Jan. 1 marked the full implementation of the federal government’s ban on traditional incandescent light bulbs, as 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs were phased out. Congressional Republicans made one last-gasp attempt to fight the ban by inserting a provision into the omnibus spending bill preventing the Department of Energy from enforcing the ban, though they did not overturn the ban and manufacturers have resigned to it, no longer making the banned bulbs.
The bulb ban was included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was passed with the help of Republican votes and signed into law by President George W. Bush. It was not just environmentalists who pushed for the prohibition. The provision also enjoyed strong support from manufacturers, who stood to benefit from the higher profit margins of the remaining higher-cost, energy-efficient bulbs.
As some Republican lawmakers learned, many people don’t like being told how to live their lives. During a failed attempt by some Republicans to repeal the ban in 2011, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who had co-sponsored the EISA, issued a mea culpa: “The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets — not governments — should be driving technological advancements.” Even in the face of inevitability, a January 2014 Rasmussen poll shows that 60 percent still oppose the ban, and just 25 percent support it.
Whether the issue is cost, a preference for the light cast by incandescent versus energy-efficient bulbs, the inability to dim some compact fluorescent light or light-emitting diode bulbs, concerns over the potentially-harmful mercury contained in CFL bulbs or simply resistance to government paternalism, many consumers have rendered a verdict in favor of the traditional incandescent bulbs.
Not that this would have always remained the case. If CFL, LED or other types of light bulbs not yet invented truly are superior, consumers will choose to use them. Instead, people have been forced to stockpile their preferred incandescent bulbs.
The light-bulb ban may not have eviscerated freedom as we know it, but it is symptomatic of the heavy-handed approach used by both major political parties to dictate how we live our lives and what choices we are allowed to make.
Moreover, it raises a frightening question: If politicians and bureaucrats are willing to revoke so trivial a freedom, which aspects of our lives and what choices that we take for granted today remain beyond the reach of their dictates?