Who Really Killed the Incandescent Light Bulb?
This year, the traditional incandescent light bulb is becoming extinct. There was a big push by environmentalists to force the change to higher efficiency bulbs, like Compact Fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs. The idea was that they light with less energy, and so everyone should use them. Never mind the market; coercion was necessary.
And one of the things they like to trumpet about this was that the light bulb industry supported this move. The thought is that if even they think it’s a good idea, government ought to force the issue. But not one of those environmentalists ever considered this:
Competitive markets with low costs of entry have a characteristic that consumers love and businesses lament: very low profit margins. GE, Philips and Sylvania dominated the U.S. market in incandescents, but they couldn’t convert that dominance into price hikes. Because of light bulb’s low material and manufacturing costs, any big climb in prices would have invited new competitors to undercut the giants — and that new competitor would probably have won a distribution deal with Wal-Mart.
Basically, with a low-cost light bulb, the major players in the market couldn’t just jack up the price on their wares. Someone else could step in and, with a low cost of entry into the light bulb market, build a better mousetrap, so to speak, and the world would beat a path to their door.
Unless. Unless the light bulb companies could push government regulations that would make the bare minimum light bulb incredibly more expensive. They’d get their price hike, and they’d further their hold on the industry by keeping out competition, because start-up costs are now much higher.
Now, you may be saying, “See, Doug? Eeevil corporations are to blame for this! And you’re always defending them!” Two things. First, the law itself is the problem, and the blame for that comes, not from corporations, but from a big government with the power to pass such a law, and which is more than willing to stick its hand into your wallet. Government did this, not corporations. And I’ll reiterate that, if you don’t like a corporation, you can stop buying from them immediately. If you don’t like your government, you’ll have to wait for the next election cycle, and hope there are enough people who agree with you.
Second, I don’t blame corporations at all for trying to lobby the government for things that will benefit them. If I did blame them, then I’d have to blame every single grassroots organization that does the same sort of lobbying, even those environmentalists. Is lobbying the government an evil thing to do? Not at all! But government should know its boundaries and should stay within them. That’s why we have a constitution. But these days, the Constitution has been reinterpreted to say, for example, that you must buy a particular financial instrument. If the government can force you to buy something, I think it’s gone far beyond what the framers of the Constitution ever intended, and that power is for sale to the highest bidder.
Oh, and consider this. If anyone claims that certain government policies are required because the free market has failed, just let them know that we really haven’t had a “free market” in decades. Light bulbs and ObamaCare are only the two most recent examples.
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