Obedience on the Job

(Photo: Jon Mountjoy)

On America’s first subway, Boston’s Green line, the middle doors stopped opening. When I asked the driver to open the doors, he said that he couldn’t: now all boarding and deboarding at the above-ground stops is through the narrow front door by the fare box. Ah, the MBTA: making up for the 23 percent fare hikes on July 1 with improved service!

Me: “The new policy slows the ride for everyone. Now passengers cannot board and pay their fares until all the deboarding passengers have left.”

Driver, shrugging: “It’s the new policy. I just do what my boss tells me to do. I don’t question.”

Me: “We could use some questioning.”

Driver: “Questioning isn’t part of my job. I just wait for my pay day.”

If the train drivers, who have the closest knowledge of the problem, aren’t questioning the policy, what chance do the passengers have?

Here’s an alternative, condensed from What’s the Economy For, Anyway?  by David K. Batker and John de Graaf (page 106):

Manager of a Dutch division of an American company, a week after arriving from America, calls assistant at home on a Friday evening: “Please call the other workers in the division and start getting ready for the shipment on Monday.”

Assistant: “Excuse me, sir, but I don’t work on weekends, and I don’t expect to be called at home about work when I’m not working.”

In America, home of at-will employment law, we spend many of our waking hours in service to an authoritarian environment. How will we learn to defend our rights and the common good, a.k.a. democracy?

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  1. Chris Caggiano says:

    Before this policy change, the T was losing tons of money because people were sneaking on through the back doors and not paying their fares. Even people who didn’t intentionally evade paying their fares did so because the doors opened and they weren’t sure what t do next, so they just sat down.

    I read both Freakonomics books, and the authors tend to focus on observing natural human behavior and commenting on it rather than judging it. This post seems out of step with that impetus.

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  2. static says:

    “In America, home of at-will employment law, we spend many of our waking hours in service to an authoritarian environment. How will we learn to defend our rights and the common good, a.k.a. democracy?”

    It seems you have it backwards. It is a gross violation of our rights to force us to continue paying someone who is not doing the job that we contracted them for. If you hire a painter to paint your home, but he insists on using a very small artists’ brush which will take weeks and look uneven, you would like to give up your right to terminate the contract? If you are a painter that wants to use small brushes, you may find that the price you can demand for your services is lower than one willing to accept the “authoritarian” regime imposed by the other party to the contract.

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  3. Dragos Toader says:

    How do you deal with idiocy clogging up systems and wasting everyone’s time? Don’t take the metro. Buy a motorcycle and take the carpool if available. An alternative is to move closer to work. Another alternative is to telecommute. Another alternative is to start a petition drive to get the rules changed. If changing the rules is not an option, just take your business elsewhere. I understand that a motorcycle may not be a safe alternative. Also for some people moving or telecommuting may not be an option. The great thing about people is choices. We, as a group self-balance and self-optimize in a lot of group processes IF we have the tools. We avoid traffic by taking the streets, traffic integrated GPS devices/smartphones, etc. When systems get clogged, we find a way around the clog.

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