14 Jun 2011

Banning the Incandescent Bulb

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Big Brother is coming soon to take away your 100w incandescent light bulbs, and he’s planning to remove the rest of them by 2014. Virginia Postrel explains that Congress and George W. Bush did one of their crony capitalism deals at the expense of your freedom of choice (and your interior decor).

When compact fluorescent light bulbs were new, promoters sold them as a market-oriented, win-win proposition. They were like “lite” beer: the same great illumination, for a fraction of the electric bill.

But, as with beer, not everyone was convinced. Some consumers didn’t like the high out-of-pocket cost. (A basic CFL runs about three times the initial price of the equivalent incandescent.) Some didn’t like that bulbs could take a while to build up to full intensity.

Some didn’t like the occasional flicker. And a lot didn’t like the light. Its bluish cast lacks the warmth of traditional incandescents and gives skin tones a somewhat deathly tinge. “Fluorescent is just not attractive,” a resolute restaurant designer once told me. “I don’t care what they say.” …

By the end of last year, CFLs had managed to capture only 25 percent of the general-purpose light-bulb market — a decent business, sure, but hardly the radical transformation evangelists were going for. Most Americans, for most purposes, have stuck to traditional incandescents.

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.

It was an inside job. Neither ordinary consumers nor even organized interior designers had a say. Lawmakers buried the ban in the 300-plus pages of the 2007 energy bill, and very few talked about it in public. It was crony capitalism with a touch of green.

Of such deals are Tea Parties born.

Read the whole thing.

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