Monday, November 23, 2009

Lightbulb Corporatists!

I'm so impressed. I haven't read such a great explanation of how corporatism works in a mainstream publication in... Well... Maybe ever!

Last year, Brian M. Carney of the Wall Street Journal wrote this brilliant passage in his article "Bye Bye, Lightbulb" about the law banning incandescant lightbulbs in the US by 2014:
"Now, I'm sure that Philips and GE and Sylvania all want to make the world a better place and so on. But if they can do so while at the same time getting the government to force their customers to pay 10 times as much for their products, well . . . did they mention that they're making the world a better place?

The light bulb that costs 10 times as much does, it is true, last four times as long. But if you're a lightbulb maker, that's a pretty good trade.

If you're a consumer, you have to decide that for yourself. Except that, after the ban, you won't be allowed to any more. You just got traded up, forcibly, to a "better" product.

What's remarkable about this bit of market interference is that there is, basically, nothing wrong with the present-day, Edison-style lightbulb. It's not a lawn dart or a lead-painted toy or a magnet that will perforate your kid's intestines if he swallows it. It is what it is, and for most people in most applications, it was good enough. So the lightbulb makers and the environmentalists convinced Congress to ban them for no better reason than they believed everyone would be better off with something else."
What's so perfect about this is that it so clearly expresses how businesses - especially large, politically connected ones - and well-intentioned, but rather naive and generally economically illiterate "do gooders" unwittingly come together to destroy freedom and protect special interests.

On the one hand, you have a clear situation where the lightbulb manufacturers can use the law to force consumers to pay more for their product - plus they get to quit manufacturing such a diverse range of options with incandescent bulbs and only focus on the new lines of LEDs & CFLs. It's easy enough to see how this is appealing to companies like General Electric... But of course, even as corrupt as politicians are, it'd still be a pretty tough sell for the CEO of GE to walk into their offices and say; "Hey, we want you to write a law forcing our customers to buy only our more expensive products from now on!".

If word got out that the average American was paying 10x more than they used to for lightbulbs purely because some corrupt politicians were in bed with some big corporate executives, even our apathetic citizenry would be outraged... And so, in walks the naive and rather easily manipulated (but well-meaning!) environmentalist.

Perfect timing, as usual!

This environmentalist is afraid of everybody's carbon footprint contributing to global warming, and he knows that those old lightbulbs take more energy than the newfangled ones... So the GE exec brings the environmentalist "do-gooder" with him to meet the politician. And instead of saying what he really wants to say, he says that the old lightbulbs are bad for the environment.

No one likes that... So the new law is passed without even a minute of debate.

The environmental lobby counts it as a "win". The politician who gets credited on new legislation counts it as a "win"... And General Electric counts it as a gigantic, multi-billion dollar "WIN!".

Sadly... Guess who doesn't win? The average consumer who's now expending 10 times more of their income on something as stupid as lightbulbs!

So here is one real example - one of many hundreds of thousands - where you can watch the American economic system in action... It's not exactly a "free market" if the government (at the request of special interests) is denying consumers the legal right to choose something as basic as what kind of lightbulbs will appear in their houses, is it? I'd say not in the slightest! Special privileges are granted to the politically favorable positions or the politically connected individuals... And of course, there's all the useful idiots out there working to make the process as smooth as the infamous "baby's behind".

But in each little instance, the American citizenry loses more freedom, the already rich and powerful ensconce their positions, politicians ensure that they get re-elected again & again and wealth flows out of the hands of the average man like water through an uncovered drain.

It's rare that you get such a clear example - usually you have to dig a little bit to find out who's behind most economically restrictive legislation - but here it is, and the Wall Street Journal actually managed to write a decent article about it too!

See also the recent California ban on "energy inefficient" Televisions... Audioholics lampoons it nicely, here, or I would do a blog on that too. Here's a snippet:
"In short, the California legislators behind this idea are complete morons with no economic sense. I doubt this will even accomplish the goal of reducing energy consumption, since consumers will likely purchase what they want across state lines."
Read the rest though, you'll be glad* you did.

*Glad = Amused & annoyed.

UPDATE: I read a few blogs about this - one of which was at where the author writes:
"Here at EcoGeek we've been silently watching as CFLs and LEDs get better and better but fail to get the market penetration that they deserve. LEDs and CFLs save consumers money and time and give them excellent quality light without any drawbacks (save greater initial investment and [in the case of CFLs] a second-long warmup time.)

The question in my mind has always been: "WHY?!" Why, when I switched my whole house over to CFLs and LEDs more than a year ago, are consumers still buying more than 90% incandescent bulbs. Well, I officially don't care about the answers anymore, because 100 watt incandescents will be illegal in less than five years."

