In yet another unwanted gift foisted upon us by the unintended consequences of the enviro-do-gooders’ unfortunate grip on public policy, modern America is witnessing another slow motion train wreck like the 20s and 30s era fiasco known as Prohibition, aka the “Volstead Act.”
In recent years, governments around the world, including the United States, have passed measures to phase out incandescent light bulbs and mandated the use of supposedly more energy-efficient lighting alternatives such as Circular Fluorescent Lights (CFLs), Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), and other fluorescents. The phase-out regulations effectively ban the manufacture, importation, or sale of current incandescent light bulbs for general lighting.
Pursuant to a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush, January 1, 2014 was the last day US companies could manufacture or import 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent bulbs. This follows the January 2012 phase-out of 100-watt incandescent bulbs and the January 2013 cutoff of 75-watt bulbs. The US lagged a bit behind many other countries, including Switzerland, the European Union, and Australia, which started to phase out incandescent bulbs in 2009.
Supporters of the incandescent ban brush off complaints by consumers by claiming that alternative bulbs are just as good. Alternative bulbs are different; whether they are better depends on the individual consumer's needs. Most alternatives to incandescents use less energy to operate, but have never demonstrated any significant cost efficiencies in the production process vis-a-vis traditional incandescents. Conveniently omitted from the early stages of the legislative process was a serious consideration of the total cost to the environment from a massive replacement of the nation’s incandescent bulbs with the politically correct fluorescents, which unfortunately embrace a cocktail of toxic chemicals to produce their light.
Energy use is not the only concern a typical consumer has with this latest good idea from Washington. In fact, there are many more serious misgivings that need to be taken into account such as:
· There are serious environmental concerns with CFLs as they contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin, which is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women.
· Common household mishaps such as dropping and breaking CFL bulbs require certified Hazardous Materials Handlers (HAZMAT) to clean up the mercury, arsenic, and lead residues (with the appropriate disclosure requirement when the time comes to sell the house!)
· CFLs in landfills deposit the toxic heavy metals into ground water supplies while incandescents, which generally contain argon gas and inert tungsten, do not.
· People prone to seizures should avoid CFLs, as their flickering can cause seizures.
· The elderly often find it difficult to read under fluorescents.
· People with Lupus and other auto-immune disorders can get a severe rash from fluorescents.
· LED lighting tends to have a narrow beam, requiring more lamps to light a room.
· LED and CFL lighting is cooler than incandescent and renders colors differently. Art illuminated by LED and CFLs, for instance, does not look right.
· The initial purchase cost of more energy efficient replacement bulbs is much higher than regular incandescents.
With such serious environmental and health concerns, it is very likely that the demand for incandescents, despite the ban, will remain high. Jeffrey Miron, a senior economics lecturer at Harvard University said, "Any ban has the potential to generate a black market. Bans on things that few people want will probably not generate a significant black market. Bans on things for which there are good substitutes are probably also unlikely to generate black markets."
But if the scene I witnessed at our local Lowe’s Home Improvement Center the day after New Year’s is any indication, demand will remain high and the hoarding has already begun. Situated right inside the front door was an enormous display of contractor packs of 60 watt bulbs, and one lady I saw had a trolley full of them. I just happened to overhear her say to her son that she was buying enough so that he’d get some of them as an inheritance someday. I couldn’t help but think that a better idea might be to hold on to them and sell them for a fortune on Ebay in 10 years.
The incandescent light bulb ban is only the latest US Government effort to control the private lives of its citizens at the behest of the enviro-nannies. You would think the government would learn from its past disasters of precipitously removing a popular product from the nation’s market place. Alas, this is not the case and seldom is. In an effort to remove the bureaucratic blinders, let’s look at two biggies from the past, beginning with Prohibition.
The National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, was enacted to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, which established prohibition in the United States. The Volstead Act, which came into force at midnight on January 17, 1920, provided that "no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act." Contrary to popular perception, it did not specifically prohibit the consumption of intoxicating liquors. Prohibition lasted until December 5, 1933 when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, rendered the Volstead Act constitutionally moot and restored control of alcohol to the states and a measure of freedom to the citizens
Within a week after the 18th Amendment went into effect, small portable stills were on sale throughout the country. During the first five years of Prohibition, California's grape growers increased their acreage about 700 percent and production increased dramatically to meet a booming demand for home-made wine. The mayor of New York City even sent instructions on winemaking to all of his constituents. But the most disastrous effect of Prohibition was the massive and widespread corruption of politicians and law enforcement agencies, which led to the growth of powerful organized crime syndicates.
A more recent and somewhat more laughable consumer ban is a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which went into effect in 1994. The act, which was passed during a period of environmentalist hysteria, mandated that all toilets sold in the US use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Prior to this, the conventional toilet in the US ranged from 3.5 gallons to 5 gallons. The new law was enforced with fines and imprisonment (willing plumbers risked $2,500 fines for installing a contraband toilet). What ensued was a boom in the sale of plungers due to an epidemic of clogged toilets. What the Greenies, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t take into account was that with a smaller capacity toilet tank people would now have to flush twice, three times, or even four times during a single toilet event. Disgusted with the state of affairs, libertarian minded American consumers supported a thriving black market of Canadian toilet tanks. The northern border hadn’t seen such a profitable smuggling operation since Al Capone and his cronies brought truckloads of Canadian whisky down to Chicago.
Am I alone in seeing any parallels between these inane and ill-advised bans on toilets and incandescent light bulbs with the Volstead Act? All these bans are assaults on every American’s inalienable right to pursue happiness by choosing to drink alcohol, get a good flush, or read at night by Tom Edison’s eye-soothing bulbs. Aside from the egregious assault on our freedom, the cause and effect of the bans are extremely similar, in particular the rise of black markets to meet consumer demand.
But even more eerie is the recycling of the political terminology used. Prohibition was the culmination of a period in American history from 1865 to 1920 termed by historians as the “Progressive Era.” Is it just a coincidence that the present day social agendas pursued by the Left and environmental extremists are euphemistically called “progressive?”
Bans on popular consumer goods, be they wine, spirits, light bulbs, or toilets, only serve to benefit an entrepreneurial quasi-criminal class who rise to the task of satisfying the demand of hungry consumers. The lady with the trolley full of light bulbs in Lowe’s, like the 1920s bon vivant, can continue to use the banned items in the privacy of her own home. But after she runs out, she will have no choice but to buy more of the same item on the black market, just as the 1920s bon vivant had to turn to a discreet bootlegger to satisfy his needs.
People who want banned items will still manage to get them somehow. And in the end, all that has been achieved is law abiding citizens being forced into consorting with quasi-criminals in order to meet their needs. Nobody said it better than Al Capone himself: “All I do is to supply a public demand… somebody had to throw some liquor on that thirst. Why not me?”
 The regulations do, however, allow the sale of future versions of incandescent bulbs if they are sufficiently energy efficient, such as the New Candescent invented by Larry Birnbaum of South Hackensack, New Jersey.