The Joys of Government Mandates

Today, I had to buy gas in Oregon.   Usually, I try to gas up just before I enter Oregon, in protest of their anachronistic laws making self-service gasoline illegal.  Unfortunately, I had not choice but to stop in a station in Portland.  Because of this government mandate, I had to sit in my car for 5 minutes waiting futilely for service.  Getting none, I finally got out and gassed up myself.  The state-mandated car-fueling employee, who couldn't manage to get to me to fill up my car, was at my car in 5 seconds once he saw that I was impinging on his territory by gassing up my own vehicle.  I told him full service was not service at all if I had to wait five minutes, and he could have me arrested if he wanted.  For the rest of the time I gassed my car, I was subjected to an ignorant left-coast lecture on how the mandate created jobs.  All this lecture took place, of course, while other customers waited for service.  I wonder what it would feel like to know with absolute certainty that your job was completely useless and existed only because of a trick of legislation.  People who owe their jobs to the government are always a lot more vigilent about protecting their turf than they are about providing service.


  1. parliament_hill:

    From the UK: I saw this and couldn't believe it - so I checked on the web for corroboration [well, that's kind of evidence]. I'm astonished that the US could do something like this. It makes me wonder if we in the stalinist New Labour UK actually enjoy freer markets than the US. Well, in some states anyway. In fact, looking at some of the other posts in this blog re: regulating hair braiders etc, it would seem it's a lot easier to set up and run a number of small businesses here. Truly amazing...

  2. Sol:

    I remember how strange I found it when I visited Massachusetts back in the 1990s and they didn't allow self-serve. It's interesting -- full service was still the norm in Michigan when I was a child, but after ten years of pumping my own gas, having someone I didn't know do it for me felt downright creepy.

    Out here in the Midwest, setting up a small programming business was pretty easy -- just a couple trivial forms to fill out. Now that it's running, I pay an accountant $1000 a year to make sure the business tax stuff is in order. I have to make a monthly federal tax payment, fill out four quarterly tax forms (one of which includes a payment), and a few more every January. This year I had to fill out an "economic census" form. Other than that the government pretty much ignores me, and I very much hope it stays that way.

  3. Sandy:

    Yup, it's just another example of how government perpetuates itself. Why doesn't gov't just stick to what it should do--protect her citizens and maintain order.

  4. Jim Collins:

    Uhh Sandy. This might come as a shock to you but the Government is under no obligation to protect it's citizens. Don't take my word for it look up Gonzalas vs Castle Rock.

  5. GeologyJoe:

    New Jersey has a similar law. I agree that is it a dumb law.
    However, one other argument for it is that incidences of gasoline spills and over fills are reduced. And training for bigger spills at the pumps, thereby protecting the environment. But if all states had that law, I'd be out of a job.

    So which law really creates the better job: An 8$/hr gas attendant? or a 95$/hr geologist cleaning up the mess?
    I vote for the latter.

  6. Sol:

    Is there really a significant different in incidences of gasoline spills and over fills? That's not a problem I've ever really had as I pumped my own gas, nor have I seen other people have issues. The pumps are designed to shut off automatically at the correct time, after all. And based on my memory of all the other things the attendants typically did while pumping our gas, I'm pretty sure I'm paying more attention to the process when I pump it than they did.

  7. Greg:

    I've seen the mandatory self-serve in New Jersey and in parts of New York. I also hate it.

    And a college roommate related the efficiency of New Jersey's full-service gas station. He worked the graveyard shift. Two people worked the shift. They'd split the time, and one person would sleep while the other worked.

  8. Nick S.:

    One of my cars has an issue and sometimes spits gas back out at pump shutoff. A full-service attendant is more likely to cause a spill than I am, since I know how my particular vehicle is going to behave, and he has no idea.

  9. Todd:

    Hey, a couple comments on this, since I'm an Oregonian... First off, it's true, for anyone who still doubts, you can't pump your own gas in this state. I've been told New Jersey is the only other state with a similar law. Secondly, Coyote, you got it right: I bristle every time I have to wait for somebody to come do something I could do myself. In addition, it's true that gas station attendants view it as a good thing in that it 'creates jobs', based on my informal conversations with them, but I'm not sure that the population in general holds that view.

    I've got a question or two, though. Is there any requirement that gas station attendants get some kind of training before they pump gas? Lived here 12 years, and can't find any evidence of that. So the safety argument would seem to be bogus, unless just the act of pumping gas often, eventually, automatically, makes you a safer pumper. Someone asserted that incidences of spills are reduced in Oregon. Any evidence for that?

    Also, I do wonder the real reason for the mandate. I can say it seems to be generally popular. It's democracy in action. I'm just surmising, but I believe the popularity stems from an economic fallacy. Some people like not to have to pump their own gas. In many states where self-service is allowed, it becomes so popular that it's often the only choice you have. I figure that's because the self-serve gas is always a few cents cheaper per gallon. People will drive miles to save 2 cents a gallon. So why aren't Oregonians mad at being forced to pay more for gas? I honestly think they don't believe that they are paying more. I guess in those states where you can have full serve OR self serve, and the full serve costs more, they must be 'ripping you off'.

    It's truly weird.

  10. MJ:

    Todd, you are right. It is an economic fallacy. Frederic Bastiat called it the Broken Window parable.
    It is a make-work law, which 1) reduces incentives to conserve labor, and 2) diverts labor away from other areas where it might be more productive.

    Ideally, gas stations would be the ones to determine whether there was full service, self service, or both. They could cater their mix of offerings to whatever preferences their customers expressed.

  11. ultrasound gel:

    based on my informal conversations with them, but I'm not sure that the population in general holds that view.

  12. Dhananjay:

    A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

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  13. ultrasound gel:

    From china:why your gov't don't stick to what it should do--protect her citizens and maintain order.