NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
There is a dangerous trend tickling the skiing industry: Line cutting. Sanctioned line cutting. Catering to the rich line cutting. It needs to be stopped before it spreads.
Line cutters are un-American. A slap at democracy. Rude, arrogant, self-centered elitists who think they, somehow, shouldn't suffer the hardship of having to wait. And everyone hates them. You glare at them in the movie line. Honk at them at the on-ramp. Even curse them at the grocery store.
Most of the time they try to ignore you. Or, when challenged, feign ignorance of the queue.
But what if they turned to you and simply said: "I paid for this."
That's what's going on at Copper Mountain, a Colorado ski resort. A regular lift ticket costs $61. But for $124, you can get a lift ticket that allows you to use a special lift line that cuts the regular one. You get to cut the line at the rental shop, too (although if you can afford such privilege, why rent skis?) And you get onto the mountain a quarter of an hour before anyone else.
Now there is a long tradition of "first class" treatment on ships, trains and planes. But that's different. Space is being set aside for the rich folks. Their presence isn't really affecting the other travelers one way or another. (In fact, I find it comforting when flying to know that if the plane goes down, the people up front who paid the most will probably get it first.)
But this is a different case. The folks who get to cut into the line up front are holding everyone else back in the rear.
The ski resort has, in fact, sold them your time.
Just unbridled capitalism, you say? Just selling convenient access to the mountain to the highest bidder?
Hogwash. If someone wants to move up in front of me, they can pay me the buck.
We've seen something similar on Wall Street lately. IPO spinning and misleading research essentially reallotted dollars from small, mom and pop investors to major institutions and influential executives. That practice got punished. The punishment -- a $1.4 billion fine -- wasn't nearly enough, but it is a start.
Sure, those who can afford more should be allowed to get the good things in life, if they want. But not at the expense of others. That's the dividing line between capitalism and exploitation.
And there is no better physical manifestation of that principle than a line. In a traffic jam, the guy in the Mercedes and the guy in the beat-up pickup are getting treated just the same. And he can't run up to the maitre' de and bribe his way through it, either.
Lines are democracy in action. A sign that at some point, we are all the same.
And we all hate them. So don't let people buy their way out.