Who snatched the light bulbs?

by Walter Olson on June 17, 2012

If you’re annoyed at federal bossiness, don’t just blame environmentalist groups. A group called the National Electrical Manufacturers Association is keen on restricting your choice, and it’s located right in Rosslyn, Va. where it can do something about it. [Future of Capitalism]

{ 22 comments }

1 Swift 06.18.12 at 10:13 am

Yes, first it was the gubmint telling met hat I couldn’t burn gasoline THAT I PAID FOR in open vats in my OWN backyard, and now a private organization has taken a responsible step for the environment despite being close enough to Washington DC to be able to hire an army of lobbyists to influence legislation more to their own liking. It would sure be better if this were the mad max beyond thunderdome world that so many Catoists like to live in, apparently.

2 doug 06.18.12 at 11:23 am

Dear Swift. do you understand that trade organizations like NEMA work to restrict trade and keep costs higher? They are in it for themselves and not for the consumer, the average guy. In fact, your comment makes no sense at all.

3 Swift 06.18.12 at 12:32 pm

I certainly do understand this. However, I also understand that 90% of the electricity used in incandescent light bulbs is wasted as heat and, as such, is, these days, inexcusably wasteful and polluting for th vast majority of users (even if newer technology bulbs also have downsides, including high cost of manufacture and so forth).

I also understand that this is an issue that “market-based” solutions cannot and will not fix, since there is no way for the market to correctly bundle the value of the negative externalities associated with mass incandescent use into the cost of the cheap product. In fact, quite the opposite — pure market solutions will utterly ignore future generations’ needs and would result in the “somalia/max max” equilibrium.

As long as overlawyered accepts simpleminded shibboleths like “is keen on restricting your choice” and insists on publishing irresponsible, simpleminded, and selfish positions like “blaming” “environmentalist groups” for having the temerity to take short-term-unpopular but long-term socially responsible positions, then it is they who rightly get the lash. Let’s see some balanced, public policy analysis that considers the issues more broadly from this blog and then maybe the conversations here will improve.

That also said, trade organizations CAN be a vehicle for environmental improvement since they can often pre-empt the need for regulation by taking pre-emptive, consensus-based positive environmental steps. Sure, they might contrive it so they make a few bucks in the process and their consensus might not be as progressive as regulatory ones migth be, too but if the net effect is environmental gain and pre-empting the need for expensive regulation, then I view that as a MUCH better state of affairs than the ignorant lunacy of simply trying to pretend that the issue does not or should not exist.

4 Bob Neal 06.18.12 at 2:15 pm

What about the externalities built into CFLs other than cost to manufacture? Trade organizations are often rent seekers – and this one is a perfect example.

5 Bumper 06.18.12 at 3:46 pm

But of course you, the omnipotent Swift, know better than anyone else which simpleminded shibboleths best suits the world as it spins in it’s greased groove. You get your jollies from telling others what to do and how to live their live, as you follow your progressive, liberal, socialist, communist leaders lock step into the valley of the shadow of death. Face you don’t know anymore than anybody else what tomorrow will bring, all you know is how to chortle, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Face it you don’t know that there is an environmental necessity for throwing Edison to the side of the road, or that another Edison won’t invent a better solution tomorrow or ten years from now. All you know is you like what you hear, “throttle the masses” and expound it at every opportunity. When I hear that GE is laying off hundreds of high paid union workers to move the manufacturing overseas, I think, if it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

6 No Name Guy 06.18.12 at 5:00 pm

Swift: “However, I also understand that 90% of the electricity used in incandescent light bulbs is wasted as heat and, as such, is, these days, inexcusably wasteful and polluting….”

Yes….tell that to all those people (like, oh, I don’t know, me and most of my neighbors) that heat WITH ELECTRICITY how wasteful it is. Some of us turn on a few lamps in the other end of the house to take the chill out of those rooms, in lieu of turning up the heat. But hey, All Knowing Swift, in his arrogance knows whats right for me and my neighbors, so we should surrender our will now.

