Automated toll gantry
I realized this holiday, while doing my annual shuttle duty for children arriving and departing Logan airport, that an era truly has ended. The toll plaza at the Callahan tunnel, along with all the others, is dark. A construction crew is working their way from left to right, demolishing the empty structure.
We have a great deal of conversation here, much of it acrimonious, about the loss of low-skill hourly jobs that pay well. We have read passionate and heart-felt expositions about the suffering of workers, about how the Democrats “abandoned” workers, about how the GOP “betrays” workers, and about the endless promises of both parties to “bring back” these “good jobs”. We are being told that we Democrats lost because we didn’t make such promises loudly enough and frequently enough.
So I want to use the automation of the MA Pike tolls as an example, and ask how serious we really are about all this. I note that this changes means that about 400 workers will lose their jobs. These have been well-paid jobs that do not require a college education. For decades, these jobs were political plums handed out as part of patronage deals routinely conducted by both parties.
The economics are unavoidable. Conservative organs like the Pioneer Institute tell us how much these jobs cost. As is always the case, the economics of automation are compelling.
So why are we not marching in the street to demand that these jobs be saved? Why do we Democrats join our conservative brothers in the GOP in removing the livelihood of these 400 toll collectors? Where is our much-vaunted solidarity with fellow working men and women?
This is part of my fundamental argument with our post-truth society, and especially with my fellow Democrats who argue that we “betrayed” labor — working-class white men especially, and even more than that, working-class white men without college degrees.
Did any of us demand that the toll booths stay in place to protect these jobs? NO. Hell no.
It seems to me that we are allowing ourselves to drift ever deeper into the quicksand of intellectual sloth, pointing fingers elsewhere as every effort we make to escape sinks us deeper.
We here in Massachusetts are not willing to pay for toll collectors. We are not willing to put up with the inconvenience of toll booths. We resent their pensions, their benefits, their health plans, their overtime. We jump at the chance to put them on the street, so that we drive through an overhead gantry without slowing and have the toll paid automagically from our checking account.
I suggest that this is a microcosm of our unwillingness to actually face the reality of the society we have made. We will not pay a nickle more for a shirt. We flock to retail outlets just across the border in NH chasing illusory “bargains” because NH has no sales tax (the bargains do not exist, the prices are marked up to be the same).
We crucify any politician who dares tell us the truth, and elevate outright frauds who lie to us with empty promises of being “great” again. We demand that political parties “listen” to us because we are suffering, while we impose suffering on working men and women just like us because we can’t be bothered to slow down and hand a human a buck. I make no claim to be any different. I’ve had an EZ-Pass transponder since the month they were first offered however many years ago. I am glad to see the toll booths close, and I welcome their automated replacement. I know that several hundred of my fellow residents of Massachusetts are going to be out of work.
I think I owe them something different from Donald Trump. I think I owe them something different from empty promises of good jobs that we all know will never materialize for them. I think I owe them a FAR greater share of my income and wealth than I pay right now. I think there are a handful of men and women who have far greater income and wealth than me, and I think that handful owes far more than me even after I pay more.
I think we’re in a class war. I think we’re in a class war that, like every war, requires arms and ammunition — arms and ammunition that costs cold cash. I think if we’re serious about fighting this war, and I consider myself serious, then I think we need cash to stay in the battle. I think we should get that cash wherever we can. I think that if we can get that cash from a ten thousand small donors giving $20 each, we do just that. I think that if we can get that cash from ten large donors giving $20,000 each, we do that too. I’m sick of being called a “wall street sellout” because I refuse to tell the same lies about jobs as Donald Trump, and because I want as large an arsenal as possible to win this class war.
I think that people who have inherited personal fortunes and who will bequeath personal fortunes to their offspring have absolutely NO business demanding that anybody punch a clock and spend a shift collecting quarters in order to make a pittance that may feed their children that day.
I think we’re living in a new era. I think the burning (and that may be literal!) question is what this era is and will be.