Thursday, March 27, 2008

Freedom: a better idea

Ford Has A Better IdeaThere was a time in this country when we kids grew up learning about American innovators. Ford's Lee Iacocca had "a better idea." He captured the youth market with the Mustang, then when Ford scoffed at his minivan, he took it to Chrysler. Decades later, both products and their imitators are still going strong. The race to the moon inspired us and forever changed our life on Earth. Every year, American inventors earn more patents than inventors from all other countries combined.

Today, nanny-state socialist environmentalists who are pushing the compact florescent lamp (CFL), and the lawmakers and bureaucrats who love them, ironically sweep the dangers of the mercury and lead solder in each of the bulbs under the rug (figuratively speaking). These are some of the same people behind the effort to rid our medicine cabinets of mercury fever thermometers, rid our homes of thermostats with mercury switches, warn against consuming too much mercury-laced tuna, and lobby hospitals and clinics to eliminate vaccines preserved with thimerosol (which contains mercury). They justify other shortcomings of CFLs — high costs of manufacturing, inefficiency in frequent on-off applications, unsuitability in extreme temperatures like home ovens and your Minnesota garage during winter, the wastefulness of the disposable ballast — as a "net positive" in light of claimed reductions in greenhouse gasses, which is a whole 'nother adventure in junk science.

These problems should be discussed (the mass media won't), but they are not the worst thing about Congress banning Thomas Edison's incandescent bulb by 2014.

Just like smoking bans aren't really about public health, gun bans aren't really about public safety, light rail isn't really about relieving traffic congestion, ethanol isn't really about energy independence, the incandescent light bulb ban isn't really about reducing the mythical threat of global warming.

All of these misguided public policies in various ways expand government and reduce our freedoms.

Free markets and the profit motive has solved problems and improved the quality of life for over 200 years in this country. A year ago, Thomas Edison's General Electric announced a new incandescent light bulb technology, the high efficiency incandescent (HEI), that it claims is about as efficient as the CFL, but without the CFL's significant environmental, safety, and health hazards. Edison's successor inventors at GE Global Research are also working on a technology called OLED (organic light emitting diode), another low-cost, high-efficiency, "Earth friendly" lighting alternative.

Government rarely leads the way in innovation (except in the areas of taxation and redistribution of wealth). "Congress tends to jump on whatever the current buzz is in the 24-hour news cycle," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN6), announcing her "Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act," the necessity of which is a testament to intrusive hand of Big Brother.

Government should let the competition of free markets pick the winners and losers, and let the light bulb symbolize American innovation and know-how again.

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