Sunday, July 27, 2008

Self-Service In Oregon

Oregon's ban on pumping your own gas came up over drinks last night, and I was thinking that it's kind of weird that that law hasn't been overturned. I mean, presumably if lots of Oregonians really didn't want to pump their own gas, then station offering full service would dominate the market with or without a law.

Apparently, though, on November 2, 1982, voters in Oregon rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed gas stations to offer self-service fueling stations. And by a healthy 58-42 margin, no less. So the voters seem to feel pretty strongly that even letting other people pump their own gas would be bad.


Bret said...

Well since Paul's playing the free marketeer, let me try this out:

If the government is going to insist on income redistribution, I do think it is nice that it seems to take on a 'workfare' flavor.

Sure, the net effect is to take ten dollars from everyone in Oregon and create some extremely minimum wage jobs. But at least it's arranged so that every single person paying the tax sees the exact same small benefit.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Now I'm really confused. How does this benefit anyone besides those who get jobs?

Bret said...

They (the taxpayers) get their gas pumped for them.

I pointed this out to show the contrast between this and that classic fee-based shibboleth, "Why should I pay for public schools when I got no kids?" (Which I tend to sympathize with)

Not that schools exist mainly for income redistribution. Although under the 'free daycare' model, that's more or less actually what it comes down to.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Fair enough. Since you like "workfare" I suspect that if you learned a bit more about the Earned Income tax credit you'd prefer it a program like this that distorts the market (I *like* pumping my own gas). The EITC subsidizes wages in whatever low-wage job you happen to get. So it lets the market work more efficiently.

Paul said...

I mostly just think the whole thing is weird. I feel like if somebody tried to pass a law in California prohibiting people from pumping their own gas, there'd be massive public resistance. In Oregon, meanwhile, there's apparently strong opposition to people even having that option. It's sort of surreal.

Bret said...

@Tom - I think the EITC is a much clumsier way of going about it; why should someone in Connecticut pay Federal income taxes so that Oregon can have less poverty, and gas stations with slightly better operating margins?

@Paul - I think it just goes to show how much of a cultural phenomenon governance is, unless there is some hyper-rational argument for mandatory gas station attendance that only Oregonians have grasped.

Paul said...

Um, why should somebody who wants to pump their own gas have to pay somebody else to do it for them just so a bunch of strangers can have less poverty and gas stations with slightly better operating margins?

That sort of reasoning cuts every which way, if it cuts at all.

I would think that the less clumsy option would be the one with fewer market-distorting effects. Unless by "clumsy" you just mean "insufficiently federalist".

And, as I understand it, Oregonian law actually does spell out various supposed advantages to full-service stations, most of which involve safety. I have no idea whether those safety concerns are legit, though.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

To be clear if you wanted to use something like the EITC it would either look like:

1. A state EITC that uses state taxes and which applies to all low income jobs, not just gas stations.


2. A federal EITC that uses federal taxes and which similarly applies to all jobs not just gas stations.

I realize you have a deep animosity towards federal programs (which - in the case of this program - I can completely appreciate) but I assume the state version would be more appealing to you.

Bret said...

Um, why should somebody who wants to pump their own gas have to pay somebody else to do it for them just so a bunch of strangers can have less poverty and gas stations with slightly better operating margins?

Legislative bodies in Western Governments seem to have generally determined that anti-poverty measures are good for public order. I'm inclined to agree, and also yes, by 'clumsy' I -did- mean 'insufficiently Federalist' :)

Given that anti-poverty measures are meant to induce public order, I think people are much more likely to buy in when they feel the taxes they pay in Peoria are producing order in Peoria, etc.

Once upon a time, I think you're right, these laws were about public safety (there were fewer automatic mechanical guarantees than we have to-day). Judging by the results of the election, Oregonians seem to conceive of them differently at this point.