Bulb ban will make black market for incandescents

April 27, 2007

On Thursday, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced he’s going to save me $50 a year by removing incandescent light bulbs—a bad habit I cannot seem to break on my own—from the retail marketplace by 2012. Mr. Lunn would prefer our using compact fluorescents, illuminated by a thrifty 24 watts of electricity versus the profligate 60 of my clear incandescents, and he’s determined to force a switch regardless of consumers’ wishes.

The only drawback I see to a compact fluorescent conversion is that the lighting in my 95 year-old home will henceforth be hideous. The refinished hardwoods, elegant banister, French doors and plaster archway will fail to be so splendid under a colour of light typically associated with such places as call centres, intensive care units, and auto parts stores.

Governments worldwide are seemingly annoyed that consumers still favour Thomas Edison’s 128 year-old invention. They’re cheap, but “inefficient”—ostensibly to a degree that would have their sale criminalized. Will this create a black market for incandescents? A War on Edison?

Many consumers haven’t gone fluorescent for the same reason I haven’t—it looks and feels nasty. Not all lighting is created equal; beyond brightness, there are qualitative elements. Which explains why so many upscale retail stores eschew fluorescents for halogen (incandescent) lighting. And it isn’t just my intuition telling me fluorescent lighting is evil. Dr. John Ott, a pioneering researcher into full-spectrum light, experimented with mice and found found that, “…[T]he life span of the animals was more than doubled under full natural light, as compared to those under the pink fluorescent light.” Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked fluorescent lighting to depression, impotence, headaches, eye strain, sleeping disorders and skin cancers.

Drawbacks of fluorescent lighting aside, the banning of a product on the basis of its inefficiency sets a terrible precedent. If governments are going to intervene in the marketplace over light bulbs, why stop there? Let’s ban registrations of fuel-inefficient vehicles, starting with V-10, V-8 and V6 engines by 2012 and extending to anything that isn’t hybrid-electric by 2015. Let’s ban meat. Ban dairy, gasoline lawnmowers, leafblowers, flushing after only peeing, falling asleep with the TV on, and single detached homes. If we cut enough corners in life, make these small sacrifices for the good of the collective, we can meet Kyoto’s challenge, thus saving the planet—right?

Frighteningly enough, there are a lot of people in Canada who would welcome many of the absurd steps in this hypothetically radical left-wing agenda. Surreally, it’s a Conservative minister that is initiating a market intervention to remove an long-established and satisfying product from stores. But perhaps that makes sense. What might be the reaction if it were provincial NDP or the federal Liberals introducing this?

The incandescent bulb, a powerful invention that has changed our daily life in so many ways during the 20th century, makes for an odd scapegoat amid all this global warming razzmatazz. Lighting constitutes but a fraction of the typical household energy consumption. And to me, it’s worth $50 a year to enjoy the sort of lighting I prefer. I recycle, shop locally, don’t drive, carry my groceries in a backpack rather than a plastic bag, and my compost bin is on order. If I want to shell out for lighting that doesn’t feel like poison, why does the government want to stop me?

Maybe there’s more to it than just inefficiency. It seems to be part of a general, unconscious trend within society to embrace a brute rationality at the cost of aesthetic values. Neo-classical and terra cotta buildings, for example, are supposedly impossible today because, although our economy is wealthier than ever, the construction costs demand minimalist concrete, glass and steel. Where wearing a suit was once mandatory, the new office uniform is khakis and a golf shirt—often with sneakers. Dining room conversation during family dinner has given way to a new ritual of silently zoning out in front of the TV.

If bulb manufacturers aren’t outraged at being forced to shut down their incandescent manufacturing, it’s because the market gap will soon be filled with demand for more expensive (and profitable) compact fluorescent bulbs. Somehow I think they’re more excited than annoyed.

Meanwhile, I’ve found a way around this. For the next five years I’ll be stockpiling boxloads of classic incandescent bulbs up in the attic—enough for dozens of lifetimes, since they are so cheap. Not only will I never have to suffer using compact fluorescents, I’ll have made a smart investment. When prohibition begins, and your money is looking for incandescents, talk to me and I can sort you out—just so long as you’re not an undercover.

www.dallashansen.com

Friedman confirmed free markets work best

Dallas Hansen

November 18, 2006

During the‭ ‬20th century,‭ ‬there was among economists much debate about what role the government should have in shaping economic policy.‭ ‬While interventionists,‭ notably‬ John Maynard Keynes,‭ ‬believed government programs necessary to tackle the problems of unemployment and inflation,‭ ‬Milton Friedman—who died this week at age‭ ‬94‭—‬believed the best thing a government could do to help an economy is get out of the way.

