A visit to a New Jersey Gas Station sparks many sad reflections on dead weight loss and its impact on the current position. One sees lines of 20 cars waiting for gas at the stations as gas attendants amble about filling the cars. The cost in wasted time, the alternatives of productive work that could have been done by the attendants and customers in other fields is never seen the same way a dead weight loss impacts the reduction of consumer and producer surplus and other interferences with the natural order of things.

How much of the current malaise comes from such dead weight loss? Many trillions of dollars have been spent for the benefit of the flexions and their clients by the interior folks. This money has been allocated to areas that are green and organized agrarian in input. Yes, the money has been spent and used to buy assets from the above. And there is certainly the dead weight cost of the administrative involved.

But at what cost? Who would have spent this money? How were incentives to start businesses and hire workers and buy things that are useful in the day to day fray affected by this? What rational expectations come into play as to the ultimate impact of these expenses when they have to be paid back? What are the dead weight costs involved, and what goods have not been bought, and what investments in stocks have not been made because of this?

A visit to an ice cream store outside of Kira's graduation ceremony at St. Andrews in Middletown told wonders. They make a very good banana almost as good as Cones. And their peach has as much fresh peach as I've had the pleasure of eating. But they tell me their business is down considerably this year, and they cant figure out why. The owner does a nice job of making balloons outside to keep the kids happy. How many others are in similar predicaments with no explanation as we morph into a European style struggle?

Rocky Humbert writes:

One has sympathy for The Chair as he sits in a long service station queue and laments the NJ no-self-service law. And, as the early summer sun beats down upon his countenance, his thoughts evidently turn to Dead Weight Loss. Since I've started regular daily exercise (including checking my oil and pressure) I've paid more attention to live weight loss and proffer the following alternative hypotheses/observations:

New Jersey has some of the lowest gasoline taxes in the nation. Gasoline in New Jersey costs as much as 40 cents per gallon less than Westchester County, NY. I frequently fill up my gas tank on the NJ side of the George Washington Bridge; and perhaps the Chair's queue is attributable to the arbitrage of high gasoline taxes in surrounding states– rather than the NJ no-self-serve law.

2. The NJ Turnpike is a toll road with limited access. There is scant evidence to suggest that off-highway service stations have longer queues and/or poorer service in New Jersey than in other self-service states. Former Governor Corzine proposed an elimination of the self-service ban in 2006– and it actually ran into popular revolt: "I'm not against a lot of things, but I don't want to pump my own gas. It's part of the Jersey identity. It's our thing," said Rose Maurice. See this article.  

3. New York State and Connecticut both permit self-serve gas stations, however, they both require full service on certain highways. Having had an unfortunate brush with this business, my understanding is:

(1) the number of drivers who leave without paying on highways is much greater than on local roads.

(2) The throughput for a WELL-RUN busy full service station is actually higher than for a self-serve.

(3) Post-9/11, it is believed by Homeland Security that full-service highway gas stations provide a platform for surveillance. Your oil-soaked, slow-moving, non-English speaking gas jockey may actually be a highly-trained FBI agent checking your car for emissions from a concealed nuclear/biological/chemical weapon.

4. Our local town Shell station has four pumps. Two are self-service. Two are full-service. There is only one attendant for the entire station. The full-service pumps charge about $.20/gallon more than the self-serve ones. The station has maintained this model for years, and it suggests that there must be demand amongst the Chanel-clad soccer moms in Land Rovers and the very-important-Dads (in Brioni suits) not to soil their clothes while pumping gas or checking oil. In this example, the full-service pumps are a profit-enhancer, since the attendant would be there anyway.

During a recent visit to Switzerland, I observed that many gas stations have NO attendants and are open 24/7. One simply inserted a credit card, pumped gas and drove away. One should note that (due to taxes) gas in Switzerland is still massively more expensive than the USA, and it is unclear whether the absence of any attendant results in lower prices or higher profits (or both). I suspect that I would feel uncomfortable if there were NO attendants at a US gas station — on a deserted road — at 3:00 am … and the pump isn't working right … and a car filled with four youths and twice as many tattoos pulls in front of my car … and …. involuntary and not-so-politely relieves me of my wallet and luggage. I guess that's another sort of dead weight "loss."

There is no question that the NJ law introduces dead weight loss. However, the Swiss model (at the other extreme) introduces other costs (such as theft, liability risks, soiled clothes, spilled fuel etc) which are difficult to quantify.

While personal choice is usually preferable , my point is that things are almost always more complex than they appear… And policies need to consider an accurate cost/benefit analysis for the world that we actually live in - not a world that we wished we lived in.

