In 1879, Thomas Edison developed the incandescent light bulb with a small carbonized filament and a vacuum inside a globe.
An electric lighting system was born–as convenient, safe and economical of a choice for consumers in his day as it would be for the next 100 years, and now beyond that thanks to a vote in the House of Representatives today.
“A provision in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that requires traditional incandescent light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient beginning in 2012,” failed in the House of Representatives earlier this week. With 233 members of Congress voting in favor, 193 against and one voting present, the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act failed to pass under the necessary suspended rules requiring a two-thirds majority.
However, this morning an amendment offered by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) defunding the Energy Department’s new energy-efficient standards easily passed by a voice vote.
Consumers now might not be met with a 2012 deadline before incandescent light bulbs completely disappear from store shelves altogether.
Citizens and some members of Congress are up in arms over this government intervention telling consumers what light bulbs can and cannot be used in a home. The Energy Act of 2007 did not outrightly ban incandescent light bulbs, but by requiring a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency, the bulbs effectively go away.
This begs the question, was government intervention into the light bulb industry necessary?
What if the government had not intervened in setting this mandate? Wouldn’t consumers naturally want a more energy-efficient, cost-cutting source of light?
If today’s Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) are truly beneficial products, consumer demand will take over and no mandate would be necessary to get people to purchase and use them.
When the government meddles in the free market and pushes a product, essentially picking winners and losers, the results often don’t go as planned.
For example, Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) cites a story about a small town in Iowa where the government’s hope of energy efficiency backfired. The Great Light Bulb Exchange took place in the 1980s in Traer, Iowa, where about half the town traded in their incandescent lights for free florescent lights. The result: electricity consumption rose by about 8 percent. Since the cost of electricity went down due to a more energy-efficient bulb, demand increased as people used their light bulbs more frequently.
If the government were to step away and let consumers choose what light bulb they’d prefer, the new energy-efficient bulbs could become highly popular all on their own.
Americans are smart. They want products that will best benefit them.
In fact, a new poll suggests 58 percent of respondents oppose banning the incandescent light bulb when asked by Pulse Opinion Research. The poll question specifically read, “While banning the sale of traditional light bulbs, a new law will allow only more expensive light bulbs that are expected to last longer and be more energy efficient. Should the sale of traditional light bulbs be banned?” Even 44 percent of Democrats did not favor the phasing out of the incandescent light bulbs.
Furthermore, 40 percent of respondents indicated that they would be less likely to vote for a politician that supported the light bulb ban.
When the government jumps the demand curve it is often met with resentment, failed policies and negative results.
As Thomas Edison worked on his invention by candlelight, he didn’t need the government to stand by and demand that in five years everyone must buy one of his light bulbs–people did it on their own because the light bulb was safe, useful and more efficient.
Hopefully that pattern will continue.