Is Mitt Romney Right About Firefighters?

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
June 9 2012 8:48 AM

Fire Deaths Are On The Decline

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Mitt Romney thinks it's absurd that Barack Obama believes America needs more cops, firefighters, and teachers.

Is he right?

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For cops and teachers, I'm absolutely on board. The United States is just about the richest country on earth, but continues to have the highest murder rate of any developed country. Under the circumstances, investing funds in crime reduction is a smart strategy and putting more cops on the beat is one of the best ways to reduce crime. I would further add that there's a crime ratchet effect. When the level of crime is low, it's relatively easy for a police department to supervise a city. But when the crime rate soars, then the odds of detection for any given violation tumble and you can get locked into a problem. So letting temporary budget problems cut into police department staffing levels can be very costly.

On teachers I think it's clear that we could use more preschool.

But how about fire fighters? Here's where Romney may have a point. Thanks to more modern construction techniques, residential fires are (as you can see above) a problem that's on the decline. It's genuinely plausible to argue that fire-fighting services are less socially valuable than they were ten or forty years ago when the state of the built environment made fires a more pressing problem.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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