How Many Legislators Does It Take to Change Our Light Bulbs?

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Christopher Montalbano recently directed LRC readers to Benjamin Franklin’s famous letter to The Journal of Paris in which he satirically suggested numerous remedies to the problem of daylight that was being "wasted" because not all people rose with the sun.

Franklin calculated how much wax was being inefficiently used to light homes in the evening when there was clearly enough sunlight to do the job if only the sun would rise at the same time as the people. He then proposed, among other things, to remedy this as follows: "let guards be placed in the shops of the wax and tallow chandlers, and no family be permitted to be supplied with more than one pound of candles per week."

Franklin recognized that the people might at first rebel against this and his other suggested intrusions into their lives, but he correctly reasoned that they would quickly adapt to the new laws. Furthermore, he hoped to assist in their acceptance of these laws by explaining to them that the proposed regulations were for their own good: "I say it is impossible that so sensible a people, under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known, that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing."

Now old Ben obviously made his proposals in jest, and it is clear that at least part of his motivation was to demonstrate the absurdity of the French government’s firewood rationing of the prior winter. It is doubtful that he really expected the government to be so concerned with the minutest details of its subjects’ lives that it would stoop to regulating the lighting of their homes. Franklin, wise though he was, could not possibly have anticipated that the very government in whose founding he was playing such a significant role would, 223 years later, attempt to do precisely that.

Nevertheless, that is exactly what is happening today. Not content to let a Left Coast Democrat outlaw incandescent light bulbs in California alone, two United States legislators have joined forces to ban those horrific globes throughout the land.

One of them is another Democrat, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Pryor, who is part of what he calls the "Lighting Efficiency Coalition," is pushing for "legislation that would mandate efficiency standards for light bulbs, effectively banning the production of traditional incandescent bulbs," reports CNSNews.com.

The other miscreant is a Republican Congressman from Illinois, Don Manzullo. Naturally, being a Republican, he’s in favor of the same thing as the Democrat, with just a slight difference: Manzullo wants legislation as a "last choice" to solve this great crisis of incandescent light bulb usage. In fact, he is so opposed to "forc[ing] legislation down people’s throats" on this issue that "what [he] would like to see done" is to come up with "legislation that would pass under unanimous consent of both houses" of Congress. Gee, I feel so much better knowing that this guy will only force a law down my throat if he can get all the ghouls in both chambers of horrors to agree on it! (Methinks he will have to ram this through on a day when Ron Paul is out on the campaign trail if he wants that.)

Now, of course, this is all being done for our own good, to save energy and money. Supposedly one of the new light bulbs that we will be compelled to purchase under this legislation will last for 6 years and save the purchaser $22 over its lifetime (or so says the manufacturer, who would never, ever exaggerate the alleged benefits of his product). Thus, in order to save a person possibly $3.67 a year per light bulb, the federal government is going to force companies that produce incandescent light bulbs either to go out of business or to switch over to producing fluorescent bulbs, meanwhile forcing all of us to purchase more expensive light bulbs that will result in a fairly negligible amount of cost savings.

In addition, since this will allegedly produce a great energy savings, we’ll also be doing our part to halt global warming, which is why Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, is wholeheartedly in favor of this legislation, saying that "[i]t takes a combination of courage and leadership from the state and federal government to make things happen." Gosh, I don’t know how we all manage to dress ourselves every morning without the government’s being there to "make things happen"!

Needless to say, this is all a violation of both our property rights and the U.S. Constitution, but since when has that ever mattered to Congress?

What does matter to Congress is that all the big guns in the lighting industry are behind this legislation, sending hefty contributions to politicians in exchange for politicians’ regulating their competitors out of business. The biggest promoter of the ban-the-bulb bill is Philips Electronics, which just so happens to be planning on phasing out production of incandescent bulbs by 2016. By forcing its competitors to do the same thing, Philips need not fear a loss of revenue to producers of cheaper incandescent bulbs.

"All human situations have their inconveniences," wrote Ben Franklin. "We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse." Perhaps if Franklin had heeded these words he would have opposed, rather than abetted, the creation of the federal government, the very monster that today puts into practice the suggestions Franklin made jokingly so long ago, to the benefit of a select few and the great detriment of the many.

It’s time to discard the dimbulbs in Congress.

Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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