Fare is FairAugust 4th, 2009

If you took a poll of all the people waiting at bus stops within a five-mile radius of your house, you wouldn’t find many who could take advantage of “cash for clunkers.” Most people can’t handle payments on a new car, even with a $4,500 cash subsidy from the federal government. If you were to examine the incomes of the creditworthy people getting the subsidy, you would find that we’re giving the money to a lot of people who don’t need it.

In the meantime, the bus-riders go out of pocket two, three, four dollars just to get to work and back. If we’re going to be subsidizing transportation, why not subsidize the bus-riders, who are more likely to be in need and who consume lots less fuel per mile than the people buying new cars? We ought to pay their fare, at least. It would probably turn out to be a fraction of what we’ll shell out for new cars, and it could have some beneficial effects on the economy and the ecology.

Why are new-car subsidies OK, but not fare subsidies for transit riders? Because if it doesn’t enrich the “haves” at the expense of the “have-nots,” we can’t have it. No bailouts for workers. No national health insurance. No daycare. No mass transit. No more public water fountains, rest rooms, swimming pools, hospitals, banks, gardens, meeting places, electric utilities or even functioning schools. No free lunch. No pay, no play.

The “haves” tell us we don’t want free medical care and we definitely don’t want no-fare public transportation, because we really hate socialism. At least we would if we knew what it was. The “haves” know very well what socialism is, and they explain it to us much as a shaman explains the meaning of life. We understand that free healthcare would leave us more money for food and shelter, but the voice of commerce blares incessantly that with free stuff—or any of the other trappings of socialism—there would be neither food nor shelter, because everybody would quit working. And so we allow these folks to continue to rake in money selling us what we ought to be getting as taxpayers. What we get as taxpayers is to pick up the tab for war and the gambling debts of crooked bankers.

Don’t look now, but socialism is transforming the rest of the world, and 20th-Century practice, including knee-jerk hypercapitalism, is an anachronism. Forward-looking socialists in Asia, Europe and South America are melding commerce and social welfare in ways that produce higher levels of public satisfaction than have been seen here in a good long time. It may be in the short-term interests of the rich to sell me what I ought to get free, but over the long term, it’s a wasteful and undemocratic way of organizing an economy. The rest of the world has discovered this, but Americans, inundated as we are with advertising and disinformation, are compelled to cling to foolish and superstitious notions of what is and isn’t in the public interest.