Swift, I beseech of thee in thy infinite wisdom of what is right for me and everyone else out there, oh what should I do? What should I eat? What car should I drive? SHOULD I drive? Whom should I marry? How many children is the right number to have? Where should I live? Since I exhale “carbon” and there is no cost imposed on me for this, should I kill myself to prevent this externality?

7 DEM 06.18.12 at 5:38 pm

To translate Swift:

“negative externalities” = everything I happen not to like

“socially responsible positions” = stuff I do happen to like

8 gitarcarver 06.18.12 at 5:49 pm

I also understand that this is an issue that “market-based” solutions cannot and will not fix, since there is no way for the market to correctly bundle the value of the negative externalities associated with mass incandescent use into the cost of the cheap product.

Right. After all, people never look at mileage estimates in cars because.. oh wait. Bad example. Okay, because people never look at the energy use certificates on appliances because… Okay. Another bad example.

Contrary to your assertion, this is case where the market can, will and does “fix.” If non-incandescent bulb manufacturers are guaranteed more profit due to the lack of competition and lack of consumer choice, consumers – even those of future – are not served.

9 David Schwartz 06.18.12 at 10:26 pm

“I also understand that this is an issue that “market-based” solutions cannot and will not fix, since there is no way for the market to correctly bundle the value of the negative externalities associated with mass incandescent use into the cost of the cheap product. ”

That’s a silly straw man. No sane person would advocate that even if it was possible.If there are negative externalities associated with use of electricity, the sane thing to do is bundle them into the cost of electricity.

10 Swift 06.19.12 at 2:05 am

So, to summarize:

Bumper says I am a communist. My employees might disagree.

No Name Guy believes it an efficient way to heat his house using the electricity from lightbulbs. Presumably you take them out in the summer? Have you even for once looked at the costs/environmental impact of this? If you’re going to be environmentally ignorant, why not just burn open vats of gasoline?

gitarcarver doesn’t know what an externality is and chooses to utterly discount environmental concerns “just because.”

David Schwartz calls the kettle black by presenting a ridiculous strawman of his own. Electricity is a necessary resource, just like, for the moment, gasoline for vehicles is. Nobody proposes to increase the cost of gasoline in to prevent people from burning it in open vats in their backyard. Rather, we sensibly ban the burning of gasoline in open vats in your back yard even though you might own the gasoline, the match, and the backyard and even though the burning of the gasoline might have some positive benefits (such as creating heat or light and might even be the cheapest alternative in terms of creating heat or light in your backyard) because environmentally it’s the right thing to do.

The lack of basic environmental and economic understanding of the previous four posters is truly underwhelming and indicative of the deep, deep ignorance and, I mean this only in the technical sense and not in the pejorative sense, sociopathology of far too Americans.

Do a youtube search for “David Mitchell deals with Climate Change.” While some of the English humor is irrelevant and/or not funny, the bottom line is spot on and maybe that’s the level that some of you here apparently need to be pitched to.

11 DEM 06.19.12 at 9:45 am

” also understand that this is an issue that “market-based” solutions cannot and will not fix, since there is no way for the market to correctly bundle the value of the negative externalities associated with mass incandescent use into the cost of the cheap product.”

_____________________________

Nice scare quotes around “market-based.” I also see that you’ve slipped “correctly” into your lament about the supposed market failure, which of course means that the market will not price incandescents according to your subjective evaluation of the supposed externality, and hence will always fail in the World According to Swift. Not that any such externality exists anyway, other than in your own mind and as a mere excuse to justify the sort of endlessly intrusive government you’ve no doubt always wanted. But I am sure you don’t want to tell us how to live our lives — it’s just that you need to do it for our own good. It is indeed a heavy burden that you must bear.

12 Swift 06.19.12 at 10:21 am

DEM, if you claim that no such externality exists, then you simply do not understand what the term “externality” means. It’s really that simple. Your baseless and insulting claims that my goal is to have an “endlessly intrusive government” have no purchase or validity.

I wish the environment were not an issue. It brings me no joy to be the bearer of the reality that it is. And it is. And you can either stick your head in the sand and claim, lamely, as you have that negative externalities do not exist when in this exceptionally obvious case they do, or you can man up, accept your responsibilities to current and future generations, and help come to a sustainable solution.

