Opinion: Robbers (The gas stations)

POSTED: 10/21/11 11:59 AM

Two Members of Parliament, Frans Richardson and Louie Laveist opened a frontal attack on local gas stations that charge, one could argue, top dollar for their fuel.
The beef the MPs have with these gas stations is that they count in the old Antillean guilders. Dollar-paying motorists, especially those who have just been to a supermarket where the value of their greenback is steady at 1.80 guilders, see the value of their money suddenly go down, because the gas station takes an extra bite of their wallet by valuing the dollar at just 1.75 guilders.
This practice has been going on like forever and it is remarkable that it now suddenly becomes an issue. After all, consumers have freedom of choice: they do not have to fill up at gas stations that use the exchange rate to put extra money in their own pockets.
If there had been a law against it, these gas stations would have closed down a long time ago. If motorists had a problem with getting ripped off every time they fill up at these stations, they would have been without clients a long time ago as well.
We’re not defending the gas station owners. We think too, that they ought to be fair and charge what the supermarkets and all the retailers do: 1.80 guilders for the greenback. Period.
But if they do not do this, do we need legislation to settle this matter? Is this not a form of micro-management that will probably cost a lot and yield little to nothing?
We’re not getting that consumers are extremely upset about this gas station rip offs. We’re not getting either that consumers are extremely upset about getting stiffed in supermarkets with rotten tomatoes and products that have gone well beyond their sell-by date.
Is this then, what consumer protection should be about? We’d argue that consumers are entitled to be ripped off – if they feel like going through such an experience. All the motorists that fill up at a SOL gas station (the name was mentioned by MP Frans Richardson) apparently enjoy being ripped off every time their car is thirsty. Otherwise they would take their business somewhere else.
There are no laws against stupidity, but our parliamentarians seem to think that consumers need to be protected against all evil schemes business people come up with. That would indeed be necessary if those consumers did not have an alternative. But this is not the case. Motorists could venture across the border and get a bang for their buck at some gas stations that take dollars on a 1:1 basis for their euro-prices. Truth be told, there are also rumors mind you rumors) that some of these gas stations fiddle with their measurements, so it is possible that consumers there get ripped off in a different way.
But anyway, as long as consumers remain meek and non-critical – be it at the pump or in a supermarket – the forces of the free market will keep the upper hand. In that free market, businesses will charge what the market will bear.
Consumers do not need the government in this sense to protect them, because they have a lot of power themselves. But as long as they choose not to use that power, they will remain victims. It’s a choice, but not one that we recommend.

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