Pro­gres­sives must lose their fear of self-ser­vice sta­tions

Ge­orge F. Will won­ders why res­i­dents of a state whose fore­bears braved the Ore­gon Trail are still too fright­ened to pump their own gas.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Ge­orge Will’s email ad­dress is georgewill@wash­post.com.

Frank Lloyd Wright pur­port­edly said, “Tip the world over on its side and ev­ery­thing loose will land in Los An­ge­les.” To­day, how­ever, Ore­gon is the state with the strangest state of mind, which has some­thing to do with it be­ing im­pec­ca­bly pro­gres­sive: In the se­ries “Port­landia,” the men­tion of ar­ti­sanal light­bulbs might be satir­i­cal, but given to­day’s gas-pump­ing con­tro­versy, per­haps not.

On Jan. 1, by the grace of God — or of the gov­ern­ment, which is pretty much the same thing to pro­gres­sives — a sliver of a right was granted to Ore­go­ni­ans: Hence­forth they can pump gas into their cars and trucks, all by them­selves. But only in coun­ties with pop­u­la­tions of less than 40,000, ev­i­dently be­cause this walk on the wild side is deemed to be pru­dent only in the hin­ter­lands, where there is a scarcity of qual­i­fied tech­ni­cians trained in the sci­ence of pump­ing. Still, 2018 will be the year of liv­ing dan­ger­ously in the state that was set­tled by peo­ple who trekked there on the Ore­gon Trail, through the ter­ri­tory of Na­tive Amer­i­cans hos­tile to Man­i­fest Des­tiny.

Ore­gon is one of two states that ban self-ser­vice fill­ing sta­tions. The other is al­most-as-deep-blue New Jersey. There the ban is straight­for­ward, no-damned-non­sense-about-any­thing-else pro­tec­tion­ism: The point is to spare full-ser­vice gas sta­tions from com­pet­ing with self-ser­vice sta­tions that, hav­ing lower la­bor costs, have lower prices.

Ore­gon’s Leg­is­la­ture of­fers 17 rea­sons “it is in the pub­lic in­ter­est to main­tain a pro­hi­bi­tion on the self-ser­vice dis­pens­ing of Class 1 flammable liq­uids” — aka, gaso­line, which you put in your car’s “Class 1 flammable liq­uids tank.” The first rea­son is: The dis­pens­ing of such liq­uids “by dis­pensers prop­erly trained in ap­pro­pri­ate safety pro­ce­dures re­duces fire haz­ards.” This pre­sum­ably refers to the many con­fla­gra­tions reg­u­larly oc­cur­ring at fill­ing sta­tions through­out the 48 states where 96 per­cent of Amer­i­cans live lives jeop­ar­dized by state leg­is­la­tors who are neg­li­gent re­gard­ing their nanny-state duty to as­sume that their con­stituents are im­be­ciles.

Among Ore­gon’s 16 other rea­sons are: Ser­vice-sta­tion cashiers are of­ten un­able to “give un­di­vided at­ten­tion” to the rank am­a­teurs dis­pens­ing flammable liq­uids. When pur­chasers of such liq­uids leave their ve­hi­cles they risk “crime,” and “per­sonal in­jury” from slick sur­faces. (“Ore­gon’s weather is uniquely ad­verse”; i.e., it rains there.) “Ex­po­sure to toxic fumes.” Se­nior cit­i­zens or per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties might have to pay a higher cost at a full-ser­vice pump, which would be dis­crim­i­na­tory. When peo­ple pump gas without the help of “trained and cer­ti­fied” spe­cial­ists, no spe­cial­ists peer un­der the hood to ad­min­is­ter pro­phy­lac­tic main­te­nance, thereby “en­dan­ger­ing both the cus­tomer and other mo­torists and re­sult­ing in un­nec­es­sary and costly re­pairs.” Self-ser­vice “has con­trib­uted to di­min­ish­ing the avail­abil­ity of au­to­mo­tive re­pair fa­cil­i­ties at gaso­line sta­tions” without pro­vid­ing — note the ad­jec­tive — “sus­tained” re­duc­tion in gas prices. Self-ser­vice causes un­em­ploy­ment. And “small chil­dren left unat­tended” by novice gas pumpers “cre­ates a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion.” So there.

Ore­gon’s Solomonic de­ci­sion — free­dom to pump in ru­ral coun­ties; ev­ery­where else, un­think­able — ter­ri­fied some Ore­go­ni­ans: “No! Dis­abled, seniors, peo­ple with young chil­dren in the car need help. Not to men­tion get­ting out of your car with tran­sients around and not feel­ing safe too. This is a very bad idea.” “Not a good idea, there are lots of rea­son to have an at­ten­dant help­ing, one is they need a job too. Many peo­ple are not ca­pa­ble of know­ing how to pump gas and the haz­ards of not do­ing it cor­rectly. Be­sides I don’t want to go to work smelling of gas.”

The com­plain­ers drew com­plaints: “You put the gas in your car not shower in it princess.” “If your only mar­ketable job skill is be­ing able to pump gas, by god, move to Ore­gon and you will have reached the promised land.” “Pumped my own gas my whole life and now my hands have lit­er­ally melted down to my wrists. I’m typ­ing this with my tongue.” Th­ese days, civic dis­course is not for shrink­ing vi­o­lets.

To be fair, when Ore­go­ni­ans flinch from a ren­dezvous with an unat­tended gas pump, pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment has done its duty, as it un­der­stands this. It ZDQWV the gov­erned to be­come used to hav­ing things done for them, as by “trained and cer­ti­fied” gas pumpers. Pro­gres­sives are proud believ­ers in pro­vid­ing ex­perts — usu­ally them­selves — to help the rest of us cope with life. The only down­side is that, as Alexis de Toc­queville an­tic­i­pated, such gov­ern­ment, by be­ing the “shep­herd” of the gov­erned, can “take away from them en­tirely the trou­ble of think­ing” and keep them “fixed ir­re­vo­ca­bly in child­hood.”

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