The free market operates by offering incentives to consumers to change their behavior. Cutting prices, advertising and developing new products redirect the public’s impulses in a natural, painless way. The government, on the other hand, has no passion or patience for this sort of thing.
Words like “must,” “shall,” and “mandate” pepper the texts of laws like Obamacare. The incandescent light-bulb ban, which goes into effect in March, is another case in point. The bulbs aren’t officially banned, just artificially obsolete. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress mandated that light bulbs have 25 percent greater efficiency, phased in starting in 2012 and continuing until 2014. The law also includes a slew of mandates on appliances and energy use in federal buildings.
A 310-page masterpiece of micromanagement, the law was promoted heavily by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, and signed by President George W. Bush. The bill was driven by a consortium of manufacturers that stand to profit from forcing people to buy more expensive bulbs and fixtures, plus the environmental lobby, which likes to pretend government regulations can lower the planet’s temperature.
Alarmed at the prospect of being forced by law to purchase expensive, squiggly compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs instead of cheap, warm incandescent bulbs, Americans complained loudly. In the face of a popular revolt, Congress pushed the start date back to October 2012 and defunded enforcement of efficiency standards as part of the 2012 and 2013 appropriations bills.
However, seeing the writing on the wall, manufacturers began phasing out incandescents. The last major General Electric factory that made them closed in Winchester, Va., in September 2010, putting 200 people out of work. One hundred-watt bulbs are already gone in some stores.