Opponents of mine in these comments have or might look in this issue in one of two ways.

One is to claim that, while there is no silver bullet solution yet, takesn as a whole, the use of incandescent ligthbulbs does not have strong, direct negative environmental consequences compared to the use of more technologically advance and advancing forms of lighting. This claim is scientifically and empirically bankrupt. It is “light bulb creationism and flat-earthism” rolled into one.

The other is to claim that individuals have no responsibility to current or future generations in this manner. That is, simply put, sociopathology – a term I use “clinically” and without any intent as a “personal insult”–that simply is the textbook definition of sociopathology.

I have ZERO desire for government to be in anybody’s lives—except where it is needed in order to be the representative at the table for those for whom market transactions otherwise do not consider. And, as this thread has shown and continues to show through the delusional words of those who have responded to me, it still is very much needed.

13 No Name Guy 06.19.12 at 12:41 pm

Swift:

Talk about straw men and ignorance. Your own words earlier in this thread talk about how little of the electricity goes into photons (light) and how much into heat with traditional bulbs. Sounds like a perfect 60 to 100 watt heater to me that also brightens the room far more that a non light producing space heater. Who is the ignorant one again? Don’t let those pesky facts get in the way of your ideology….no strike that, religion.

Oh, and since I live in a northern area (western Washington to be specific) this time of year it’s light out until ~9:30, so I really don’t use lights all that much in Summer. And since it’s not particularly warm here either, even in summer, most houses here don’t have A/C either, so it’s not like you’re paying to extract the heat from the few lights that are needed. So your summer thing is a non issue in my case and for most folks here (yet another hole in your one size fits all position of CFL’s uber Alles).

In addition, the cost of electricity is small for lighting. The CFL’s I have in some of my lights (yes, I DO use them, WHERE IT MAKES SENSE – like in my exterior lights that are on for 16-17 hours / day in winter, 7 hours a day in summer) use about 15 watts.

The incandescent bulbs that were substituted use 60. Let’s do the math: At 45 watts delta consumption, that would take about 22 hours to make one kilowatt hour, which around these parts costs about 8 cents at summer rates. So at that rate, I’d save about…..1 cent a day per bulb on my interior lighting – the ones where I keep traditional bulbs. Over a year, that’s about $3.65 (I had to do this for you since you appear unable to do the math – demonstrating the ignorance you accuse other posters in this thread of having).

Given the cost delta between a CFL and traditional bulb and the time value of money, it simply doesn’t pencil out for most interior lighting. Since cost of ownership (both capital cost to acquire the bulb plus lifetime energy consumption) includes the consumption of ALL resources in the production of a good or service, IN FACT, the traditional bulb is the more environmentally friendly choice in many circumstances, especially when the time value of money and opportunity cost effects are taken into consideration. On the latter, instead of wasting a couple hundred on CFL’s for every light fixture in the house, I’ve put the limited money I have available into some rolls of fiberglass insulation for the attic instead – which has a far higher payoff and over all reduces my energy consumption far more than CFL’s would.

Oh, and the electricity around here is practically 100% renewable hydro.

14 DEM 06.19.12 at 2:10 pm

I know perfectly well what an externality is. I also know that your claim in this instance is based on the “consensus” that AGW exists and is being caused in part by incandescents. You may choose to take the current computer-model driven consensus as gospel; I don’t. If AGW theory is wrong — and it has never been proven to be true, regardless of the results of the straw poll by which you now want to form public policy — there is no externality at all. I understand that you will reject this, as the very purpose of AGW is the turn everything into an “externality,” providing you with the pretense of a market-based rationale for regulating everything on earth. To wit, under your view, your hot water heater, home heating, kitchen cooktop, oven, refrigerator, toilet, ceiling height, square footage of your home, your choices of food, etc., are all producing externalities as we speak. Where do I get my check for the “harm” you are causing to me?