Calling himself a‭ “‬classical liberal,‭” ‬Friedman audaciously dismissed the interventionists,‭ ‬shredding several of Keynes’s theories in the process.‭ ‬Above all,‭ ‬Friedman stood as a champion of not only economic but human freedom,‭ ‬notoriously advocating against compulsory military service,‭ ‬restrictions on foreign trade,‭ ‬and the criminalization of prostitution and drugs.

In‭ ‬1976‭ ‬Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics—one of several distinguished awards he was to receive throughout his lifetime.‭ ‬Yet his humble beginnings in working-class Brooklyn affirmed the axiom that free markets will reward the patient diligence of individuals with the fruits of prosperity.

While free-market philosophies have come to dominate economic thinking as of late,‭ ‬it was only as recently as the‭ ‬1970s that then-president Richard Nixon declared himself a Keynesian.‭ ‬By that point Keynes himself had been dead for decades,‭ ‬but Friedman was around to blame the decade’s stagflation—high unemployment coupled with high inflation—upon Keynesian economic policies.‭ ‬Friedman’s laissez-faire thinking subsequently became valuable currency during the tax-slashing age of Reaganomics.

It could be argued that Friedman’s influence upon the direction of the world’s largest economy in the‭ ‬1980s led to America’s even better economic performance during the‭ ‬1990s.‭ ‬Low inflation,‭ ‬a raging bull market in securities,‭ ‬the widespread gentrification of formerly blighted urban areas—the century’s end was kind to America,‭ ‬a vindication of once-controversial free trade agreements and the monetarist school of economic thought with which Friedman’s name became synonymous.

Friedman’s ideas owe much to the man known as the first economist,‭ ‬Scottish philosopher Adam Smith,‭ ‬whose seminal‭ ‬1776‭ ‬work‭ ‬An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations‭ ‬famously suggested that an‭ “‬invisible hand‭” ‬would guide people toward their own self-interest.‭ ‬Classical economists such as Smith believed that a natural state for free economies was full employment.‭ ‬The United States today,‭ ‬with a population that has recently passed the‭ ‬300‭ ‬million mark,‭ ‬has an unemployment rate of just‭ ‬4.6‭ ‬per cent.‭ ‬With an increasingly mobile workforce delivering labour to where it’s needed,‭ ‬America has work for nearly all of her willing citizens—and even,‭ ‬as has lately been much-reported,‭ ‬her undocumented immigrants.

Milton Friedman 1912-2006

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the American economy is how new entrepreneurs are being made daily,‭ ‬many of them earning a living in ways most unlikely.‭ ‬Only in America could you,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬make your fortune as a professional harmonica instructor.‭ ‬Or,‭ ‬for that matter,‭ ‬as a Barry White impersonator.

During Friedman’s long life he got to see laissez-faire economics move from unorthodox to mainstream.‭ ‬He observed the failings and the collapses of centrally planned juggernauts in the communist world.‭ ‬Despite his advanced age,‭ ‬he never plunged into senility,‭ ‬opining in‭ ‬2004‭ ‬that even as Russia and China have become freer with their embrace of market capitalism,‭ ‬many western societies were suffering beneath the yoke of increased regulation.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬he did,‭ ‬during that interview,‭ ‬declare himself‭ “‬an optimist,‭” ‬and although he had already won many battles,‭ ‬he would still continue to argue for school vouchers and privatizing Social Security.

“Government today controls something like 40 per cent of the resources of the country,” said Friedman in a March, 2006 interview. “A decent government controls like 10 or 15 per cent.” He then joked, “The virtue is that government is so inefficient, it wastes the great bulk of those resources. If it used those resources efficiently, it could do great damage.”

Keynesianism and governmental attempts to tweak economic demand were in vogue during the 1950s, when Friedman came of age as an academic. This was a time of “galloping socialism,” as Friedman described it, which would later slow down to “creeping socialism.” During, however, the Reagan and Clinton administrations, the U.S. federal government even experienced a contraction. But there is no mistaking that Friedman, a lifelong Republican, felt betrayed at the current Bush administration’s runaway budgets when he said, again in March, “I think it’s really disgraceful that the Republican Party, which preaches holding down the size of government, should have been, and the Bush administration should have been, such a big spender.”

If you believe sound monetary policy, rather than happenstance, to be responsible for today’s prosperous times, do remember Milton Friedman. He may have left this world, but his ideas are here to stay.

dallashansen.com

 

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