Dynamist Blog

California's Regulatory Impulse Cont'd

It looks like ridicule may kill the spanking ban, but California legislators never stop finding new ideas for bans and regulations. Now the San Jose Mercury-News reports that Lloyd Levine, an assembly member from Van Nuys, wants the state to ban sales of incandescent light bulbs. The credulous article, by Kate Folmar of the Sacramento bureau, makes no mention of aesthetic objections to fluorescent bulbs, focusing entirely on short-term price comparisons (with no present value calculations):

Switching light bulbs is an idea that environmentalists have long supported. But getting consumers to embrace change has been slow going.

Banning energy-intensive incandescents "saves consumers money, saves the state money and saves energy," said Levine, who calls his measure the "How Many Legislators Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb Act."

"When a consumer is standing in a store and they're confronted with two different products, they generally opt for the one that is cheaper and the one they've traditionally bought," he said. "The problem is: The one they think is cheaper is only cheap at that moment in time. The other one is cheaper over the long run."

Compact fluorescent bulbs cost several times more than a traditional bulb, but they last 10 times longer. Replacing one bulb that is used four to eight hours a day can save a consumer $4 to $13 a year and $38 to $72 after five years, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

For a different perspective, see my article here. After an unhappy experience with Wal-Mart's compact fluorescents, Megan McArdle sparked a vigorous debate on the subject here and here.

Regardless of the merits of the light bulbs, California legislators are far too eager to write their personal preferences into bans and mandates. (If you want Californians to burn less electricity, put a tax on it or let utilities raise the price. Don't tell them how to allocate the electricity they use.) So I'm reviving a blog series headline from a few years back.

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