No drawbacks?? Apparently this "EcoGEEK" is unaware that the new types of lightbulbs (which I use in many of my lights and often prefer, by the way) are incapable of operating on dimmer switches and emit light that many people find painful & irritating. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who actually likes the light produced by fluorescent bulbs! I use them because I almost never turn on the light in my room anyway, and I just don't care enough about the quality of light to want to change the damn thing very often.

But that's exactly the point! I don't care about the quality of light emitted, and I had a few more dollars to spend up front - so I use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). But - and this is a pretty recurring theme of my blog - not everyone has the same wants or needs as I have!!! And they should damn well be allowed to choose whichever types of lights suit their individual wants, needs & budgets.

But here's this douchebag EcoGeek - who doesn't seem to grasp that there are tradeoffs to using CFL & LED lighting, including price - doing what every self-righteous jerk does when they get the chance: supporting limitations on everyone's liberty, "for their own good". And in the name of the "greater good" imposed on us all by a bunch of arrogant fools; General Electric, Sylvania & the other big players in the lighting game (though we can be sure not the smaller companies who can't afford to update their production facilities and will go out of business as a result of the new laws) will be seeing some giant piles of CA$H!

...Good lord, I'm REALLY sick & tired of watching idiots (especially people in environmentalist hissy fits) play right into the hands of big corporations.


Peter said...

The Taxation alternative
While still wrong, taxation is better than bans for all concerned.

Bans on TVs, light bulbs etc are not like a ban on dangerous lead paint!
They are simply bans to (supposedly) reduce electricity consumption.
TV set taxation based on energy efficiency - unlike bans - gives Government income on
the reduced sales, while consumers keep choice.
This also applies generally,
to cars, buildings, dishwashers, light bulbs etc,
where politicians instead keep trying to define what people can or can't use,
which unfortunately alienates many from more important environmental cooperation.

2 Billion ordinary light bulbs are sold annually in the USA, so just on them, significant tax income can be raised.
The tax money raised can be used to fund home energy/insulation
schemes, renewable projects etc that lower energy use and emissions
more than remaining product use raises them.
Energy efficient products can have any sales taxes lowered, making
them cheaper than today.
People are not just hit by taxes, they don't have to buy the higher
taxed products - and at least they can still buy them.

Of course, to avoid smuggling, bans (and to a lesser extent taxes) have to be applied nationwide or internationally.

Both bans and taxes can be seen as unjustified,
taxes just being a comparably better option, also for ban proponents.

Peter said...

Its even worse than you might think:
About the political and industrial cahoots behind the EU ban
(some of which applies also to the USA)

As you see reading onwards from there, I extensively cover why the ban is wrong

Perhaps also of interest is the following submission I made,
regarding the recent California TV ban, with much the same issues

Where there is a problem - deal with the problem

There is no energy shortage
(given renewable/nuclear development possibilities, with set emission limits)
and consumers - not politicians - pay for energy and how they wish to use it.
Notice: If there was an energy shortage, its price rise would
-- limit people using it anyway, and make renewable energy more attractive
-- make energy efficient products more attractive to buy.
No need to legislate for it.

It might sound great to
"Let everyone save energy and money by only allowing energy efficient products"

Energy efficiency is only one advantage a product can have,
and mandating for energy efficiency unfortunately means that product features have to be sacrificed in other areas
- or the products would be energy efficient already.

Products that use more energy can have performance,
appearance and construction advantages
Examples (using cars, buildings, dishwashers, TV sets, light bulbs etc):
For example, with current California TV legislation, big plasma TV screens have image contrast and other
advantages along with their large image sizes.
Conversely, using other examples:

Energy efficient lights may be slower to come on, bulkier, less bright, mercury containing.
Energy efficient buildings are often sealed buildings - not always what users want.
Energy efficient cars tend to be unsafe (light in build and weight) and slower
- and so on.

Also, imposing energy efficiency usually means increasing cost
or, as said, the products would be more energy efficient already.
There might therefore not be any total running cost savings either,
depending on how much such a cheaper product is used.

Other factors also contribute to a lack of savings:

If households use less energy as a result of the various bans,
then utility companies make less money,
and will just raise electricity prices to cover their costs.
So people don't save as much money as they thought.

energy efficiency in effect means cheaper energy,
so people just leave TV sets etc on more, using more energy, knowing that energy bills are lower,
as also shown by Scottish and Cambridge research

Either way, supposed energy - or money - savings aren't there.

Do electrical products give out any CO2 gas?
Emissions (for all else they contain too) can be dealt with directly via energy substitution or emission processing

The argument that
"dealing directly with energy and emissions takes too long and costs too much"
does not hold up:

- there is also the taxation alternative......