Ill. Democrat Pushes Ban on Self-Serve Gas - Lets Others Learn From Her Mistake

P. Gardner Goldsmith | February 18, 2020
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A Democrat in the Illinois State Legislature has filed a bill called HB4571 that, even as it infuriates and makes one wonder how far she would like to take her controlling mentality, offers observers a great opportunity to learn, or remind themselves, of a profound economic lesson.

As Reason’s Christian Britschgi reports:

‘No gas may be pumped at a gas station in this State unless it is pumped by a gas station attendant employed at the gas station,’ reads the Gas Station Attendant Act, which was introduced last week by state Rep. Camille Lilly (D–Oak Park).

And, according to Ms. Lilly’s thinking, this is a good thing.

See, as so many authoritarian collectivists believe, making people do more work is the same thing as more work getting done to improve people’s lives.

Tweeted Lilly:

HB4571 is concept legislation that creates safety and convenience at the pump. It is not intended to pass as is. The bill seeks to create options for self-service, service by gas station attendant, and jobs. Input is valuable to shape into legislation the people of IL desire.

And doesn’t that sound nice.

Of course, if your input includes something along the lines of “please leave people alone, and if you don’t like how others offer and buy services, enter the market yourself” likely she won’t be too interested in listening.

All of which reminds us that this is policy in two other states, as Britschgi notes:

Should it pass, Illinois would join New Jersey as the only other state in the union to prohibit self-service gas stations. Oregon allows self-service gas stations in counties of less than 40,000 people but maintains prohibitions everywhere else in the state. A bill to allow gas stations in the Beaver State to designate a quarter of their pumps as self-service failed in 2019.

And it all inspires quick, insightful reactions from clear-minded Illinois residents who’d rather be left alone, and who know that this will not only increase labor costs for gas station owners, and increased costs for drivers, it will see many border stations lose business as drivers pump before entering the less-free dystopia of Illinois.

But there’s something even bigger to remember here that is attached to this knowledge. It’s so big, in fact, that some folks don’t apply the logic of it to other areas in economic life.

The key here is recognizing how this imposition is supposedly “justified” by the politician pushing it claims it will increase jobs.

Which is the same rationale for other instances of anti-economic bullying. In fact, it helps us see the error many make in supporting “protectionist” statutes.

Lilly’s idea is that this bill will “create more work” for people.

But, just as I have previously written here at MRCTV, if we wanted to make more work for people, we could eliminate all the inventions people have created that have made work easier and freed up labor. We could, if we take this logic to its inevitable conclusion, destroy the inclined plane, because the device allows one man to move up a heavy object when the act formerly took two. Lilly would see that second man as “unemployed”, but what’s really been done with the device is to allow men to get more for less and to free up human labor and skills to be applied to other things that, in their turn, can help people.

The point of economics is not to “work” more, but to get more for less work, which frees up opportunities for more work to be done in new, life-improving fields.

In the modern world, because money is a tradable commodity, people usually equate their cash with the efforts and time and other opportunities they value. Lost money is like lost time, or lost opportunity, a lost chance to better one’s life.

So if we take our understanding of why Lilly’s idea is destructive to economic growth -- because she only concentrates on making people work, rather than on allowing people to use machines to be more productive, free up labor, and let it be applied to other endeavors that, in turn, can offer consumers things they might value – we can see that other government interventions to “protect jobs” are also destructive in the same way.

Take international trade – or, people “here” buying things from others located “there”.

By allowing consumers to get foreign-made brooms for less, rather than applying an arbitrary government tax or arbitrary limit on the number of the brooms that can be imported, we allow thousands or tens of thousands to save money. This allows huge leverageable capital to be spent on new things, new jobs, and on better living standards.

This is also why minimum wage laws are so destructive, because consumers want some money left over, and there are certain expenses beyond which they will not pay. Certainly, politicians could mandate higher wages, but that just pours money into endeavors that weren’t seen as that valuable by consumers. It will decrease consumer demand, decrease the free capital the consumer might have saved, prevent new jobs from being created, and drive employers towards investing in machines that previously might have been much more expensive than his laborers, but, now, is relatively in same range.

The market is just us, making decisions about what we want to do with our time and efforts and hopes. The minute a politician mandates or prohibits how we can peacefully engage each other in commerce, that politician is acting unethically, immorally, and contrary to economics.

It doesn’t matter whether the politician is trying to create or protect jobs at gas pumps or “protect” jobs at “traditional” American businesses (businesses that might have lobbied for protection against less expensive foreign competition). As James Bovard showed in his excellent book, “The Fair Trade Fraud”, protectionist statutes thrown up to block foreign goods typically harm US consumers upwards of eight times as much as they bring in extra profits to the specially-favored corporation that’s getting the government tariff to help it “look competitive”.

We don’t need politicians telling us we can’t pump our own darn gas. Likewise, we don’t need politicians that claim we can’t buy a broom from Mexico, or a strawberry from another state, because, they tell us, “it will harm the workers”.

There are workers who could use the money I save, and it should be up to me to save if I damn well please.