Congratulations to my friend Virginia Postrel for winning the Bastiat Prize for her column on incandescent lightbulbs and government regulation. Excerpt:
Though anti-populist in the extreme, the [incandescent] bulb ban in fact evinces none of the polished wonkery you’d expect from sophisticated technocrats. For starters, it’s not clear what the point is. Why should the government try to make consumers use less electricity? There’s no foreign policy reason. Electricity comes mostly from coal, natural gas and nuclear plants, all domestic sources. So presumably the reason has something to do with air pollution or carbon-dioxide emissions.
But banning light bulbs is one of the least efficient ways imaginable to attack those problems. A lamp using power from a clean source is treated the same as a lamp using power from a dirty source. A ban gives electricity producers no incentive to reduce emissions.
Nor does it allow households to make choices about how best to conserve electricity. A well-designed policy would allow different people to make different tradeoffs among different uses to produce the most happiness (“utility” in econ-speak) for a given amount of power. Maybe I want to burn a lot of incandescent bulbs but dry my clothes outdoors and keep the air conditioner off. Maybe I want to read by warm golden light instead of watching a giant plasma TV.
It’s a great column. I cannot tell you how much I hate compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Fluorescent lighting sometimes gives me a headache, and always makes me anxious and depressed. I don’t know why, but it does. And they’re awful to try to read by.