Bootleggers, Baptists, and Bulbs?

Are the new standards for lightbulbs a Bootleggers and Baptists story?
Virginia Postrel apparently thinks so.

activists offended by the public’s presumed wastefulness … joined forces with the big bulb producers, who had an interest in replacing low-margin commodities with high-margin specialty wares

Maybe–she even quotes a spokesperson for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association boasting that the whole initiative was industry led. But if so, the market may already be competing away the rents. Home Depot offers Phillips new EcoVantage standard-meeting incandescents at a price of $2.99 for a two-pack, considerably cheaper than CFLs and LEDs. Of course that’s around twice the price of traditional incandescents at my grocery store, so they’re not exactly cheap. (And of course I’m only considering up-front cost, since I don’t have data on energy savings and longevity for these new bulbs.)

Postrel also makes a good argument for why this policy is a lousy way to save energy. From my perspective, the only legitimate reason for mandating energy savings is one argued by Ed Darrell in my previous post on this subject: because we get most of our power from coal, and coal creates a lot of mercury pollution and is leading to the http://www.coal-is-dirty.com/files/images/blogentry/mountaintop%20mining%20coal.jpg” target=”_blank”>flattening out of the Mountain State. I have no trouble getting on board with that, but a good goal does not automatically create good policy.

Still, I’ll come out of this all right–I can afford lightbulbs, even at rent-seeking prices, and the choice of light bulbs or milk for my kids isn’t an issue in my house.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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3 Responses to Bootleggers, Baptists, and Bulbs?

  1. Lance says:

    The evidence that mercury from coal fired power plants has any negative health effects is tenuous at best. See http://www.johnlocke.org/acrobat/spotlights/spotlight_300-mercuryregs.pdf.

    Mountain top removal accounted for less than 5% of the coal mines in the US in 2001.

    I’m all for finding more efficient and cheaper forms of energy but the reality is that in the US we get 40%- 50% (depending on how you count) of our electricity from coal. And that coal is mined here in the US so the money stays here.

    There are other concerns such as the byproducts of combustion so don’t get the idea that I think coal is some wonder fuel, but it can be burned efficiently and the waste products can be recycled or mitigated to the point of not being present in amounts toxic to humans or wildlife.

  2. Lance says:

    Oh and I hate the light generated by most if not all CFL’s and most of them can’t be dimmed.

    When they work well and are affordable people, including me, will buy them. There is no credible reason to legislate their use by banning incandescents.

  3. Lance says:

    Oh, and before some smart ass mentions LCD lights a dimmable 60W replacement LCD flood bulb is forty freaking dollars. My parents have 28 recessed ceiling fixtures in their home. It would cost $1120 to replace the 60w incandescent floods.

    Yes, eventually the energy savings would cover the costs but since they’re in their 70’s it is debatable if they would live long enough to recoup the investment..

    They are stock piling 60w flood bulbs that on sale cost less than 2 bucks each.

    Oh, and it even if it made economic sense it should be their decision what light bulbs to buy.

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