A blind spot at the New York Times
By Scott Sumner
The New York Times recently published a very strange story on New Jersey, discussing the Garden State’s ban on self-service gasoline. The article discussed a recent proposal to lift the ban (all other states allow self-service), as well as local opposition to ending the ban. So what makes the article so strange?
It turns out that none of the information in the article has any bearing at all on the policy issue being considered. The author (Jonah Engel Bromwich) wrote the article as if the proposed policy was a complete ban on full service gas pumps. Here’s a typical example:
[T]he university found that 63 percent of voters supported the law [banning self service] and only 23 percent opposed it, with a similarly exaggerated gender gap.
Ms. Jenkins grew up in Southern California, and pumped her own gas.
“But,” she said, “in the dead of winter when you don’t have to get out of your car, it’s a lovely feature of living in the state.”
When I lived in Massachusetts, I typically used self-service in the summer, but enjoyed the “lovely feature” of going to one of the dozen or so full service stations near my home during the winter. Ms. Jenkins seems to share the NYT reporter’s misapprehension that New Jersey is proposing that full service stations be banned. I don’t know of any state that bans full service.
Some conservatives will invariably grumble that the NYT is a lousy newspaper, full of fake news. I’m afraid it’s far worse than that. The NYT is a great newspaper, one of the best in the world. The fact that a story like this could appear in such a high quality paper speaks volumes about the way that they look at the world. I’m pretty sure that about 99.9% of libertarians would have immediately seen the point I am making in this post. Why didn’t the NYT’s excellent editors immediately see the problem? What sort of a blind spot do they have, when it comes to giving people the freedom to choose how to run their lives?
PS. Just to be clear, the question of whether self-service gas should be banned is not the subject of this post, so please don’t offer your opinion on that subject in the comment section.
Update: Based on some comments, I added a map showing full service stations near my old house in Boston (actually Newton). I used to go to the Sunoco, BP and R.S. Gas stations just a few blocks from my house. I realize this is less true of places like California, but keep in mind that New Jersey is an older, affluent, densely populated state like Massachusetts, with cold winters. And 70% of NJ residents prefer full service.