A DELUSION THAT SHOULD BE DISSIPATED.
It is to be regretted that the economical or financial effects of fires are, by the majority of persons, erroneously considered—that is, when they are considered at all. The prevailing opinion appears to be that the loss by fires is confined to the few, and that the many are benefited thereby. “ Fires make business lively,” is an expression that is frequently heard. Falser reasoning than this was never indulged in, but it is easily accounted for. A fire occurs, and if the property destroyed is insured the agents of the companies interested put in an appearance and adjust the damage. In a few days along comes a check for the sum decided upon, and if the insured carried policies sufficient to cover his loss he proceeds to rebuild. If the owner of the burned property was not insured, that was his fault, and he will probably rebuild anyway. In either case it makes no difference to the masses of the people. It is somebody’s else loss and their gain. Be it dwelling, store or factory’, mechanics are necessary to effect its reconstruction. The old outfittings have been destroyed and new must be furnished. This means a good job for the manufactories. If it be a dwelling, the furniture and carpet stores will have a chance to make profitable sales ; if it be a store, the stock of goods it contained must be replaced ; and if it be a factory, new machinery thoughout must be bought. The advantages which result from a fire are consequently held to be considerable, and they are widely distributed. Is it not so, then, that fires have a favorable effect upon business ?
To make their case more evident, these specious reasoners take another illustration. A large public or private edifice is nearing completion, and the hundreds of men who have been engaged in its erection are thinking where they will next obtain employment. As luck will have it a fire breaks out and totally destroys the building. The entire structure is one mass of ruins. The contractors for the construction of the building will be reimbursed by the insurance companies, having secured indemnity against such damage. No one is thrown out of employment; on the contrary, the fire is the occasion of continuing a great many men in employment. There is great rejoicing. Why should there not be ? This method of reasoning is very superficial, it is true, but nevertheless it is evident that a large number of persons are convinced of its soundness. Many instances have occurred where workmen of various trades have intentionally set fire to buildiugs for the sole purpose of obtaining employment. As the great majority of persons never look below the surface to find the truth, it is perhaps not to be wondered at that the idea that fires are really a blessing in disguise should have many believers and obtain to a great extent. This opinion having gained so firm a hold upon the public, fire prevention is reacted upon in an inverse ratio. If fires are a public benefit, of course nothing should be done to prevent their occurrence, or to extinguish them when they do occur. Common Councilmen readily persuade themselves that this is the proper view to take of the matter. There is no use in imposing taxes for the support of a Fire Department, when it would do more harm than good by preventing just what would add to the public prosperity. At least, it is fair to presume that such is the case, or otherwise the penurious actions of the authorities of most cities toward the Firemen and their equipment is unaccountable.
This delusive and harmful fallacy that fires are not what they seem, but rather add to the prosperity and happiness of the people, could easily be dissipated if men would listen to reason. Mental myopy rather than physical is responsible for the delusion. It is due to the fact that economical questions in general, and the relations of insurance companies to the public in particular, are but slightly understood. Take away insurance and the arguments ol these false reasoners would fall to the ground of their own weight; they would have no basis to stand on. By destroying wealth you do not create new wealth, you merely take away what you already had and make the creation of something to replace it necessary. That which is destroyed can in most cases be replaced, but it cannot be restored. Every fire reduces the wealth of the people by the exact amount of the damage done, whether it is insured or not. Insurance companies do not care how many fires occur. They may pretend that they do, but their pretensions are ill-founded. They do not care whether a building is fire-proof or not, so long as it is insured. They insure property as they find it. Fires undoubtedly make business liveiy for the insurance companies ; the more fires there are the greater are their receipts. Insurance companies should be looked upon as necessary evils. Without them we would not be able to get along ; they act like the regulator of a watch ; but if there was no field for their existence, if houses could be made without extra expense so that they would not burn, we would be much better off than we are now. That which is destroyed is destroyed, and that which replaces that which is destroyed robs some persons of a part 0! their possessions.
Because money itself is not destroyed is no reason why the wealth of the people is not reduced by the destruction. Few persons can see that unproductive expenditure is a loss to society. Insurance companies reimburse those who insure for the losses they suffer by fire, but they are also expected to pay large dividends to their stockholders. Whether they do.or not just at this time makes no difference. The only way to preserve the wealth of society is to prevent its destruction. When this subject is thoroughly understood, Fire Departments will be better equipped than they are at present.