I finished reading Tony Judt’s Ill Fares The Land yesterday, and while I have a melange of different feelings about it, one thing I think I can definitely endorse is Judt’s placing in the forefront of efforts to promote social order, common purpose and pride in public provision. I think something too often neglected by progressives is that social democracy and progressive governance need to make people feel included. When I was driving in Canada there were tons of road signs similar to our "ARRA" signs but that offered more details about the individual project as well as more promotion of the idea of common cause – Canada was coming together for Canada. I think progressives could stand to engage in more "symbolic" activities that promote the kinds of values – togetherness, community, interdependence, common cause, public-mindedness – that encourage and buttress the kinds of programs and policies we support.
In that spirit, when riding the DC Metro to work this morning it struck me that all the announcements referred to those using the system as "customers." This should be changed. The etymology of "customer" is clearly a business/capitalist one and the connotation is clearly the one of a purely mercenary exchange in which currency is traded for a good or service. But this is emphatically not the image WMATA should be putting forward. The DC Metro is a publically provided network established for the public good. At the very least, we should be passengers, not customers.