The Spectacle Blog

Dim Bulbs

By on 9.9.10 | 10:11AM

For those of you that follow the newest excuse for long-desired central planning, 'green jobs', you might enjoy yesterday's front page piece in the Washington Post about how the mandate of more expensive, often non-utile light bulbs has put Americans out of work.

This is the third fairly recent item in WaPo, by my reckoning, acknowledging at least one of the mirages that together make up the 'green jobs' folly: an earlier item (an op-ed) emphasized that mandating 'green cars' will produce jobs in the 'green car' sector, sure, but obviously (to some) at the expense of a job in the real car sector. These aren't new, net jobs.

Worse, there is the reality that making things more expensive is a net job killer.

Then there's that point made by WaPo: "as the lighting industry shows, even when the government pushes companies toward environmental innovations and Americans come up with them, the manufacture of the next generation technology can still end up overseas". We can no more mandate that these things you mandate will be made here any more than the state can mandate new technology into existence. In the case of stupid light bulbs, they require more manual labor. Which is your first clue they won't be made here.

In the case of, say, windmills, you require steel and energy to manufacture the things. You can make windmills out of steel, but you can't make steel using windmills. The components will largely be made in jurisdictions that don't make their energy more expensive with, say, windmill mandates. So you see the problem with the economics. Add a dose of Bastiat (print that out and take it with you on any trip; entertaining and priceless) recalling problems that come with mandating inefficiencies, and things become even more clear. Unless you're a policymaker.

But finally, here's the kick from the light bulb story: It was the (wait for it) Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that brought us the mandate, which actually takes the form of a required phase out of incandescent light bulbs in 2012 in favor of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Chuckle. Get it? Using less electricity fired by coal -- which we have centuries of beneath our own soil -- makes us more secure by... closing domestic lighting production in favor of relying on lighting made in China.

The geniuses behind this are the same people who do not cite production of domestic sources of oil as their remedy for "reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil", but windmills and solar panels. Because, apparently, we get our electricity from oil (1%...just as meaningless as from wind and solar!) Or else all of those wind- and solar-powered cars out there.

To defend against the latter with the pipe dream still uttered regularly in the halls of Congress to this day, that well we can just recharge the nation's auto fleet at night using wind power is as pie-in-the-sky as the assumptions behind mandating more expensive light bulbs for all of your needs even though they do not satisfy all of your needs, fit all of your equipment, or save energy in all of your uses.

All of which helps explain why we get a "comprehensive energy bill" every seven years or so. They are no such thing. They are boondoggles, one and all. Ethanol? Subsidies...and a mandate (a previously sacrosanct firewall never breached: take yer pick, belt or suspenders, can't have both). Then, increase the mandate. Then double it! No wonder the wind and solar rent-seekers are so encouraged and tenacious. There are hundreds of billions of your hard-earned dollars at stake that they might have awarded them by policymakers.

Republicans, wedded to the rhetoric of "all of the above", had better begin putting that into practice with two necessary, rational steps: it means ending the war on energy sources that work, on American energy, not rationalizing subsidy and mandate schemes for those that do not. Second, eliminate all subsidies. Any subsidy that is adopted must be adopted on its individual merits but can only extend to R&D. Maybe mom-and-pop stripper wells, because extracting that oil in this market and world does make some sense. And here you see the slippery slope begin.

But those energy sources that work will do just fine, thank you. Subsidizing them is not necessary because, let's face it, you save a few cents a gallon or kWh for...the people whose money you are taking for the subsidy in the first place. Subsidizing those things that do not work is simply irrational. Those things that are just 10-20 years away today were 10-20 years away 10-20 years ago and will be so in 10-20 years, as well. Decades of $8 gas and windmill mandates has not produced Flubber and flying cars in Europe. It won't here.

Prepare for an energy debate, against entrenched interests, Mike Castle, and the party of Big Business (we'll find out who it really is...sadly, the answer might be 'both'). But this is a debate that, if we don't have now, as we're going broke, with public awareness and surliness in demanding reform at its highest level in memory, then we never will have it.

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