How Class Warfare Begins

PUBLISHED: February 11, 2012

There’s class warfare in the U.S. all right. Good examples can be found at the nation’s airports and on its highways.

California is replacing HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes on some major highways in Silicon Valley with what ought to be called HRL—High Roller Lanes. The idea is to raise money by allowing single-occupant vehicles to travel in the speedy carpool lanes, provided motorists are willing to pay a fee.

Instead of rewarding all citizens for carpooling to reduce congestion and pollution, the California approach means affluent drivers can ignore those concerns, while others—referred to lately as the 99%—must still carpool, or face lengthy delays in the poor people’s lanes.

At airports, passengers with expensive tickets or elite status breeze through TSA checkpoints, while others wait in lines that are often quite long. Like highways, which are publicly owned and operated, airport security is a government operation that supposedly guarantees equal rights for all. Why are airlines allowed to sell premium customers the rights to faster government inspections?

Here’s some free advice for needy, greedy government agencies (although for a fee, I’ll send any bureaucrat my Premium Column, which has my really good ideas).

At public libraries, start selling gold and platinum cards in addition to giving out the ordinary, free library cards. Elite readers can keep books for twice as long as regular patrons, and get first crack at new titles when they arrive.

In public parks, set up Executive Lawn Space, where people pay a fee to romp on the cleanest, greenest, carefully mowed grass, with Concierge Litter Removal. Regular users can sit in the less desirable spots and dodge the dog droppings at their own peril.

On public beaches, offer special areas for premium Beach Club members. For a fee, members receive a sticker that entitles them to spread their blankets in the best spots and be guaranteed a 10-foot spacing zone to keep away ordinary, nonpaying beachgoers.

There’s no reason Washington can’t get in on this to solve its money problems. Why not open a Red Carpet Club inside the Lincoln Memorial? How about charging for the best burial spots at Arlington National Cemetery?

Of course, the private sector is way ahead of government when it comes to segregating the classes. The best examples can be found at modern sports stadiums, where paying a higher price for a good seat is no longer enough. Affluent fans now park in better lots, enter separate gates, dine in different food areas, and—best of all!—are physically barricaded in their sections so that other fans can’t even walk through.

Is it any wonder that with construction of each new stadium, fan rowdiness increases, causing even more segregation and thus more discontent?

Private business has the legitimate right to establish pricing by which customers pay more to get more (although you have to wonder what sort of scrutiny regarding fan fairness is being applied by municipalities when they authorize and help finance sports facilities). But government is supposed to operate differently.

Highway lanes for the wealthy and speedy airport screening for the rich are dangerous precedents. Politicians who truly oppose class warfare ought to stop coming up with schemes that encourage it.

© Peter Funt. This column originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

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