Get Out the Shovel

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Get Out the Shovel

By Don Longo, Convenience Store News - 11/19/2007
I just finished reading "Myths, Lies, And Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel -- Why Everything You Know Is Wrong." That's the long-winded title of a book by ABC's "20/20" news correspondent John Stossel, which I found wonderfully entertaining, and in most instances, right on the money. With the holiday season fast approaching, I heartily recommend "Myths" as a great gift for a friend or a relative.

I've always been attracted to theories and explanations that challenge popular thinking. Perhaps, as a journalist, I've been trained to be cynical, but I am suspicious of most pat "truths," usually declared by so-called "experts" who often act like they are intellectually or morally superior to common folk, or they have some financial stake in making their somber pronouncements and dire warnings.

Stossel, like he does on his popular show, debunks the conventional wisdom propagated by a clueless media, monster government, a union-dominated educational system, personal-injury lawyers gone wild and consumer conmen. He provides evidence that public schools are not underfunded, bottled water is no more pure than New York City tap water, and global warming is greatly exaggerated.

He even takes on some popular notions attached to the convenience and petroleum retailing industry, such as:

Myth: Using your cell phone at the gas pump could cause an explosion. (Any static electricity, spark-producing activity is dangerous near gas vapors -- but there is no evidence that cell phones are any more hazardous than "rubbing your rear end against a cloth seat on a dry winter day.")

Myth: Gas prices are going through the roof. (Adjusting for inflation, gasoline at the time the book was published last year was 67 cents a gallon cheaper than it was in 1922, and 69 cents cheaper than in 1981.)

Myth: We are running out of oil fast.("... doomsayers would have us believe we are burning oil at an 'unsustainable' rate" and propose more government spending "to fund independent energy sources." But, Stossel points out that if the price of oil stays high, "lots of entrepreneurs will scramble to find ways to supply cheaper energy. They'll come up with alternative energy sources or better ways to suck oil out of the ground ... but not running out of oil is not a very interesting story.")

Myth: Price "gouging" is evil. (Price controls and anti-gouging laws actually discourage a store owner from risking his life to keep his store open in a disaster. "If the free market is allowed to work its magic, the opportunity to profit will bring so many new suppliers to the disaster site that prices will quickly return to predisaster levels. Or even lower.")

Myth: A higher minimum wage helps workers. ("A higher minimum wage helps some workers, but hurts more," writes Stossel, pointing out there is a negative impact on "unseen victims" when a company closes because it cannot afford to pay the higher wages, or a company doesn't expand, or a company never even opens.)

Here's one myth Stossel doesn't mention: I've always suspected that the media overplays how dangerous it is to work or shop in a c-store. The actual number of homicides at c-stores was down 17 percent last year to 35, according to government statistics reported by Convenience Store News last month. That's fewer than the number of homicides at eating/drinking establishments, which were up 29 percent to 88 in 2006. I know working in a c-store is not an easy job, but it certainly is not as dangerous as commercial fishing or coal mining.

Perhaps, you have some of your own pet peeves regarding common misperceptions about your business that you'd like to see debunked. Send me your myths about the c-store business. I'd be happy to publish the best responses. Let's shovel through the garbage and get to the truth together.

For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editor-in-Chief, at (646) 654-7489 or [email protected]