Like many urban regions, California’s Orange County suffers from traffic congestion. Officials ordered more freeways, but it was only a matter of time before those, too, became clogged. So they put in toll lanes, which seemed to help. Then the County wanted to add such lanes to the famously crammed I-405 Freeway between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach.
But locals got up in arms. They claimed they were being double taxed to pay for “Lexus lanes” that only the wealthy could afford. One official called it “a whole new definition of the term ‘highway robbery.'”
Part of the conflict stemmed from a mixup about who would fund the project. One lane would be added to the general-access roadway, paid for by the State of California and a one-half-cent local tax enacted several years ago for such purposes. The toll lane, on the other hand, would be constructed using bonds paid off by the fees the lane would collect from users. A lot of County residents got those funding sources confused.
The rest of the fight arose from an attitude some folks have about rich people. It’s simply intolerable that a wealthy person can zoom along on a separate lane while working-class shlubs sit helplessly in snarled traffic. It doesn’t matter that the rich paid for their privilege. There just shouldn’t be that kind of class distinction in a democracy, dammit!
In the old days, the rich got to have cool stuff the rest of us could never afford. Today, with the speed-up of high-tech innovation, the rich get to have cool stuff the rest of us can’t afford for about two years. Then it’s ours as well. You know, like computers and smartphones and rearview parking cameras and HDTVs. So the well-off get bragging rights, but they pay through the nose for new things that are still in development while we get to milk the system like a cow for the better and cheaper versions down the road. We reap wonderful consumer benefits paid for initially by the wealthy.
Every society should have rich people as pets, dontcha think?
So here’s a thought: that opulent snot roaring past in the Cadillac has not only helped fund the toll lane, but has moved that Caddy out of regular lanes, which loosens up traffic. The toll-lane users are paying for a free speed upgrade for the rest of us! But which would you rather do, shake your fist at a Lexus sweeping by at 65 while you merely tootle along at 50, or shake your fist at a Lexus caught next to you in stalled traffic where everyone is going zero?
Your answer will place you on one side or the other of the great liberal/conservative divide.
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UPDATE: While you’re at it, take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz to find out, not merely if you’re liberal or conservative, but whether you’re an authoritarian or a freedom lover. Have fun!