Dim Wits

by Don Boudreaux on December 27, 2007

in Environment, Politics, Regulation

Being an economist, I’m no expert on the physical principles that separate incandescent light bulbs from fluorescent ones.  I do, however, know enough to realize that Congress understands these principles no better than I do and, more importantly — regardless of the knowledge possessed by any one or a group of members of Congress — any legislation forcing Americans to switch from using one type of bulb to another is inevitably the product of a horrid mix of interest-group politics with reckless symbolism designed to placate an electorate that increasingly believes that the sky is falling.

These two letters in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal are worth a read:

In the final paragraph of your editorial “Dim Bulbs,” (Dec. 21) you say that Congress has now dictated phasing out the incandescent bulb starting in 2012. Think of the hardships and costs that law will force on the public. Ponder your current incandescent bulb usages that do not readily adapt to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or others.

Incandescent bulbs can operate on low voltages such as three volts (flashlights) and 12 volts (autos) but compact CFLs cannot. No more flashlights for emergency or convenience use. When the bulb burns out in the ones you have, throw it away! How about no more power-on and indicator lights on your auto dashboard and your large and small (coffeemaker, iron) home appliances? Consider no more holiday lights such as on Christmas trees and outdoor decorations. What would you use for bicycle head and tail-lights? How about roadside distress and warning lights that plug into cigarette lighters or dashboard power sockets? Also mood lighting for parts of your home and some commercial establishments, since CFLs do not readily adapt to dimming. We could add to this list.

While some of the above uses are for convenience, others are for safety and life-saving reasons. Although decades in the future scientists may develop other sources of light, in the near term we do not have reasonable replacements for most of the above uses.

Roger A. Baumann, P.E.
Tucson, Ariz.

Reflecting upon the editorial “Dim Bulbs” I feel that a more illuminating title would have been “Dim Wits.”

Does Congress understand that their beloved compact fluorescent light bulbs are miniature toxic bundles of mercury just waiting to pollute your local land fill? Does the public understand that their conventional light dimmers do not work with these bulbs? Just read the warning labels on the package.

Charles G. Battig, M.D.
Charlottesville, Va.


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