Saturday, May 26, 2007

Arson with a Twist

[Note: the following is a World Without Oil post, and it is a work of fiction. The links are to real articles, but they are taken out of context and given a fictional interpretation.]

Though in general the Portland area has been a relatively good place to live lately, we have also seen a rash of a few dozen mysterious arsons, involving vehicles and homes. Because most of the cars involved were large SUVs, people assumed that the crimes were the work of "eco-terrorists" who wanted to make an example of drivers who wasted resources. The same logic seemed to explain the burning of large suburban "McMansions."

But now investigations have shown that some of the arsons were the work of the owners themselves. They desperately wanted to sell their SUVs and buy more fuel-efficient cars, but found there were no longer any interested buyers for 13mpg vehicles. So they devised an alternate plan: burn the SUV, then use the insurance money to buy a smaller car. Given the current tensions throughout the country, the crime could be blamed on unknown eco-terrorists.

The house fires had a similar motivation. Huge houses in the suburbs, expensive to heat and a long drive from urban centers, became nearly impossible to sell. Some of these homeowners were also hit by shocking increases to their mortgage payments (due to ARMs) at the same time they were forced to pay much higher prices at the gas pump. They turned to arson and insurance fraud to escape financial disaster, but now face jail time.


James said...

Yep, the same old game is happening again. This was actually happening in the auto insurance industry before the current energy crisis; now it's picking up "with gusto". Currently the decline in repair claims will allow the auto companies to pay; when the number of autos to be insured goes into a sharp decline, then auto insurers will be a lot tougher regarding these arson cases.

baltpiker said...

Hah! This was why poor neighborhoods in inner cities were such infernos about 30-40 years ago; the rents were controlled, and couldn't even begin to pay for the upkeep of the buildings. Many landlords refused to rent their buildings (which were then squatted in and used as drug dens) or just torched them for the insurance money. This is where that infamous phrase "The Bronx is Burning" came from (Google it if you're unfamiliar).

You know, the 1960s and 70s were a time when everyone was predicting the imminent extinction of the city. The city came back, although it took decades, and it was not like how it had been before. We're now hearing a lot about the demise of the suburb. I predict that we'll see suburbs again, but not in the old manner of endless sprawl. Perhaps the New Urbanists will show us how to get there.