You’ll also excuse me for not believing for one second that you “have ZERO desire for government to be in anybody’s lives,” as you are here claiming that a ban on burning open vats of gasoline fully justifies the ban on incandescent light bulbs, of all things. Lightbulbs! The lighting in my den isn’t safe from your desire to regulate and control; what is?

15 Squirrels 06.19.12 at 4:36 pm

If there are negative externalities associated with use of electricity, the sane thing to do is bundle them into the cost of electricity.

This. On a similar note, GM’s CEO(!) suggested last year that the real remedy to gas guzzlers would be to hike fuel taxes which would be less market distorting than efficiency standards.

16 gitarcarver 06.19.12 at 11:12 pm

gitarcarver doesn’t know what an externality is and chooses to utterly discount environmental concerns “just because.”

Thank you for not addressing the point and instead choosing to make a comment that is not relevant. I appreciate your contribution to the thread.

17 Swift 06.20.12 at 3:07 am

No name guy: it is quite telling that your calculations deal pretty much exclusively with the cost YOU have to pay. The point is that this is irrelevant. The net environmental impact is what matters, or, at least, is the party that is not considered here. Your claim based on where you live and your very particular circumstances is also likewise irrelevant. It’s also possible that in some cases that not wearing a seat belt would have saved a life where wearing one would have killed the driver, but this doesn’t mean it’s bad public policy to insist on the wearing of seat belts given the high public costs associated with auto fatalities that are often not compensated by the driver.

gitar: I did not see anything resembling a point in your post other than “gitar doesnt know what an eternality is.”

DEM: should there be no consideration for the otherwise uncompensated environmental impact on future generations? should I be free to burn gasoline that I paid for in open vats? how, exactly, do you draw the line, if at all? I’d like whatever answer you care to give to come up with a general solution that addresses both light bulbs and burning vats of gasoline in your backyard, and without resorting to ridiculous nonsense like claiming that “I have a desire to regulate everything.”

Squirrels: 1. you’re arguing for more tax. 2. however, even then, your argument fails. should my ability to burn gasoline in open vats in my backyard be limited only by the cost of gasoline? that is completely impractical and unworkable.

18 David Schwartz 06.20.12 at 3:33 am

“Electricity is a necessary resource, just like, for the moment, gasoline for vehicles is. Nobody proposes to increase the cost of gasoline in to prevent people from burning it in open vats in their backyard.”

This just points out where the comparison is broken. Burning gasoline in an open vat creates fire hazards, produces different emissions from using gasoline in a vehicle, and so on.

If the only issue were the amount of gas used, it would be very silly to prohibit “bad” uses of gasoline. Rather, the right thing to do would be to increase the cost of gasoline to include the negative externalities.

Here, the only issue is the amount of electricity used. So prohibiting the “inefficient” use is silly beyond the cost of its inefficiency serves only punitive purposes.

19 DEM 06.20.12 at 10:32 am

Swift, as I said before, the ban on burning open vats of gas is grounded in considerations of public safety. I don’t oppose that. If I torch a vat of gas, I risk explosion and an uncontrollable fire. And the threat is not one of common actions of many, but arises immediately from my own activity if I choose to set fire to the gas.

If I switch on an incandescent, on the other hand, there is no appreciable safety risk. The harm of which you speak is as-yet theoretical and does not arise in any meaningful respect from my own use of the light bulb. The alleged harm arises only if AGW is real (quite doubtful in my opinion), materially harmful (also doubtful even if real), and if one aggregates the common actions of millions of individuals acting alone and for their own purposes. (Even then, the cumulative, relative effect of lightbulbs on AGW sould strike me as minimial.) I therefore feel quite secure in drawing the line at the light bulb ban. That you claim to see no difference, from a regulatory perspective, between the open vat of gasoline and the light bulb ban is why it seems to me there is no end to the intrusions on individual choice that you would support.

20 No Name Guy 06.20.12 at 11:30 am

Swift, in typical authoritarian attitude, you have a one size fits all mentality that FORCES a sub optimal solution. Local circumstances matter. To deny they do is to deny reality. The needs / optimal solutions to residential lighting in Nome Alaska are different from Seattle are different from San Diego are different from Phoenix are different from Bismark are different from Indianapolis are different from NYC are different from Tampa. That’s why non thinking, one size fits all method regulation emanating from the swamp of DC is always a failure. It forces sub optimal solutions on large sub sets of the population.

