Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Express Lanes

(Hmm.  Dr. Cauble has not returned my book, The Road More Traveled, which I recommend.  I just noticed that.)

Highway lanes that cost more came up in work conversation today.  Four people immediately noted how irritating it was that rich people could bypass the ordinary difficulties of life by using them.  Mere money shouldn't provide such an entitlement.

Yet all of them understood immediately that I thought it was a great idea.  Let 'em pay.  They can even give me the finger if they want.  Fork over the money and we taxpayers will laugh and wave.  In fact, the book above cites that it is not just rich people who use those lanes, but everyone does sometimes.  When private toll roads are quicker, even poor people will use them occasionally.  At the cost of a few dollars, you can even think of it as an inexpensive luxury.  If you have ever comfortably passed a mile or two of stopped traffic, you know what a thrill it is.  I'm rich!  I'm free!

Our immediate, default position is to resent people who have more than us.  We can get over it with a little reasoning, but the initial irritation is hardwired.  It is left over from hunter-gatherer days when someone with more really was taking advantage, and needed to be watched and contained.  It is part of our lizard brain, not our human brain, to respond like this.

The political implications of this should be sinking into you now.


james said...

True enough about the benefits of the rich "plowing new ground" for the rest of us, and our automatic reaction to their ease and luxury.

But there's a perennial problem that the rich and powerful like to have the rest of us subsidize their luxuries. And because they're rich they can sometimes arrange it. This happens more blatantly in places like Chicago, but you can probably come up with fuzzier examples elsewhere.

Art is one fuzzy example: a lot of the great Western music is expensive to perform, but you can argue that for both reasons of quality and heritage it is worth disproportionate spending. Even so there can be disproportionate disproportion.

bs king said...

I think "pay for extras" schemes are some of my favorite, fiscally and psychologically.

I just finished a post about airlines, and I have to say, I love the new "pay to pick your seat, pay for extra leg room, pay for all the things you whine about" schemes.

It really throws in to sharp relief that LIFE IS CHOICES. Do you like having $15 more than extra leg room? I do! Cool! I don't have to pay for it!

In Boston some of our biggest arguments about transportation funding actually come from drivers who hate that the tolls go to the MBTA (public transportation) budget. There are always bizarre protests about how that's not their problem.

That eternally weirds me out because I'm not sure what they think the traffic would look like if even half the daily train riders decided to drive instead. It's like what I say to myself every time I get stuck behind a bus..."would you rather be behind him, or have 25-50 other cars on the road right now?

bs king said...

To note on my comment above: the MBTA budget is perpetually mismanaged and ridiculous even by Massachusetts standards. I do not resent anyone who protests it on that basis.

Sam L. said...

Political aspects? Oh noes! Evil, EVIL AVI!

(OK, I'm over it.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

bsking, Well, we both have short legs. Of course we'd rather have the $15.

Mr Tall said...

bs king's comment on resentment/pricing during air travel is right on the mark. In theory, I agree with it in total.

But then, I am nearly six and a half feet tall, and God made me this way, and I am in reasonable physical condition, and I don't spill over my seat into those on my sides, so why should I have to buy extra leg-room when I'm simply paying more for being who and what I was created to be? Or something along those lines. . . .

There's no doubt the lizard brain kicks in when I walk onto a plane and see some vertically-challenged usurper taking the seat in the exit row God clearly ordained for me!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sam, I answered your DeLong question in that post

Texan99 said...

Boy, if there's an argument that exasperates me more than most, it's the idea that that rich guy shouldn't be able to enjoy something just because he can buy it -- instead, he should fork it over to me, me, me!

It's also applied with a strange inconsistency. It's OK for the rich guy to take his helicopter to work, but he can't buy a special pass for a high-speed lane?

I love it when rich people want extravagances, because I may be in a position to sell them the service. Win-win. I like taking money from rich people, but not at gunpoint. I require of myself that we negotiate an exchange that suits us both.

Sam L. said...

AVI, I'm neutron-star-dense on that one. Or blind. Or something. Hot seeing it, not getting it, strictly no comprende. Giving it up, moving on, shaking the dust off my feet.

james said...

?You mean it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah?

Envy: one of 7 deadly sins, also the basis of several families of political party that loosely inherit from Marx.

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