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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bye bye to the bulb?

Yesterday I ran across the article Might California ban the old bulb? on Yahoo! and am really ticked off about it. For those that aren't familiar with the story, let me briefly inform you. Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (Dem-CA) is attempting to ban traditional incandescent light bulbs in the state of California. Levine states that incandescent bulbs use more energy and produce less light than new florescent bulbs. The bill would prohibit the sell of incandescent bulbs by the year 2012.

Why does this bother me so much? Well, because I think it's just one more example of the growing influence of the government into not just our personal lives, but into the free market system itself. It may be true that incandescent bulbs are less efficient than florescent bulbs. It may be true that in the long run florescent bulbs cost less than incandescent bulbs. That does mean that the government has the right to tell consumers what they have to buy. Let me show you buy analogy what this amounts to.

No one will question the fact hat a Honda Civic gets better gas mileage than a Chevrolet Silverado. It costs less to operate and will probably outlast the Silverado. Over a span of 10 years, the Civic is better for the environment and costs less for the consumer. Does that mean the government should be able to tell consumers they can only buy Civics? Of course not, and no sane politician would make that claim (though I believe a few have come close to it). Why does a person have the right to choose to buy a Silverado? Because we have a free-market economy that lets people spend their money on products of their choosing. A Civic just won't do the job of a Silverado and many people just think that pickup trucks are more aesthetically pleasing than small sedans.

Back to the bulbs. Florescent bulbs simply don't do the job of incandescent ones in certain situations. Often times the light has a different 'feel' to it and some people genuinely don't like how florescent bulbs light certain areas. Some don't like the fact that it takes awhile for the bulb to 'heat up'. In our kitchen we have a florescent bulb over the sink and the first 5 minutes or so, everything looks yellow. Unless I'm doing dishes, I don't usually spend more than 5 minutes over the sink, and so, the whole time I'm there, everything looks yellow. I don't mind it, but mostly because I'm cheap and want to save money. That's my decision I get to make on my own. If it really bothered me, I want to be able to go buy an incandescent bulb and get 'true' light as soon as I flip the light switch. Some people just don't like the aesthetic of the spiral light and prefer an actual bulb. These are all good reasons why someone should be able to choose to continue buying incandescent bulbs. If they want to spend the extra money and replace bulbs more often, that's their choice.

Once the cost of purchasing florescent bulbs goes down, I'm sure more people will decide to buy them. We haven't replaced every bulb with florescent ones yet because it's pretty expensive to buy a bunch of florescent bulbs. True, once we do we shouldn't have to replace them again for 10 years or so, but that doesn't change the fact that we don't have the money to spend on replacing every bulb in our house. This leads to something I find quite interesting. At Assemblyman Levine's website, he states that electric companies give away florescent bulbs because it's cheaper for them to give them away than have their plants power incandescent bulbs. (If I lived in California I would probably take the electric company up on their offer.) I'm sure that those without a lot of money are really grateful for the chance to get these bulbs for free. But, does Levine really think that will continue once it's mandated that people buy florescent bulbs? What incentive would the electric companies have to give them away if they know as soon as the incandescent bulbs burn out, people will have to buy new florescent ones?

In sum, I think it's really dangerous for the government to continue making these types of inroads into the personal decisions of the American population. The free market depends on the power of people to choose where and on what they want to spend their money. If saving energy is so vital to the electric companies, let them decide how they want to convince people to switch over. If this law went into effect 3 or 4 years ago, I can guarantee that none of the electric companies would be giving away bulbs for free.

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