Saturday, January 5, 2008

Thomas Edison gets the boot

The bizarre crusade against the venerable incandescent light bulb that has been sneaking its way across the globe has finally come to the United States -- quietly. Buried in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which President Bush signed in December, is the death knell for that familiar source of illumination that we all grew up with. By government decree, incandescent bulbs are to be no more starting in 2012.

The argument, as we've all been told, is that incandescent light bulbs are simply inefficient. We can all save energy in the long term if we simply suck it up and spend some money up-front to buy compact fluorescent lights. Global warming will thereby be reversed and Al Gore will bestow his blessings upon us.

Well, that's all well and good if you think that increasing efficiency and saving energy are good reasons to replace personal choice with government mandates. I suppose we'll all be junking our clothes dryers and jogging to work -- or else -- in the name of shaving a few percentage points off the nation's energy tab. Why not order folks to hang their clothes on the line and slip on a pair of Reeboks if it will improve efficiency?

For that matter, why not order people to switch to a raw diet to save the energy used to cook food, or even to create the equipment needed to cook food. Sure, that would mean some unwelcome adjustments for people, but we're talking about saving energy here -- personal choice is a secondary consideration.

The truth is that there's always an overruling purpose that can be invoked to trump freedom -- just this once, because the stakes are so high. It might be the environment, or health costs, social cohesion, public order, or your immortal soul. Just about everybody you know has a bug up his butt about some issue that's just too important to leave to people to decide for themselves. For the collective good, decisions must be made from the top down.

Lost in all of this crisis-driven autocracy is the consideration of freedom as a value in itself -- in fact, as the most important value. When we value freedom, we respect people as autonomous beings who are not subject to the whims of others. We recognize that, just because some segment of society is passionate about an issue, that doesn't mean that they have the right to force their preferences down the throats of others -- their personal choices don't take priority over those of other people just because they really, really care.

Which brings us to the practical concerns: Caring deeply about one way of addressing a perceived problem is not a substitute for allowing people to make a variety choices, and seeing which one(s) work out in the end. There may, after all, be better solutions; there may also be unintended consequences to the policies that the activists of the world want to make mandatory. For example, those CFL bulbs that our governments would force us to use as replacement for incandescent bulbs have now been fingered as potential causes of migraines and skin problems. They can also be somewhat difficult to dispose of.

So, when politicians act at the behest of activists to strip you of the choice to buy incandescent light bulbs, it's not just an annoyance that will have you spending more at the store and tossing out your dimmer switches and clip-on lampshades. The ban is also a sign that the powers-that-be don't respect your right to make choices for yourself, and that they're so convinced of their infallibility that they won't consider the possibility that they're wrong, and that the best solution might only be found in a free world in which innovations arise by competition among many different choices.

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Blogger Fred said...

What really gets me about this fluorescent light bulb thing is I've read incandescents are supposedly being developed that will be as, or more, efficient that fluorescents withing a few years, never mind fluorescent light bulbs being hazardous waste.

"Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." -William Pitt

January 6, 2008 7:09 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

The law actually allows for the (potential) new incandescents -- it doesn't explicitly ban the current bulbs; instead, it sets standards they can't meet. My objection is to the whole idea of issuing mandates that displace individual choice in the name of some higher good. That approach turns individual freedom into a luxury to be allowed only in unimportant matters.

January 6, 2008 8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 18, 2009 11:48 PM  

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