“In Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum you can find a brass plate inscribed with “Sydney Fire Insurance.”
The museum explains: ‘In the days before governments provided firefighting services, fire brigades were owned by insurance companies. These brigades had their own fire appliances and would only put our fires in buildings insured by their own company. Plaques like this one, owned by the Sydney Fire Insurance Co., were placed on the outside of buildings to mark they were insured by that company against fire.’
To go back to this user-pays model of fire-fighting is unthinkable. We get that it just makes sense for us as a society to collectively cover the costs of establishing, resourcing and maintaining fire brigades. We might go through life never having to avail ourselves of their services, despite whatever we might have contributed to their costs. Indeed, we would not wish it upon ourselves! But we wouldn’t want to be without them and we would defend the right of everyone to be able to enjoy their protection.
Most of us feel the same way about education, health and social services, including the social protection provided through pensions and other social security payments.
But cracks have long been forming in this logic. We have just witnessed the passing of legislation to allow the most radical flattening of the tax system in our history. The neoliberal agenda has long been chipping away at the principle that the rate of someone’s personal taxation should reflect the size of their income and that, of course, corporations should pay their fair share of tax.