Yves Smith argues that the massive snow shutdowns represent a change for the worse in the U.S. (boldface mine):
But even with the worst of the snowstorm now hitting further north, were the extreme safety measures justified? Drivers have been ordered off the road in New York State in the designated emergency areas from 11PM, with $300 fines for violators. All the bridges and tunnels to New Jersey are closed. The New York City public transportation system has also been shut down.
The only times the transit system was closed in the past was in 2011, for Hurricane Irene, and in 2012, for Sandy. Those storms both were likely to, and in the case of Sandy, did flood significant portions of the subway system. By contrast, the blizzard of 1996, which dumped 20 inches of snow in Central Park and 24 inches at Laguardia Airport, didn’t lead to mass transit closures. Ditto with the blizzard of 2006, which left 26.9 inches of snow. The city muddled through the next day. And a hurricane scare in the 1990s (the storm’s peak winds in the city turned out to be only 40 miles per hour) led Giuliani to order city workers home at 3 PM and strongly urge private businesses to do the same. Public transportation still ran; I took a bus when it was evident (per when the eye of the storm has passed) that the storm was not as serious as it had been expected to be….
The plan is to have the system running again for the morning commute. The argument given for doing it this way appears not to be just safety, but cleanup efficiency.
Now readers in areas that were hit harder may tell me that they deem the reaction to have been sensible. And the safety of transit workers may have been a concern.
But there is a lot of difference between issuing warnings and taking more forceful measures. In the 1990s hurricane that turned out not to be, most businesses closed early but some diehards, like Korean grocers and Chinese restaurants, remained open. I’m bothered by the continued creep of safety concerns being used to restrict individual movements. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but citizens used to be deemed competent to make prudent choices.
Here’s the thing: I suspect most people kinda liked the shutdown. It’s a snow day–for grownups! Not all adults obviously, but I wouldn’t really be disappointed if I had to work from home, or even got the day off (for me, it would be a work-at-home day, though saving an hour of commuting would be nice). I think there’s also a tacit recognition that some employers would needlessly require their employees to report to work, impeding clean up efforts as well as putting people at risk. In the Boston blizzard of 2013 (wick-ED BIG BLIZZAHD!), the out-of-state owners of the Prudential Mall in Boston (Back Bay) required their employees to be at work even though it was impossible to get there. Ultimately, government officials applied some pressure and the company relented.
Anyway, I really don’t see this as a death knell for the automony of the American Individualist, but as a way of giving workers a small bit in a shitty neo-liberal economic system.