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Ask Marilyn: Paying for the Consequences
Chris Waggener of Suwanee, Georgia, writes:
Marilyn: I disagree with your reply about charging people for rescues from their foolish behavior. (December 9, 2012) If your logic were correct, we should have no laws whatsoever, as the penalties associated with breaking laws is supposed to deter people from acting against those laws. Charging people with the cost of their own rescue, when they clearly could have avoided the situation to begin with, would work on the same principle as our standing laws.
Second, although we don't, as a practice, charge people for the consequences of their risky behavior does not mean we can't. We make laws all of the time. We also change laws all of the time. We are certainly capable of making new laws to encourage responsibility. And we should.
Third, the behavior of people is elastic. I have seen that people usually behave as responsibly as they have to. In other words, if they perceive a consequence-free environment, they will act as if it is a consequence-free environment. If they perceive consequences, they will adapt and act much more responsibly. Sadly, most people will allow others to take as much responsibility for their own behavior as they can, as long as they continue to enjoy complete freedom of choice.
Last, as there are degrees of unlawful behavior (malice, negligence, first degree, second degree, etc.), there are degrees of risky behavior. To risk oneself to try to save another life, such as dashing in front of a subway train to help someone off the tracks, is quite different from willfully ignoring prudent and timely warnings, such as the hikers who disregard the rangers' warnings and climb into a blizzard, or the people who ignore a week of warnings and stay in their condo on the beach when a hurricane approaches.
Mandatory evacuations aren't laws, and they aren't equivalent. But to make them more effective, one possibility would be to fine every person who doesn't evacuate (or skis into a forbidden region, etc.), regardless of whether a rescue ever becomes necessary. When mandatory evacuations are accompanied by mandatory fines, the penalty will be real, not just a possibility that offenders are confident will not occur.