Lights Out in America?

Incandescent light bulbs, which have been in use in the United States for more than a century, are on their way out in the new year. The federal government has prohibited their manufacture and import starting January 1.

The latest ban covers 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs. The 100-watt and 75-watt varieties had already been phased out. The bans were signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act.

It’s one thing when government regulations prevent or hamper the development of new technologies—technologies which we’ll never know about, because they never came into existence.

It’s even worse, somehow, when the government outlaws a technology that has been in use for a century. In fact, the light bulb was a turning point for civilization as we know it, much bigger than the Internet or the smart phone (dramatic as these technologies have been).

Things change, of course. But the light bulb isn’t going away because of the free market. It’s not going away because vast numbers of people have decided it no longer suits their purposes, and therefore there’s no profit to be made in the outmoded product.

Americans are giving up the incandescent light bulb not because of free choice or rational reasons. They’re giving it up because their government tells them they must. And that’s good enough for most of them.

This is about way more than the light bulb. If a majority of Americans are willing to do what their government tells them on this issue, then what’s to stop the government from eventually telling us what to do on nearly every issue?

Certainly not the American people; because the American people will not protest.

One wonders: If the nation had been dominated by people so willing to roll over for their government at the time of Thomas Edison, would there have ever been a light bulb in the first place?

It’s impossible to conceive there would have been. Inventive periods only occur when the government stays out of the way and leaves it to consumers to decide, individually, what’s in their best interest.

Even more important than the right of consumers to decide is the ability of geniuses—present and future Thomas Edisons of their fields—to invent, innovate and to bring to market their discoveries.

Inventions like the light bulb only happen when people are free to judge and purchase what they want; and when inventors and innovators are free to bring out into the open their discoveries.

Most politicians and presidents support these laws because it benefits one industry or company at the expense of another, usually an industry/company that supports them in holding political power. Politicians like Obama really are ideologically opposed to capitalism, technology and economic development.

Regardless of some politician’s motive, the end result is the same. The Inventive Era that gave rise to the momentum we still feel (somewhat) today fades into an era of stagnation and eventually decline.

Stagnation and decline are not the natural or logical fate of mankind. But so long as mankind stands in its own way, as we’re increasingly doing after the single greatest era of economic and technological expansion in human history, we’re going to witness the painful results.

The light bulb as we’ve known it is going away. But much more than the light bulb is going with it.

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