Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NJ’s Self-Serve/Full-Serve Gasoline Wars: The Star-Ledger exposes the True Motive Behind Government Regulation

For years, New Jersey was one of only two states that banned motorists from pumping their own gas at public gas stations. With Oregon eliminating its ban, NJ now stands alone.

On January 6, 2017, the New Jersey Star-Ledger whined:

One of the things that makes New Jersey such an attractive state to live in and do business is our quality of life. Here in the Garden State, we don't have to get out of our cars in a freezing tempest, or get smelly gas on our hands. And as we sit snugly in our cars in arctic conditions, we have the comfort of knowing that we are providing jobs.

To the folks who call that elitist: Polls have consistently shown that most New Jerseyans like it this way. Are we all elitists?

This is the will of the people, and legislators ignore that at their peril. Besides, with the very real problems plaguing this state, ask yourself: Why should this even make the list?

Some killjoys - mostly out-of-state transplants - will argue that this isn't an either or. If we just drop the state law that mandates full-service gas, they say, you can get your gas pumped, and I can pump my own. Do not fall for this.

If you see other people getting out into the cold to save a few pennies, you may feel obliged to do the same. Making it a law delivers us from all guilt.

And the reality is, as soon as we eliminate full service at most of the pumps, cars will back up at the one or two pumps that still offer it. Then the majority of people in this state, who do not want to pump their own gas, will be forced to.

Eventually, gas station owners will see that when required to wait, New Jerseyans do pump their own gas, and they will eliminate full service entirely because self-serve is cheaper. And a longstanding, beloved and truly special piece of New Jersey culture will be lost forever.

Those misanthropes who want to force us all to pump our own gas can get their tanks filled in another state.

Here is my Comment on the NJ Star-Ledger editorial N.J. hearts go out to Oregonians, forced to pump their own smelly gas, edited and expanded for clarity:

There is absolutely no justification for government force to be injected into the gas station business where no public safety issue is involved. It’s not true, as Sweeney says, that legalizing self-service means “abandoning full-service gasoline.” Legalizing self-service gas pumps would not outlaw full service. The state would simply be removing itself from the decision-making process. It would end the forced restrictions forbidding station owners from allowing their customers to get out of their cars and do it themselves.

A free market is the only fair solution. Must everything be politicized? Full-service fans should not be allowed to use the government’s law-making powers—the power of the gun—to impose their full service on others who don’t want the cost or inconvenience of someone else pumping his gas. A free market—that is, a market free of coercive political interference—would leave the market—that is, the commutative voluntary choices of gasoline merchants and consumers—to decide. If enough New Jerseyans are willing to wait longer and pay extra for full service, as that poll suggests, service stations would be free to provide it—and will, or lose the customers.

As to “the comfort of knowing that we are providing jobs,” a legitimate—that is, productive—job is one that provides a service that others want and are willing to pay for. Not to denigrate anyone’s work personally, but it must be said: No one has a right to force others to provide him with employment. Otherwise, why not legally mandate that every homeowner hire someone to dig and refill holes in their backyards?

No one would be forced to pump their own gas, as the Star-Ledger absurdly claims. A government mandate is force. Removing the mandate is to remove the force—unless you believe that the person who doesn’t like pumping his own gas has the right to force others to satisfy his every whim. This thinking is a moral and logical inversion. It’s like saying a restaurant patron is “forced” to cut his own steak because the owner doesn’t supply a meat-cutter to do it for him. There are a million and one mundane little tasks that life requires us to do, but which we may not like doing. Does doing these mundane tasks translate into being “forced”? Forced, by whom? By anybody who chooses not to offer the service? (A collectivist would say, by “society”.) The fact that life requires us to perform myriad minor tasks doesn’t mean the state should mandate full-service this, that, or the other thing.

Don’t laugh. As far as I’m concerned, having an attendant pump my gas for me is just as ridiculous as having someone cut my meat. No one has a right to other people’s labor if no one chooses to supply it. Laws outlawing self-service at gas stations force people, under threat of fines (the seizure at gunpoint of his money by government agents), to have someone else do what the customer could safely do for himself without any undue risk to others.

But, the Star-Ledger says, polls show that most people want full-service. If so, then why does it—or the “most New Jerseyans” who allegedly represent “the will of the people”—fear a free market, which incentivizes merchants to cater to customers’ wishes? No answer. It just ridicules the very logical argument that if we “just drop the state law that mandates full-service gas, . . . you can get your gas pumped, and I can pump my own.” “Do not fall for this” argument, the Star-Ledger urges. If self-serve is legalized, more people “may feel obliged to do the same” until “Eventually, gas station owners will see that when required to wait, New Jerseyans do pump their own gas, and they will eliminate full service entirely because self-serve is cheaper.” And that’s the real fear, isn’t it?; that, when given a real choice, people will choose differently from the way the Star-Ledger wants. It’s a rare admission by a statist, and the heart and soul of government regulation—You have no right to act on your judgement: It’s my way or the highway. Completely divorcing itself from logic, and citing polls, the Star-Ledger claims that abolishing the the legal ban on self-service would “force” us to give up full service, thus succumbing to “the tyranny of the minority” (yes, tyranny). What about actual tyranny—the tyranny of the majority? How about no tyranny—that is, a free gas-pumping market?

Related Reading:

A Proposed Compromise on NJ’s Full- vs. Self-Service Gasoline Controversy: Legalize Both

After Big Gas Tax Hike, Will New Jersey Finally End the Ban on Self-Serve Gas?

New Jersey’s Still Debating Whether to Legalize Self-Serve Gasoline

A brief history of why you can't pump your own gas in N.J.—NJ.com

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?


Mike Kevitt said...

When I lived up north, I didn't really like the conversion from full service to self service. I just didn't like the change, and had to get used to it, because full service disappeared. I didn't think about how or whether the government was involved in the change, and I still don't know about it. I just hope the government wasn't involved. Today, I'd as soon pump my own gas. In passing, you mentioned public safety, and that government should be involved in it. So, maybe government should be involved in public health, too. Maybe, on both counts. But, if so, then I need to learn when issues of health and safety are public instead of private. I could probably figure it out myself, in my own way. But I think there should be a uniform public statement about it that everybody can understand, a statement that falls within the government's proper function.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

Well, I think of "public safety" when the actions of individuals can directly harm others—e.g., the matter of traffic laws. On public health, maybe the matter of life-threatening infectious diseases, in which case government-imposed quarantines may be valid. But, you're right, the government's role must be strictly limited and clearly defined. As to public safety regarding self-serve gas, 48 states have had it for years or decades.T he verdict is in; there is no extraordinary public health threat.

Mike Kevitt said...

Hay!, I mean, hey (but we can make hay on this). We're one on this, "when the actions of individuals can directly harm others". The key word is, directly. It can be indirect, in which case the words, can, might, does, will, may, etc., are irrelevant. Self serve gas is safe, under law & gvt., and it poses no health risk. As for infectious diseases (sorry, you brought that up, although I said, "health", and I pick it up and run), immigrants, the home-grown, tourists, etc., can transmit them unknowingly. Whether they know or not (some can, might, and do know), they must be corralled, until further disposition. It's the same as at an actual crime scene where any innocent bystander is dumb enough to not get his ass out of there unless he wants to be a witness, whereby he has to work his way out of charges for simply being there, despite his being innocent until proven guilty. Same way with an innocent carrier of an infectious disease.