Politics & Policy

Extinguishing Freedom

First they came for my light bulbs . . .


Not so very long ago, fireplaces, oil lamps, and candles were the only sources of illumination available for homes after dark, sources that gave off a pitiful glow and threatened devastating fire with every use.

This state of affairs would not do for Thomas Edison, who struggled for years to perfect an artificial, commercially viable light source. After thousands of attempts, by 1879 Edison had a working prototype that passed electricity through a carbon filament encased in a glass vacuum: The light bulb was born. Night was tamed at last, and a whole nocturnal world was opened to humanity. Edison’s seminal achievement was surpassed perhaps only by the original conquest of fire by his prehistoric counterpart.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs would not do for the decrepit 21st-century American political class, which in 2007 decided to undo Edison’s achievement with the so-called Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The energy law creates new “efficiency standards” for light bulbs, effectively legislating the old incandescents out of existence starting in January 2012. Stock up now.

It’s for our own good, of course. Elites want us to replace our beloved Edisons with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), because, you know, the Earth is warming, maybe. And light bulbs are partly to blame. Or something like that.

Trouble is, CFLs are way more expensive than the old Edisons. They also give off a puny, cold light that brings out every flaw and every pore in your face, so unlike the brilliant warmth of the old bulbs. Oh yeah, and CFLs contain toxic mercury, making a broken bulb, once a simple job for a broom and dustpan, now a chemical-waste hazard. Aren’t you glad Congress is watching out for us?

Sadly, this is a bipartisan travesty: Republican congressman Fred Upton of Michigan hatched the idea with then-congressman Jane Harman, Democrat from California. Pres. George W. Bush signed it into law. And if you think last year’s Tea Party tide would have washed away this nonsense, it hasn’t yet: Republicans put Upton in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee, from which seat he has talked about undoing what he had previously done, but thus far it is only talk.

In a burst of nullificationism that would do Calhoun proud, Texas governor Rick Perry has signed a bill exempting his state from the federal law so long as the Edisons are manufactured and sold within Texas borders. Meanwhile, presidential contender Michele Bachmann has proposed one of several repeal measures floating around the federal legislature. “President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want in the United States of America,” she promised supporters in June. (Nice of her to “allow” us, don’t you think?) Still, Perry and Bachmann et al. notwithstanding, prospects for the old Edison bulb look, well, dim.

It was originally hoped that CFLs would provide an energy-efficient alternative, but consumers avoided them in droves in favor of the old standards. So the government simply removed our choice, and ergo, our freedom. So far, Americans — whose not-very-distant kin staged a bloody rebellion over a trifling tax — have decided to roll over and take it.

So this Independence Day, let’s be thankful that neither Edison nor the Founders — bringers of light and freedom respectively — could have foreseen what would become of us,  they would never have bothered to shed their time, sweat, and blood on our behalf.

— Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and  contributor to Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation.


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