Meeting With a Liberal
Sometimes I forget just how different the South is from the Pacific Northwest. I spent the early part of this week in Baltimore for a trade show, and the format of the show meant myself and the sales engineer spent a lot of time with no customers around. We ended up chatting for most of the day with the marketing guy from Oregon in the next booth, and he ended up joining us for dinner that evening, as he was without a car, and the hotel for the show was a long way from any halfway decent restaurants.
I should have known what I was getting into at lunch. We were sitting around talking about gas, alternative fuels, etc, and I heard a typical leftist talking point: “I think we should slap another dollar of taxes onto gasoline, so that we can encourage the use of alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles.” I held my tongue, because I was in a work setting. All I ended up saying was “Well, that’s certainly not what I’d do.” What I was thinking was that while I have an ideological argument against using tax policy to influence behavior, there is a much stronger argument. The costs of such a policy would far outweigh the benefits, in reduced economic growth, government mismanagement of the tax largesse, and higher costs to consumers to purchase these expensive technologies. That’s to be expected when you’re using a blunt-force government policy, i.e. using a chainsaw to remove an appendix when you really need a scalpel.
So that night, we ended up heading out for dinner. A bit of a boring meal for me, as he and my coworker, both divorced, were discussing strategies for meeting women on match.com. As a married guy, I sat back with my beer and meal during that portion.
But on the way home, we stopped at a gas station, and he followed up his earlier comment, explaining how “glad he was that Oregon didn’t have any self-serve gas pumps.” We got onto the topic, and he trotted out the first idea, that “it’s a safety issue.” I was not so interested in holding my tongue any more (might have been due to beer), and had to point out that we don’t really have much of a “safety” problem pumping gas in the rest of the country. Basically, that’s an argument from pure common sense, and he must not have had an answer, because he moved on.
He followed up with his concerns about how he didn’t want to have to get out of his car, and how if there was a line at a station, people could go to another one. He mentioned that he heard a radio show where a station owner called in and said it only cost him $0.03 per gallon to pay someone to pump the gas, and how great it was that they had it. Well, that was cause for another simple answer. “If it’s so great, and cheap, why do you need the government to enforce it?” Again, no real answer, so he moved on.
He followed that up with two arguments. First, that it’s great to have these jobs for high school and college kids, and how much of a benefit that is. Second, that he’d been to gas stations in California, where they’re dirty, dangerous, and you don’t see that in places where they have more people on staff. Well, we had just arrived back at the hotel, so I couldn’t take the time to refute him. Of course it’s great for the kids who get the job, but how great is it for those of us paying for it? And while he might have been to some stations in California, I can point to quite a few counter-examples. Perhaps he’s seen these sorts of dirty, dangerous stations in Compton, but I didn’t see too many in Irvine.
But as I don’t spend too much time with people of his ideological stripe these days, it was a bit instructive. I learned that a leftist is completely willing to use the power of government to make everyone bow to his wishes. And that if it’s in his interest, he’ll latch onto easily-refutable, feel-good arguments that hold no weight under scrutiny. Of course, he’s more than entitled to his opinion, and it’s possible he thinks my arguments against him hold no merit. But there’s a big difference. He wants to use the force of government to make me pay for and conform to his wishes. I ask for nothing but freedom. But I’ll bet he thinks he’s the one with the moral high ground.