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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dim Bulbs Indeed

by S.M. Oliva, Mises Economics Blog

It?s hard to be insulting and patronizing to individuals on a daily basis, yet somehow King Jon and his merry band of thieves persevere:

The Federal Trade Commission is making two new resources available to consumers to help them shop for light bulbs in a market with increasingly more efficient options, including compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and new incandescent halogen bulbs. Beginning in 2012, consumers will see new packaging and labeling on most household bulbs that will help them save money by selecting the most efficient bulbs that fit their lighting needs.
At?, a?video and?flyer explain how understanding lumens and the new Lighting Facts label will help shoppers compare bulbs. For example, lumens, not watts, tell you how bright a light bulb is, no matter the type of bulb. The more lumens, the brighter the light. Beginning in 2012, labels on the front of light bulb packages will emphasize a bulb's brightness in lumens, instead of the bulb's energy usage in watts.

The website also previews the new Lighting Facts label that will appear on most light bulb packages by the beginning of 2012, listing a bulb's brightness (in lumens), its estimated energy cost and life span, whether the bulb provides "warm" or "cool" light, the wattage, and whether the bulb contains mercury. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will phase out low-efficiency incandescent bulbs beginning in 2012, and directed the FTC's new bulb packaging and label initiative, which will make it easier to compare bulbs as traditional incandescents are eliminated from the market.

Lest we need reminding, the FTC?s motto is ?Protecting America?s Consumers.? In this case, the FTC is trying to protect us from rational thought. The ?market with increasingly more efficient options? is a nice euphemism for ?market restricted to government-approved options.? The FTC literally throws a temper tantrum anytime a private business takes any action -- consistent with its own property rights -- that might temporarily impact consumer choice, yet when the government?decides to permanently abolish competition in a given industry, the same FTC lawyers are there to put on a happy face and tell consumers what?s good for them.

There are many consumers who don?t want ?more efficient options,? as they were perfectly happy with the soon-to-be-banned incandescent light bulbs. The FTC doesn?t recognize the existence of these individuals:

Light bulbs are getting better. Newer bulbs -- like halogen incandescents, CFLs and LEDs -- last longer and use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, saving you money on your energy bills. In fact, beginning in 2012, everyday light bulbs have to meet new Department of Energy standards for how much energy they use. Bulbs that don't will be phased out over the next couple of years.
Despite the FTC?s condescending assurances that everything will be better without free-market competition, independent thinkers like Karen De Coster are acting now while they still have a real choice:
I admit to hoarding 100-watt incandescent light bulbs for some time now. I get them at Meijer's for $1.23 per 4-pack, and I pay about twice as much for the beautiful GE Reveal bulb. My basement root cellar, which is earmarked for food, has become the unfortunate landing spot for this pile of soon-to-be contraband, so I am building a special corner storage area for these types of non-food reserve items. So clearly, I am not ecstatic about the government's attack on human comfort with its upcoming ban on one of civilization's stellar inventions.

Reading this article ("LED Bulbs Hit 100 Watts as Federal Ban Looms") is a bit like waking up to a slapstick comedy playing backwards. There is no alternative to the 100-watt incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescents contain toxic mercury vapor (but they save us energy!) and the bulbs with large watts are too big for most existing fixtures. OLEDs have not yet been successfully produced for the mass market, and LEDs are not affordable for the masses at .... $50??Here's one on Amazon for $59.99.

Indeed, the FTC?s materials never disclose the real costs of LED bulbs. Nor do they discuss the environmental dangers of CFLs. These kinds of ?omissions? would earn a private business a visit from the FTC?s ?consumer protection? division. But of course, the FTC itself is not subject to the Federal Trade Commission Act.

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