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It’s Time to Stock Up on Light Bulbs

We’ve called it the “curse of good intentions”: when governments require their citizens to behave in certain ways, refrain from certain activities, or consume certain items and not others in the expectation that it will improve life in our society.

We’re referring, of course, to the “Nanny State;” the presumption that people are too stupid to make decisions for themselves. And we were again reminded of its existence on April 26 when the Biden administration announced that it had reinstated energy efficiency standards for lighting which would effectively ban the sale of most incandescent bulbs.

These bulbs, instantly recognizable with their glowing wire center, have been around in one form or another for nearly 200 years. But they weren’t commercially produced until 1880, when a research team led by inventor Thomas Edison developed the first practical incandescent lamp.

The problem with incandescent bulbs is that they’re far less energy efficient than modern designs and burn out after only about 1,000 hours of use. Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, which the government is promoting to replace incandescent bulbs, use at least 75% less energy, and last up to 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting.

But does the existence of a superior technology mean that incandescent bulbs should be banned? The Biden administration evidently believes they should, but we’re not so sure.

I’m an example. I live in an old house, and not all the electrical fixtures work with LEDs, although most do. The ones that won’t function with LED lights either blink or won’t turn on at all.

Right now, I have an alternative: use incandescent bulbs, despite their high energy consumption. But once the new rules come into effect, I won’t be able to buy them anymore. So, I’m stocking up on incandescent bulbs. And I suspect plenty of people in my position are doing the same.

What critics of the Nanny State call the “law of unintended consequences” is present as well. Since LEDs are so efficient, not to mention long-lasting, people are using them to light up areas formerly kept in darkness at night. That gobbles up much of the energy savings from converting from incandescent lighting. And it’s causing another problem: light pollution.

A 2017 research article concluded that the rapid growth of artificially lit surfaces had negative consequences for nocturnal animals, plants and micro-organisms and was “increasingly suspected of affecting human health.”

But mandating the end of incandescent light bulbs is only one small example of the negative impact of the Nanny State. Whether it’s banning fruit-flavored e-cigarettes (which cause far less harm than ordinary cigarettes) or requiring hospitals to obtain licenses in order to expand (which likely led to thousands of needless COVID-19 deaths), the law of unforeseen consequences is a feature, not a bug, of the Nanny State.  

Take perhaps the most destructive example of the Nanny State: the War on (Some) Drugs. It’s a prime example of America’s gradual descent into a police state, led by do-gooders convinced of the need to “do something” to fight drug addiction. That’s despite the fact that many drugs criminalized in our legal system have been used as medicine since ancient times, including cannabis, coca, and opium. Indeed, it was once possible in America to buy morphine over the counter at any pharmacy. And if you didn’t live near a pharmacy, you could buy heroin – and even syringes to inject it with – out of a Sears catalog.

In the United States, the War on Drugs led to such innovations as the mass incarceration of racial minorities, eroding protections against searches and seizures, skyrocketing civil forfeitures, and the virtual takeover of governments in drug-producing countries by violent narcotics cartels.

So when someone tells you, “While the Nanny State might go overboard sometimes, it doesn’t cause real harm,” you’ll know they’re wrong.

A political system that relies on officials at the top of a hierarchy to make decisions on behalf of everyone else is doomed to failure, even if those decisions are well-intentioned. The collapse of the centrally planned socialist economies of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela proved that point beyond a shadow of any doubt.

That’s why a large part of the Nanny State should be permanently shuttered. But we’re not holding our breath waiting for it to happen.

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