In her latest Bloomberg View column, former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel takes aim at the impending federal ban on conventional incandescent bulbs, which she says "makes sense only one of two ways: either as an expression of cultural sanctimony, with a little technophilia thrown in for added glamour, or as a roundabout way to transfer wealth from the general public to the few businesses with the know-how to produce the light bulbs consumers don't really want to buy." Postrel cites a recent New York Times piece in which Penelope Green condescendingly debunks the notion of a bulb ban, saying the law "simply requires that companies make some of their incandescent bulbs work a bit better, meeting a series of rolling deadlines between 2012 and 2014." But the upshot of the energy-efficiency mandate is that the least expensive, most commonly used incandescent bulbs will be banned—a point that Green obscures by citing a few examples of specialty bulbs that will remain legal, contrary to the expectations of bulb hoarders she interviews. And while it is true that the government is not forcing us to live in darkness, it is also true that all the alternatives to the most popular bulbs are inferior in some way: They cost more (in some cases a lot more), they take time to warm up, they don’t work with dimmers, they cast an unflattering light, or they don't last nearly as long as advertised. As Postrel shows, the government is imposing these tradeoffs on consumers without a logical, let alone compelling, reason. Tellingly, Green ends her piece by confessing that she too is stocking up on incandescent bulbs.
I criticized the bulb ban in a column a few months ago. Afterward I discussed the controversy on WHYY, the NPR station in Philadelphia. When I pointed out that the environmental argument for the efficiency mandate does not hold water, the host (echoing a caller) suggested the law is necessary to create a mass market for clearly superior products that consumers are not smart enough to appreciate, thereby bringing down the price. You can listen to that interview here. Reason.tv covered the subject last October.