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When In Rome, Try Mitt Romney’s Plan To Privatize Disaster Relief
Mitt Romney is drawing ire from many in the path of Hurricane Sandy for saying during the primaries that it was “immoral” for the cash-strapped federal government to fund disaster relief. His proposed solution? Have states take it on, or, better yet, the private sector.
But history warns us that there are potential problems down that road. In the late years of the Roman Republic, there was no public fire department, so an enterprising citizen named Marcus Licinius Crassus put together a privately run firefighting service. As the historian Plutarch tells it, Crassus wasn’t exactly motivated by the public good.
“He got the most part of his wealth by fire and blood, raising his greatest revenue off public calamities ... when the fire took any house, he would buy the house while it was a-burning, and the next houses adjoining to it, which the owners sold for little, being then in danger as they were, and a-burning: so that by process of time, the most part of the houses in Rome came to be his.”
His private fire department helped make Crassus one of the richest men in Roman history. He later used his funds to back two old friends, Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus, who had some interesting ideas about the future of the Roman Republic - namely that they should be in charge.