Some politicians in Washington don’t think you’re all that bright. They believe that you can’t make wise decisions in your day-to-day life, so they have taken it upon themselves to impose regulations to protect you from yourself. And there’s no better example than Congress’ ban on the incandescent light bulb, which is up for repeal in the House today.
The 2007 law is set to phase-out Thomas Edison’s brainchild bulbs in 2012 and replace them with costlier but more energy-efficient alternatives, the most popular being compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Since then, the impending restrictions have become a hallmark of Nanny State overreach, provoking backlash across the country. State representatives in South Carolina went so far as to try to circumvent Congress and push for the state to produce and use incandescents solely for its own use. And just last week, U.S. Representatives Joe Barton (R–TX), Michael Burgess (R–TX) and Marsha Blackburn (R–TN) introduced a bill in Congress to put an end to the bulb ban.
But the fact that some folks like consumer choice and prefer the soft yellow lighting of less expensive incandescents to the unnatural, office-like white light of pricey fluorescents confounds Nanny State politicians and regulators. Case in point: Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
Secretary Chu, who is an advocate of the ban, said of the potential repeal, “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” Confused by the bureaucratic doublespeak? Reaching for your copy of Orwell’s Guide to Big Brotherisms? You should be. Chu apparently believes that government regulations that restrict choice and force decisions upon you are great things for society because they pre-select the best choice imaginable, taking the guesswork out of being a free-thinking being. And they’re saving you money, to boot!
Chu isn’t the only one who thinks the light bulb ban is a great idea. Former Senator John Warner (R–VA) said, “We’ll be dropping backwards in America’s need to become more energy-efficient.” And then there’s Jim Presswood of the environmental activist Natural Resources Defense Council, who says, “Clearly, consumers, the economy and the environment will suffer if these standards are repealed.” The organization claims that the ban would save consumers $85 per year.
Well, that’s not entirely true. In California, utilities spent nearly $550 million to subsidize CFLs for consumers, but they didn’t get such great results. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that energy savings under the program were 73 percent less than expected.
That’s not to say cutting energy consumption isn’t a great thing—it certainly is. But guess what? It’s already happening, and not because of the Nanny State. Heritage’s Nicolas Loris explains:
When you take a look at America’s energy efficiency track record, it’s not too shabby—and it’s a result of innovation and cost reduction, not government mandates and regulations. Overall, energy consumption per real dollar of gross domestic product has dropped dramatically in the past 60 years, because we’ve innovated and become drastically more efficient in the process.
In short, America has achieved energy savings as a result of the free market—and the free market is fueled by consumer choice, the very thing big government regulators and politicians would like to take away. Fortunately, there’s another way.
“We should let the marketplace decide,” Barton said of the effort to repeal the light bulb ban. “We should let people decide if they want to buy a $6 light bulb or a 39 cent light bulb.” Maybe, soon enough, Congress will see the light and allow Americans to continue to have that choice.