Monday, December 10, 2012

Better Consumer Protection

I drive a 1997 Cadillac STS, z-rated.  For a decade now, I've refilled the 20 gallon tank, and there are so many measuring and warning gauges I know the car well enough to time pulling up to the pump with the point the engine is running on fumes.  It is a 20 gallon tank.

So I pull up to a gas station I've never used before, in the University Village area of Seattle.  I am sure it has its regulars of upscale customers, but with the shopping center next door featuring and Apple store, it gets countless one-time visitors as well.

So I fill up the tank, and the register sails past 20 gallons.  Now this is interesting.  How far will it go?  Well, it clicked off at 22 gallons.  The measuring gauge on the gas pump does not work right.  It is registering 10 per cent more than it is delivering, delivering 20 gallons and charging for 22.

What did I do?  What almost everyone does, I am sure.  That is to say the extremely few who notice.  This occurred at the time of the price hikes up to 4 and 5 bucks a gallon.  Since they've got my payment automatically, I took my receipt, jumped in the car, drove off vowing to never use that station again.

What do you think I should do?  Walk into the office and complain to the $6 an hour clerk?  Over a $10 overcharge?  that would be like volunteering to call a Microsoft help center.

Who knows, maybe the clerk was instructed to rebate 10% to anyone who complains.  But it's not worth my time to sort it out.  I am just gone, no doubt like the other busy people who notice.

In poorer neighborhoods where the average sale is say $7 because "enough to get to work" is common, it's the money in, not gallons in that is being closely watched.

So this cheating is easy.

Call the department of consumer affairs?  And then what?  They will investigate?  No doubt there is a reasonable explanation.  So they fix the gauge.  No way to trace the overage charged, the delivery receipts are well forged.  So nothing will happen.

"If we just had enough enforcement officers..."  Sure hire more people to drive around and check on registers.  Add to government expenses.  Is that going to work?  And hire more FDA inspectors.  And hire more transit inspectors?  And hire more...  it simply cannot be done.

I recall the Washington State Patrolmen who lectured in our drivers ed class in High School.  After all the standard arguments, he summarized by saying, with emotion "I wish we had one state patrolman out for every driver."  Even at 15 this sounded absurd.

No, by far the better plan is to get rid of all inspectors and regulators.  They are not there to protect the consumer, or they would.  I was not protected.  And here is the thing: since everyone falsely assumes someone else is protecting them, too few of us bother to protect themselves.  How would we do that?

If there was no department of weights and measures, there would certainly be a sort of yelp that announces where someone is cheating.  Apps wold steer gas buyers away until the malefactor is corrected.  Then in fact we do have one regulator for every transaction, and that is the customer himself.

Cheating in weights and measures is an ancient problem, but the state "solution," standardizing weight and measures is no solution, since it is impertinent to the problem.  The standardization is about taxing business, not about protection of consumers.  So let's get back to consumer protection, by eliminating the state regulation.

Feel free to forward this by email to three of your friends.