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Minimum Wage Law, Minimal Service

One of New Jersey’s various quirks (such as having some of the highest property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, auto insurance rates, debt per-capita,  least amount of freedom, etc, etc) is featured on the front page of the Asbury Park Press @Issue section today.  It is the fact that New Jersey is one of only two states that prohibit self-service at filling stations.  (I wonder whether after they force us to all drive electric vehicles, they will prohibit plugging in our own cars, and instead force us all to hire someone to do it.)

It’s a pretty good article except that the writer misses a crucial point, that is, the reason why we need to have a law if we don’t want to pump our own gas.  Let me try to put this as elegantly as I can:



The author, Jim Namiotka, writes:

New Jersey drivers have a good thing going, and they know it. And they’re not letting go without a fight.

But I believe that, deep down, where reason and rational thought lurk, the citizens of New Jersey also know that their law against self-serve gas is a luxury, not a necessity, that it’s un-American and fundamentally wrong. And they know that their hold on what might be one of the last few trappings of living in the Garden State is thin as a spider’s thread, so fragile that even a whisper about ending the self-serve ban could blow it all away.

And that’s why the reactions are so strong should anyone suggest there might be another way. People are convinced that, should self-serve be legalized for those who want it, the dam will break.

Gas stations would fire the state’s 20,000 gas attendants the next day without lowering prices accordingly. Drivers would be doubly screwed.

It defies logic.

He’s flat wrong.  The gas stations absolutely will fire all 20,000 attendants.

Since the TSA converted all our airports into domestic versions of Abu Ghraib, my vacations have all been driving vacations.  I have purchased gas scores of times in dozens of different states and have not been to one out-of-state gas station that had full-service available.  This is because although many people, myself included, don’t want to pump their own gas, it’s just too expensive to provide that service.  We don’t pay a little more for full service.  Because of minimum wage, and the additional taxes and costs that government adds to employers, we pay a lot more.  So much more that in states where full-service isn’t required, the market won’t provide it, even if many want it.

The minimum wage law doesn’t only hurt motorists who don’t wish to be their own gas pump jockeys.  The most serious harm is done to young people with minimal skills and no work history.  These people, who are just trying to get their foot in the door of the labor market, are effectively shut out.  If they are not yet worth the ten or so dollars an hour it actually costs to employ them, they never get the chance to acquire the skills and work history that will someday make them more productive and thus employable at higher pay.

It also harms adults, who either because of a mental disability, or maybe a criminal record, are priced out of gainful employment.

It’s not just service station attendants that we now have to do without.  The minimum wage laws have put a stop to many conveniences we once enjoyed, such as having an usher guide us to our seat at the theater, or a grocery clerk bring our bags to our car. 

The minimum wage laws are bad because they interfere with the right of contract that all Americans are supposed to enjoy.  But as in the cases I’ve pointed to, and many others, they also make our lives harder than they need to be.

 By the way, I  like full service because:

A) I don’t like standing in the rain and holding the nozzle the entire time, since all self-service pump nozzles have the click-stops removed.

B) You can’t pay cash without making two trips into the store; one to leave enough money to cover your purchase, then back again to get your change.

C) If you do attempt to charge it, half the time you do something wrong, or the machine doesn’t work correctly and you have to go inside anyway (and wait on line behind all the lottery ticket buyers.)

D) God only knows what kind of diseases are residing on those nozzle handles, some of which are held by hundreds of different people every day, many of whom may not have the best personal hygiene practices, if you catch my drift.


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