Reports of Death of Incandescent Light Bulb are Premature

By:  Bob Adelmann
Reports of Death of Incandescent Light Bulb are Premature

The free market continues to stay at least one step ahead of the regulators, this time with incandescent light bulbs.

Amidst celebrations welcoming the New Year, commentators were also announcing the death of the ubiquitous light bulb — the incandescent variety — that Congress, in a fit of environmental overreach, banned in stages with legislation passed in 2007. For instance, Shawn Regan, writing at Reason magazine, called it “Lights Out for America’s Favorite Light Bulb,” while CNN wrote an obituary for it, adding that it was “the dawn of a new day,” without Edison’s invention.

Some even went so far as to claim the “ban” as a classroom example of crony capitalism, with light bulb manufacturers, distressed over the tiny profit margins in their 60-, 75- and 100-watt bulbs, cozying up to environmentalists to pressure Congress into giving them special treatment. Said Regan, “The ban is crony capitalism in its most seductive form — when it’s disguised as green.”

The New York Times noted that the huge Dutch conglomerate Royal Phillips Electronics, maker of high-efficiency (and high-profit) light-emitting-diode (LED) lights, had formed a coalition with a number of environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to press Congress to raise energy efficiency requirements on light bulbs to the point where incandescents would essentially be outlawed. The head of Phillips’ “strategic sustainability initiatives,” Harry Verhaar, said at the time, "We felt that we needed to make a call and show that the best-known lighting technology, the incandescent light bulb, is at the end of its lifetime."

Edison's invention has become a virtual commodity, with miniscule profit margins, and efforts to educate citizens about the wonders of the new LED and CFL (compact fluorescent lights — the ones with the curly tops) had essentially failed to wean them off the cheaper ones. According to the New York Times of June 5, 2011,

Phillips told its environmental allies that it was well-positioned to capitalize on the transition to new technologies and wanted to get ahead of an efficiency movement that was gaining momentum abroad and in states like California.

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