Paul Jacob
The light bulb serves as the symbol for invention, for that Eureka! of inspiration.

It seems somehow fitting that Congress has slated the Edison filament bulb for extinction. Socialism is the promotion of stasis; government is a sinkhole of creativity: by interfering in the marketplace for indoor lighting, the U.S. government is doing what governments too often do, squelch what’s good in private enterprise under the illusion that force and bureaucracy and political pressure groups “know better” than people in their ordinary lives and in their jobs. Congress’s five-year-old legislation requires that lightbulbs sold this year and after increase in efficiency by 25 percent. The legislation coincided with the development of those curly CFC bulbs, so the law’s initial effect was to push that newish technology.

Not a bright idea.

Those curly CFC bulbs contain mercury (a dangerous poison, other government officials tell us in other contexts) and don’t work nearly as well as stated, occasionally catching fire to go up in smoke (I’ve seen one fume up a huge room with a poisonous stench). So perhaps that’s why Congress changed the name of its legislation, from the Clean Energy Act of 2007 to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Could “Clean energy” have been even too big a stretch for Congress?

The idea is to save money, save resources overall. But, like usual in government, politicians — by narrowly focusing on the notion of economy — are costing us more in the end. While incandescent bulbs are cheap up front, the CFCs are supposed to have a low total cost of ownership. Thus the poor people forced to buy replacements will suffer only in the short run.

Except, of course, that the CFC bulbs are unreliable. Too many fizzle out way before the much-ballyhooed expiration date.

And then there are those that catch fire.

Which, for a congressman, probably only serves to justify the $10 million dollar prize included in the 2007 legislation, a sort of X Prize for lightbulb innovation.

Great idea, right? The Ansari X Prize was quite a spur to private spacecraft development.

Well, count on government to get it wrong.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.