Infrastructure, regulation and government
News from Russia during November of 2007 helps to clarify what happens in a first-world culture when the government does not dedicate adequate resources to regulating for the public good. It is common knowledge that under Vladimir Putin, the Russian State has used oil wealth and unregulated capitalism to grow the country's economy and create instant billionaires by selling state resources to the private market. The underside of this rampant grasp of unregulated capitalism has been less well documented. The Russian death rate from fire is a telling statistic that sheds some light on the dangers associated with ignoring the public infrastructure.
In 2006, more than 17,000 people died in fires in Russia. That is a rate of 40 people per day and more than 12 people for every 100,000 people in the population, and it is TEN TIMES THE RATE OF FATALITY EXPERIENCED IN EUROPE AND THE U.S. Why the difference? Probably some of it is attributable to higher rates of alcoholism and smoking, but that doesn't explain a multiplying factor of ten. Much of the difference comes from a failure to invest in public safety. The fire equipment is aged, poorly equipped and frequently poorly maintained. Public and private buildings rarely comply with meaningful building codes and frequently lack normal safety amenities. Inferior materials are used throughout construction.
When hundreds of school children died after terrorists seized a school in Beslan, many of the deaths were attributable to an uncontrolled fire that raged through the school and not directly to violent actions of the terrorists: 120 bodies were found under the collapsed roof of the gymnasium. When fire engines arrived, they did not have adequate supplies of water. Firefighters earn only about $400.00 per month, so firefighting agencies are unable to attract excellent candidates. Even the road infrastructure plays a role; urban roads are clogged and response time for emergency vehicles is ridiculously high, given the distances involved.
At a time in our country when all public discourse seems to be directed to reducing taxes, "starving the government beast" and deregulating the economy, it pays to look around the world and to examine what our tax dollars buy. Being wealthy in a culture without infrastructure may not be what we really want. While many "premium" buyers of home insurance managed to save their mega-homes in the American west during the forest fires of 2007 after their insurers supplied private fire protection, that two-tiered safety system isn't always reliable [regardless of the ethical questions]. Ten years ago, Premier Putin's own dacha burned to the ground. He blamed the loss on inadequate firefighting resources.