Jeff Watson writes:

A prime example of dead weight loss is when a truck makes a delivery to a distant point and has no cargo to bring back to the warehouse wasting time, fuel, and labor. Wal Mart has engineered out much of the dead-load waste and has increased efficiency of its shipping fleet. They have automated their ordering, delivery schedules, and shrunk the number and size of their warehouses, as they consider warehousing a waste of inventory, space, time and labor. Now, with their "Just in time" ordering and shipping, they are able to use their trucks as rolling warehouses, cutting costs in so many ways and passing along the savings to the consumer. They engineer every step of the production of a product, from the manufacturing to the time it leaves the store. Wal Mart's business model is to be admired as they have introduced many products at low cost to people who otherwise couldn't have afforded them.

In addition to their main retail, Wal Mart has taken only 15 years to become the largest purveyor of groceries in the world because they applied their revolutionary methods in dry goods to the otherwise staid food business. The naysayers decry Wal Mart, but I salute them as an example of a company that took a page from Hank Reardon. Walmart is having it's moment right now, and will until something or someone comes along with a better business model. Never fear, there will be a better model, there always an evolution in business as long as man is allowed to be creative and earn a profit with minimal government interference. To those who complain that Walmart is decimating the business of Main Street, in 1920 the A&P Tea Company had 25% of the retail grocery business because it was light years ahead of the general stores of the day with the modern supermarket concept. The populists and anti-trust people took a careful look at A&P but thankfully never broke the company up. Other businesses should salute and try to emulate the way Wal Mart reduces costs, provides careers, brings a good assortment of products to market, and earns the shareholders a good return on investment.

Jeff Sasmor writes:

When I first moved to NJ from southern CA in 1996 I used to get into trouble with the gas station attendants because without really thinking about it I kept trying to operate the pumps myself. Now after being used to the attendants for so long, when I get gasoline in another state I just tend to sit in the car for a while waiting for the attendant till I remember that I have to do it myself. The attendants are nice to have if you don't want to smell like gasoline; and perhaps it's better not to have pregnant ladies handling gasoline pumps and breathing fumes. OTOH, the attendants end up breathing a lot of gasoline fumes. I recall when I was a youth (pattern recognition subroutines running in my brain just fished up that courthouse scene with Fred Gwynne from the great film "My Cousin Vinny") they used to wash your front and rear windows and check the oil on your car. Ah. My wife's car doesn't even have an oil dipstick anymore….

The great Fred Gwynne

Jeff Watson replies to Rocky Humbert:

Rocky, I know I used the term differently than how the economists use it. However, on the ground floor, the truckers use the words "Deadhead, dead load, dead log, or dead weight" interchangeably when referring to the loss experienced when driving with an empty trailer. Aside from excessive DOT regulations, the aforementioned is the biggest complaint of truckers as it eats into the bottom line, at least the ones I talk to who are non-Teamster. The union drivers don't worry about such things as empty trailers and bring a whole new subset of inefficiencies and extra costs into the equation.

Jeff Sasmor writes:

I don't think that the queue is a function of the presence of an attendant. That's an assumption that may seem natural (like a policeman directing traffic slows things down). I've not seen it in practice. Traffic in and out of gas stations is lumpy.

It's not demeaning to women– I can't imagine why anyone would want to get that smelly stuff on their hands if someone else does it and the cost is the same. And for preggos who want to keep away from things that are toxic (even if the exposure is infrequent and small) not pumping your own gas may be a good thing. And you can stay in your car in the rain and when it's cold out.

Personally I like having the attendants.

Sri Viswanath writes:

I liked your idea and explanations of dead weight loss… In my market experiences some observations that have warranted pin pricks include (fat specialists claiming to smooth order flow, short skirted well-heeled quaffed FX brokers, account reps talking about how they can get you special margins, analysts of rating agencies, mortgage brokers with outdated actuarial tables (see Bacon), derivative structured product specialists trying to sell libor cubed or some mathematically elegant swaps). All apologies to Hicks and Mr. Marshall.

It is amazing that the whole market structure can function given its oligopolistic government based subsidies (a la Citi etc) in excess of a lil' lagniappe. One case of classic deadweight loss is charging for exchange prices. Is this ecosystem capable of being quantified of such costs?

Easan Katir writes:

Charging extra to know the score at a baseball game would not sit well with fans. Somehow, the market fans are more docile and pay up. 

Craig Mee Agrees:

You say one case of classic deadweight loss is charging for exchange prices. I couldn't agree more. Isn't this a form of "restraint of trade"!





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