Swift, I can tell you’re not an engineer who needs to deal with physical reality on a day to day basis since you propose a one size fits all METHOD (CFLs) to an alleged problem. No engineer worth his salt would ever propose to ALWAYS use the same method to solve unique, local problems. They’d tailor the solution to the circumstances. Did that ever occur to you?

And David touches on your whole externality thing – if in fact (which IMO is not the case) the price of electricity doesn’t reflect all the costs associated with it, then the LEAST intrusive method of taking that into account is to levy a tax on each KWH of electricity to bring it up to it’s allegedly “true” cost and let the individual deal with this supposed “true” cost in the way that is optimal for their circumstances.

Oh, and on the whole gas thing: Its my gas. I’ll do with it as I see fit up to the point of interfering with another persons private property rights (see, my neighbor hasn’t given me permission to pour it all over their lawn…that’s the thing about PRIVATE property, my neighbor owns and controls his so I can’t go do what I want on it). If I want to “waste” it using it inefficiently (say by doing dragster runs all day at the local track, or having 50 Coleman lanterns going in the back yard all day long) WHO THE HECK are you to tell me what to do with MY gas that I paid for with MY money? I guess I’m going to come on over to your house, kick down the door with my jack booted thug squad and start bossing you around about how, IMO, you’re wasting this or wasting that.

Don’t like the idea of jack booted thugs kicking down your door and bossing you around Swift? Do on to others as you’d have others do on to you…..then again, some one with your mind set is OK with thug squads, so long as it’s THEIR jack booted thug squad doing the bossing. Of course, they’ll squeal like a stuck pig if it’s the other guy’s jack booted thug squad goring their sacred cow. I prefer a nation with no jack booted thug squads…..but that’s the difference between an zealot like you Swift and me. You’re willing to resort to violence, I’m not. I pity a person like you.

21 Squirrels 06.20.12 at 12:01 pm

Squirrels: 1. you’re arguing for more tax. 2. however, even then, your argument fails. should my ability to burn gasoline in open vats in my backyard be limited only by the cost of gasoline? that is completely impractical and unworkable.

Seeing as “using too much electricity because it creates negative externalities” is the reason for a bulb ban, a tax on electricity is the more direct solution. In response to part 2, as #18 points out, burning an open vat of gas presents unique safety hazards, etc. which electricity use does not. Overconsumption of gas is the least of worries in that situation.

The point is that expending all this energy on trying to ban lightbulbs is treating a single symptom rather than the cause (electricity prices that don’t account for the negative externalities of generation). This is inefficient because it’s piecemeal, easily circumvented, and penalizes those who have a legitimate (for whatever reason) preference for incandescent bulbs.

22 Amy Alkon 06.21.12 at 3:57 am

also understand that 90% of the electricity used in incandescent light bulbs is wasted as heat and, as such, is, these days, inexcusably wasteful

So, “Swift,” you get to decide what is and isn’t “inexcusably wasteful” in my life? I’m a newspaper columnist and author, and I do most of my writing at home. It is very depressing to write in the light of CFLs, and what is “inexcusably wasteful” to me is lying in bed and not wanting to get out, which is how depressed people often behave.

As CLF absurdities go, my landlord installed a CFL as an overhead light and if I want light without waiting five minutes or so, I need to use a flashlight until it comes on fully. Genius!

Although I bought and am hoarding 120 incandescents on the Internet, “wasteful” girl that I am, I drive a Honda Insight (2004), which has a little over 20,000 miles on it. I spent $93 on gas last year. All last year. You?

The thing is, it’s sometimes right for me to make the most energy-saving choice, and sometimes, other things matter. I think, as a grown adult, I should be able to make those choices for myself.

P.S. I already have a mommy, thanks, and unless you have red hair and are named Lorraine, I’m pretty sure it’s not you.

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