Government decides what light bulbs you can buy

June 10, 2011 06:16

The bulb ban makes sense only one of two ways: either as an expression of cultural sanctimony, with a little technophile thrown in for added glamour, or as a roundabout way to transfer wealth from the general public to the few businesses with the know-how to produce the light bulbs consumers don’t really want to buy.

By Virginia Postrel at


If you want to know why so many Americans feel alienated from their government, you need only go to Target and check out the light bulb aisle.

It seems to be a dazzling profusion of choice. But, at least in California, where I live, this plenitude no longer includes what most shoppers want: an inexpensive, plain-vanilla 100-watt incandescent bulb. Selling them is now illegal here. The rest of the country has until the end of the year to stock up before a federal ban kicks in. (I have a stash in storage.) Over the next two years, most lower-wattage incandescents will also disappear.

So the activists offended by the public’s presumed wastefulness took a more direct approach. They joined forces with the big bulb producers, who had an interest in replacing low-margin commodities with high-margin specialty wares, and, with help from Congress and President George W. Bush, banned the bulbs people prefer.

“The entire discussion of ‘phaseout of least- efficient general service light bulbs’ has been at the industry’s initiative,” Kyle Pitsor, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association lobbyist told Bingaman’s committee in 2007 testimony. “This is not a case of manufacturers dragging their heels, but of leading the way. New standards-setting legislation is needed in order to further educate consumers on the benefits of energy-efficient products.”

Even if you care nothing about individual freedom or aesthetic pleasure, this ham-handed approach wouldn’t pass muster in a classroom at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. As pollution control, it’s horribly inefficient.


[Editor’s note: A three page hour long process of cleanup for broken compact fluorescent light bulbs mandated was issued by the EPA. These bulbs will be the only ones you can buy in 2012. GE spent millions lobbying to get this law passed then closed their light bulb factories in the US and will make CFLs in China.]

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