and local governments approving this development have little incentive to curb it. The federal government also has a variety of post-fire rehab programs. One helps rebuild the homes, 75 percent of which are uninsured or underinsured.
I'll add that the states, as taxing authorities, have an incentive to encourage such foolishness, not that they should have the power to dictate, influence, or tax land use in the first place. In any event, it goes without saying that not having to pay for an appropriate amount of insurance is dumbing down the process of purchasing and using such land.

It is interesting to consider some of the ways private ownership of all this land could shift the costs of firefighting to those it benefits or even eliminate the costs altogether. For a couple of examples: (1) Private landholders who wished to put out or control such fires could pool resources to that end. (2) A nature conservancy which regarded fires as part of the natural life cycle of a forest could opt to let its own holdings burn. There would be complications, such as liability for fire on one property affecting another. But at least the injustice of say, a Marylander being forced to pay even a dime so someone can pretend living in a pretty tinderbox is safe or cheap, would no longer occur.

-- CAV

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