Trump Mocks Gov't Lightbulb Mandates, His Administration DROPS Them

P. Gardner Goldsmith | September 17, 2019


I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst.

So said Donald Trump at a GOP gathering in Baltimore last week.

Trump was referring to the so-called “energy efficient” bulbs that his Administration has graciously “allowed” Americans to avoid by lifting a set of “energy efficiency regulations” on bulbs that would have gone into effect in January.

And Trump’s context shows that his statement isn’t mere frivolity. His larger point focused on the onerous and one-way mandates the Obama Administration would have imposed, and how such compulsion not only restricted consumer choice, it did not take into consideration the fact that bulb markers and users had much larger “efficiency” calculations than the single “energy used in burning” standard imposed on them by Bush and Obama.

People said, ‘What’s with the lightbulb?’ I said, ‘here’s the story,’ And I looked at it. The bulb that we’re being forced to use, number one to me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst.

Trump added:

But, number two, it’s many times more expensive than that old incandescent bulb that worked very well. And, very importantly, I don’t know if you know this, they have warnings. If it breaks, it’s considered a hazardous waste site. And read what they say, ‘If it breaks, bring it to your local whatever. Have it wrapped. Have it this.’ What are we doing? What are we doing?

Which might be the first time any US political official has even hinted at the insanity of politicians and bureaucrats in the so-called “Land of the Free” telling people what light bulbs they can manufacture, sell, buy, and use.

Barack Obama and George W. Bush certainly never paid the citizens such respect in that realm.

The problem stems from the very existence of federal regulations on what companies produce, but, specifically, the light bulb fiasco began in 2007, when the glorious gang in DC passed, and George W. Bush signed, a law that as Jacob Sollum wrote for Reason in 2011, made:

…conventional 100-watt bulbs illegal. By 2014 all traditional bulbs (except for a few specialized uses) will be abolished, to be replaced by more efficient alternatives, mainly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

And, as Sollum noted at the time, CFLs cost six-times as much as incandescent bulbs, contain mercury, an element that can lead to sickness and death in most mammals, reptiles, insects, and fish, see expensive and resource-wasting environmental controls for broken or discarded bulbs, sees their “long life” cut down greatly if they’re turned on and off frequently, take longer than incandescent bulbs to achieve max brightness, emit a harsh whine when attached to dimmers, and, as human experience has shown, can trigger headaches in many people.

But Bush and his pals were “bipartisan”. They were offering statutory “hugs” to their eco-fascist brethren and showing that they were “concerned” about “carbon emissions” from people using “too much” electricity – so they just had to go after one of the most important tools in human history, something invented in 1879, and tell people what kind of darned light bulbs they could use.

Heck, the “carbon-saving” bulb nonsense was a world-wide sensation among the political elites. In 2009, the wonderful European Union imposed a “ban” on the sale of 100-watt incandescent bulbs, threatening up to the equivalent of $70,000 in fines, and, over the next few years, write the Reason staff, bans on lower-wattage incandescents would be imposed.

In 2011, the 1,200 page spending bill passed by Congress delayed implementation of the Bush-era mandate for a year, but, by that time, US bulb manufacturers had already invested in changing their design, production, and sales forces to conform with the expected government compulsion. In 2010, General Electric itself stopped making 100-watt incandescent bulbs in the US.

It turned out that the regs were further delayed, and would have kicked-in as of January of this year, but Trump stopped the jump off the environmental cliff.

Curiously, the change by the Trump Administration reveals what appears to be a subtle tone of underhandedness on the part of the previous occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Congress, and their bureaucratic acolytes. In order to pave the way for the cessation of light-bulb hostilities, the Trump Administration actually allowed the federal “Energy Department” (how that fits into any originalist concept of the Constitution is unfathomable)  to look at the mandate’s costs. As Gregory Wallace notes:

Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the law requires light bulb regulations ‘only when doing so would be economically justified,’ and that the Obama administration regulations do not meet that standard. The rule's text, posted to the Federal Register website on Wednesday, says the law outlining what the department can study changed in 2017.

And the study revealed federal mandates would impose massive costs on consumers:

The Obama-era rules ‘would increase the price ... by almost 300%, leaving the cost burden on American consumers and businesses,’ Hynes said. ‘This action will ensure that the choice of how to light homes and businesses is left to the American people, not the federal government.’

But free people not only don’t need to be compelled to pay for a tax-funded study to tell them what’s best for them (talk about an absurd notion), in order for supply and demand to lead people to what is most efficient for them and their personally determined needs, freedom is essential. No mandate. No “government study”, as nice as it is that Trump’s team ended up agreeing that the mandates were harmful to our savings.

All that is needed is freedom of choice, something that any amount of government inhibits to some degree.

Many Americans who are either ignorant of this necessary market principle for resource allocation and conservation based on price, or who openly and arrogantly flout it by mandating to others what they believe is “best” for all, still might argue that government regulations, or the threat of them,“kick-off” inventions and developments we wouldn’t have seen if the market had been “left to its own devices”.

But this is not only arrogant, it’s closed-minded, falling into the trap of “what is seen and note seen” as 19th Century economist Frederic Bastiat explained.

The key is price. Until something currently supplying what most consumers want at a price they want rises in price to such a point that an alternative becomes economically viable (and that includes physical resources, manufacturing costs, transport, energy use, and cost of disposal – itself often hidden because governments, rather than markets, handle most trash systems), people switching earlier than is needed is a net loss for the consumers, and, hence, a net loss for living standards. This is real money. These are real missed opportunities to spend that money on new inventions in other fields.

People could work on creating robots to pick strawberries, as I used to when I was kid. But the cost of getting to such a technological level is prohibitive compared to the return right now.

Some might argue that, because of the threatened bulb mandates, Americans now have the LED (light-emitting diode) bulb, which saw three of its developers receive the Noble Prize for Physics in 2014. But the LED did not arise because of mandates. It arose because its developers were interested in creating a more efficient, cost-effective, bulb, and they produced something that, though more expensive than the incandescent bulb, provides nearly 20 times the lumens for electricity input.

The LED is a product of market competition, not government mandate, and it’s simply another product now offered to allow consumers to decide what best fits their needs.

Thankfully, Donald Trump realized that it’s not up to the government to decide what kinds of bulbs we need.

If only that idea were applied to the sundry other things the government does to prevent us making decisions for our own lives…