We’ve all heard the angry rants from the angry right against government regulation… the nearly religious jeremiads against bureaucrats and politicians meddling in the affairs of the free market. Read my comment threads and you’d think that regulating commerce was a crime against God. (Although regulating a woman’s right to her own body is apparently God’s work.)
And so I thought I’d just point to an article in today’s Seattle P-I to remind folk how mundane and uniformly welcome most government regulation really is.
Last year, a little more than half the gas stations in Seattle had pumps that failed their measuring inspections. Four out of five stations inspected since 2002 have had pumps that failed, according to city inspection data analyzed by the Seattle P-I.
“The consumers are never going to notice it,” Tim Douglas, a city inspector, said of the small discrepancies. “Over time, the dealer will notice it. Some of these stations are pumping close to a million gallons a month. Pretty soon, a penny here and a penny there starts adding up to real money.”
According to the article, annual inspection cycles in Seattle and Spokane assure that drivers there get a fairer deal than the rest of the state, where some pumps haven’t been inspected in years. And Tim Hamilton, a petroleum industry lobbyist who represents independent gas station owners welcomes the government inspections:
“One thing we can’t have is we don’t want the public to lose confidence in the accuracy of pumps.”
Although the city’s primary concern is to protect taxpayers, Douglas said a program of consistent inspections in Seattle is creating a level playing field for gas stations.
See, contrary to what they apparently teach in
bible class business school… there is no such thing as a “free” market. Markets rely on trust, and some form of regulation is absolutely required to make sure that everybody plays by rules. When we shop for gas we do so based on price or convenience or perceived quality; but we all assume that over time, we’re pretty much getting the same quantity of gas per gallon, regardless of station. And we assume this because we also assume that government regulators are periodically inspecting the pumps.
I’m not saying that all regulation is productive or that none of it is overreaching or poorly implemented. But for the most part, government regulation levels the playing field while protecting the health, safety and welfare of consumers and workers. That’s the humdrum role of most regulation and enforcement, and quite frankly, our economy wouldn’t function smoothly without it.
So for those ideologues who insist on absolute fealty to the “govmint bad” meme, I suggest filling up at the Admiral Chevron in West Seattle, where one pump was shorting customers by about a cup a gallon.