As the Light Flickers
By Staff News & Analysis - July 13, 2011

Republican bill to ban energy-saving lightbulbs fails … Republicans in the US House of Representatives failed to stop the enactment of new energy-saving standards for lightbulbs … The bill championed by presidential contender Michele Bachmann would have repealed a law phasing out incandescent bulbs from 2012 … A Republican campaign to defend America against a sweeping assault on personal freedom – or energy-saving lightbulbs as they are more commonly known – went down in defeat on Tuesday night. – UK Guardian

Dominant Social Theme: So many problems in the world and America's conservatives are worried about … lightbulbs. Lightbulbs! Could anything be more trivial?

Free-Market Analysis: The coverage of the Republicans failure to halt the onrushing tide of "energy saving" lightbulbs has failed in the US House of Representatives. As we can see from this article in the UK Guardian (excerpted above) the move has attracted a good deal of attention despite its failure.

"The Republicans' hopes of using the defence of old-fashioned 100 watt bulbs as a rallying cry for freedom had already begun to dim by Tuesday night," the Guardian informs us, emphasizing the ridiculousness of turning a lightbulb into a symbol of liberty.

But is it so ridiculous? Sometimes, smaller issues have bigger significance. American exceptionalism was founded on the idea that the "people" themselves knew what was good for them and did not need oligarchic rulers to tell them what to do.

Seen from this point of view, the lightbulb law is a kind of dominant social theme, one reinforcing everything that many Americans fear about their government. Its leaders are apparently determined to subject every activity to over-arching legislation – and thus it is in an age of regulatory democracy.

Of course, this is exactly the signal that the West's larger elites DO wish to send in our view – and ARE sending both in Europe and America. The subliminal – understood, but not expressed – message is that each citizen of the West is the property of the state and that the state determines what one can and cannot do with his or her time, energy and effort.

America had been founded to stand athwart this assertion of royal prerogative. Perhaps that's why the passage of the light bulb law – shepherded through Congress by REPUBLICANS – came to encapsulate, metaphorically, everything that had gone wrong with the GOP during the era of President George W. Bush. Somehow this party, which was supposed to stand for smaller government and less personal and corporate interference, (and, yes, it never did REALLY) ended up supporting and signing into law a ban on … incandescent 100 watt bulbs!

It wasn't enough that George Bush and the GOP involved the US duplicitously in two major wars; created useless and ruinous domestic programs like "No Child Left Behind," responded to 9/11 by lying about its provenance and then creating a monstrous new authoritarian bureaucracy – Homeland Security – to enforce its increasingly phony "war on terror."

No, after adding to the national debt by trillions, enabling the military-industrial complex to run free and unfettered, attempting to turn religious organizations into federal appendages, Bush and his cadre of GOP enablers, had the time and energy to pass a law that demanded the removal of incandescent lightbulbs and their replacement with "curly" mercury filled ones.

It wasn't the over-reach per se that galled. It was the idea that the US government – this US$4 trillion per annum leviathan – was not only destroying freedoms worldwide on a vast scale, it was now focusing on even the most minor issues. Nothing was to be left to individual decision-making!

The result, the Guardian notes caustically, "represents a rejection of one of the great causes of the conservative Tea Party movement: the repeal of a 2007 law promoting more efficient lighting standards."

But of course, that's not the point. Sometimes it is the little things that speak most loudly. In this case, the Republican Party – a libertarian-oriented political entity that supposedly represents small business and free consumer choice – had deliberately gathered behind its President (the guarantor of civil liberties) and as a matter of policy stripped people of the right to choose once again.

It was the kind of imperial over-reach that encapsulates an era. Its passage showed clearly that Republicans – who had decried environmental alarmism – were now in the business of encouraging it. Big energy companies like GE wanted the legislation; thus the passage showed clearly how the Republicans remained in thrall to corporate America and its mercantilist business strategies.

On every level, the new light bulb law was a cynical fraud. It didn't provide safer bulbs, as the bulbs were filled with mercury. If one was dropped, a Hazmat squad was needed to clean up the mess. The bulbs were fabulously expensive and the light itself was harsh.

All of this was tolerable if one WISHED to buy such bulbs. But the Bush Administration had decided it was not going to be a matter of choice. The American consumer was going to be forced to purchase these items. And thus the issue has remained "aflame" – even some three years later.

On Tuesday night, supporters failed to muster the two-thirds majority to "fasttrack" the legislation that would repeal the light bulb law. The legislation did achieve a 233-193 majority and Joe Barton the Texan Republican initiating the measure has indicated he would continue to move forward with it – "by any means possible."

"We can put it on an appropriations bill. We can back it under a rule. I can try and go to some of the Democrats who didn't vote for it and figure out a way to get them to consider voting for it in a little bit of a different format," he is quoted as saying. He's not giving up. Here's some more from the Guardian article:

The Texan said he had originally counted on getting more than 300 votes for the measure including help from some Democrats. But the Republicans' hopes of using the defence of old-fashioned 100 watt bulbs as a rallying cry for freedom had already begun to dim by Tuesday night. The Republicans had cast the 2007 measure, which was signed into law by George Bush, as an outright ban on familiar incandescent 100 watt bulbs, and even an affront to their inventor Thomas Edison. In their view, the move to encourage the adoption of curly lightbulbs was yet another example of government overreach by Barack Obama.

Saving the lightbulb was not a traditional Republican cause. The original 2007 bill had strong Republican support; it was even crafted in part by Fred Upton, now the chair of the house energy and commerce committee. Upton, anxious to reinforce his conservative credentials, has since recanted. He voted for the repeal of the measure on Tuesday. But the defence of the 100 watt bulb seemed, to Republican minds, to be a winner until that is the run-up to the vote when lighting manufacturers such as Philips and General Electric joined the White House, Democrats, and environmental organisations in opposing the Republican campaign against curly energy-saving bulbs.

Steven Chu, the energy secretary, told reporters in a conference call last week the 2007 measure was actually aimed at raising efficiency standards for new bulbs – of any make – by more than 25% beginning in 2012. The companies pointed out, meanwhile, that they were already shifting to newer LED and compact fluorescent bulbs. Although energy-saving lightbulbs do cost more than the old-fashioned 100 watt variety that are on their way out, environmental organisations argued that the new standards would save the average American household $85 a year on their electricity bill.

Given the great issues of war and peace, prosperity and depression, etc. mandatory light-bulb purchases are a small item in the larger scheme of things. And yet at the same time, the law is a sad and fearful commentary on what the US has become. The United States – and more specifically, the US Constitution – were conceived in support of freedom and natural law. Government "like fire" was a powerful and dangerous force that would have to be hemmed in by the right statutes and by the determination of citizens to ensure they were not oppressed.

Yet today, the US is a mighty empire, spreading its war-like wings abroad and expanding authoritarianism at home. It is a bankrupt empire as well, with a dysfunctional mercantilist military-industrial complex that has increasingly displaced entrepreneurship and the remnants of free markets.

After Thoughts

The lightbulb law is only a tiny matter, but sometimes such issues take on a kind of transcendental importance. The reversal of this law would be one positive example of the impact of the Internet Reformation, albeit a tiny one, that people may be starting to return to some semblance of sanity after a century-long descent into socialism and militarism. One can only hope.

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