Lights out on the incandescent bulb
Thanks to the 2007 energy bill, passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, Americans will no longer be able to purchase 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs at the beginning of 2014. These relatively cheap light bulbs will be phased out by year’s end in favor of pricier, energy efficient light bulbs.
Though supporters of the light bulb ban argue that energy efficient light bulbs will be cheaper in the long haul for energy consumers, the Heritage Foundation points out it’s just another example of government imposing its will on consumers by eliminating choice:
Proponents of government-imposed efficiency standards and regulations will say, “So what? There are still plenty of lighting options on the shelves at Home Depot; we’re saving families money; and we’re reducing harmful climate change emissions.”
The “so what” is that the federal government is taking decisions out of the hands of families and businesses, destroying jobs, and restricting consumer choice in the market. We all have a wide variety of preferences regarding light bulbs. It is not the role of the federal government to override those preferences with what it believes is in our best interest.
Families understand how energy costs impact their lives and make decisions accordingly. Energy efficiency has improved dramatically over the past six decades—long before any national energy efficiency mandates.
If families and firms are not buying the most energy-efficient appliance or technology, it is not that they are acting irrationally; they simply have budget constraints or other preferences such as comfort, convenience, and product quality. A family may know that buying an energy-efficient product will save them money in the long term, but they have to prioritize their short-term expenses. Those families operating from paycheck to paycheck may want to opt for a cheaper light bulb and more food instead of a more expensive light bulb and less food.
That last point is one worth considering. Amazon.com sells a 4-pack of GE 40-watt incandescent light bulbs for $4.10. Pretty cheap, though you can get a store brand at your local supermarket for less. But contrast that to the $17.77 you’ll pay for one of GE’s LED light bulbs.
The ban on incandescent light bulb was urged by special interests like Phillips Electronics. This company had already planned to phase out manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs by 2016. A government mandated phase out would ensure that they had no competition from companies that continued to produce cheaper, less energy efficient lighting options.
As an aside, it’s humorous that supporters of the light bulb ban argue that consumers will save money because, at the very same time, many of them are pushing energy policies that will increase prices for consumers and put people out of work.
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