Reminder: That incandescent light bulb ban was not a good idea

posted at 6:41 pm on March 22, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Why? Not merely because government directives might forcibly funnel consumer demand, investment, and R&D toward a product that really isn’t ready for mass consumption, but also because, no matter how great their intentions might be, the free market is always better than politicians at picking efficient solutions. The free market’s only bias is in appealing to people’s rational self-interest; i.e., if people figure out that Product A is more expensive or of lower quality than comparable substitute Product B, people will buy Product B.

In this case, the compact fluorescent bulbs politically favored by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 encountered a lot of resistance because CFLs are impractical, more expensive, and it turns out they might actually be a cancer risk, no big deal or anything. But if the goal is to get people to buy bulbs that use electricity more efficiently, government mandates aren’t nearly as effective as a product that can actually make those electricity savings more pragmatic, more affordable, and more worthwhile, and the market is happy to provide. Via the NYT:

You’ve probably seen LED flashlights, the LED “flash” on phone cameras and LED indicator lights on electronics. But LED bulbs, for use in the lamps and light sockets of your home, have been slow to arrive, mainly because of their high price…

That’s a pity, because LED bulbs are a gigantic improvement over incandescent bulbs and even the compact fluorescents, or CFLs, that the world spent several years telling us to buy.

LEDs last about 25 times as long as incandescents and three times as long as CFLs; we’re talking maybe 25,000 hours of light. Install one today, and you may not own your house, or even live, long enough to see it burn out. …

You know how hot incandescent bulbs become. That’s because they convert only 5 to 10 percent of your electricity into light; they waste the rest as heat. LED bulbs are far more efficient. They convert 60 percent of their electricity into light, so they consume far less electricity. …

As the NYT review goes on to point out, there are now LED bulbs out there that cost as little as $10 — pretty darn affordable for a bulb that both turns on instantly and keeps on keepin’ on like the Energizer Bunny. If these bulbs really are everything they’re cracked up to be, they’ll catch on — no government mandates necessary.

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