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Government regulation is good

”A law in the US that is due to take effect in 2012 mandates such tough efficiency standards for lightbulbs that it has been assumed, until recently, that it would kill off the incandescent bulb. Instead, the law has become a case study of the way government regulation can inspire technical innovation. For example, new incandescent technology from Philips that seals the traditional filament inside a small capsule (which itself is contained within the familiar bulb). The capsule has a coating that reflects heat back to the filament, where it is partially converted to light. The sophisticated ($5.00) bulbs are about 30% more efficient than the old-fashioned ($0.25) kind, and should last about three times as long. So they are less economical than compact fluorescents, but should emit a more pleasing spectrum, not contain mercury, and, one supposes, present the utility company with a more desirable power factor.”

Suck that, libertarians!

Gosh, I keep on finding counter-examples to the old tripes of “government regulation is always bad” and “market forces solve all problems”. I wonder why that is. Maybe... shock-and-horror... they aren’t true???

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Hunh. Amazing thing is, in Ayn Rand's Anthem, a libertarian bible of sorts, the evil government regulation outlawing light bulbs... imposed to keep candle producers in business, because innovation will cost the country jobs.

Tom, you continue to conflate the ability of market forces to come up with good responses to external pressure from whatever source with direct (good or bad) regulation. I think your "libertarian" is made of straw. Though I am more of a government policy wonk and not a "market solves everything" type, your example is, if anything, an example of the market solving a problem, rather than government. Government imposed this particular challenge, but did not require any particular solution. Given time, rising energy costs or even government taxing electricity could have well have had the same effect, or perhaps not (and I guess we will find out what effect a tax-like surcharge on energy will have, soon, too). In that respect, what is really going on is that government found ways to incentivize the market to solve an emerging problem by taking steps to imminentize the problem.

Indeed, the improved incandescent is not the only innovative approach to lighting that has been driven by the regulation:

Bad regulation is the sort that drives a conclusion about method, rather than setting an objective. For example, if regulation had outright banned incandescent bulbs, as tactisle mentions below, then no market force could compensate on that side of the issue since the outcome would be foregone. I think the subsidies offered for ethanol production were such bad policy-making, while finding ways to challenge organizations in order to speed up the rate at which new energy-saving tech becomes interesting to the marketplace can be good regulation . . . assuming of course that the problem being imminentized is really an emerging problem and not a political football.

Any regulations goes some distance in assuming the solution. Innovation that allowed old-style inefficient incandescents to create something useful with the wasted energy but still not feed that energy back into the grid is still stifiled. Is such an innovation likely? Not at all. But could you come up with such a scenario in order to support some Randian nonsense? Certainly.

I agree that having the regulation take a step back and mandate what society actually needs, rather than a particular mechanism for meeting that need is often a good idea. But just how one can do that is not always clear. And in any case, it's more of a muddled continuum than a toggle.

more of a muddled continuum than a toggle


My non-sarcastic answer is:

Regulation isn't bad or good... it is a tool that can be used well or good just like a knife can be used to hurt someone or to heal someone.

Regulation spurs innovation when done right. When it specifies and end-goal and lets the marketplace come up with the solution, innovation happens. Good progressive politicians know this and write laws that do this.

Conservatives know this, but ignore it because they know that innovation risks changing who dominates a market. They are more interested in protecting who is in power than anything else. That's true in protecting, for example, GE's light bulb manufacturing from replacement technologies like CF, as well as protecting the white people in power from minorities who might have their lives improved by civil rights.

Of course, the conservatives are believing myths. The world is improved when a new and better market leader arises, and minorities having additional power does not take away from anyone else's power. Power is not a zero-sum game.

The other ironic thing here is that conservatives publicly dis regulation but privately they know that it isn't good or bad. However, it benefits them to slowly over time build up hate for regulation because it makes it easier to get regulations removed when it will benefit them. When there is a regulation that they want upheld (like, say, AT&T's monopoly, RIAA's copyright stuff, unscrupulous patents, etc.) they can retain it by being silent. If someone tries to remove a regulation that benefits them (which is rare) they fight the effort but never call it "regulation"; this maintains the mythos that they've created that all regulation is bad.

The truth is that regulation is more often good than bad. Ask anyone that has been saved by a seat belt, likes to drink clean water, or breath clean air.

"The truth is" indeed that regulation can be good or bad, but it is also true that almost every national politician's backers direct the use of regulation to their advantage, party notwithstanding.

Edit: too harsh. Point above is all that matters as a response.

Edited at 2009-07-07 08:47 pm (UTC)

I just hope they really do last three times longer. In my experience, the longevity claims of the compact fluorescents is malarkey.

From what I've read various places the lifespan of CF bulbs has gone down as their manufacture got cheaper and moved to China. Apparently they used to actually last years and years.

I just hope they can handle the same temperature range as traditional incandescents. One of the big problems with this regulation is that it does not take into account the fact that light is still needed in inhospitable environments (e.g. outdoors in Wisconsin). I sort of assumed that LEDs would have to step up, but improved incandescents works for me too.

Let Me Get This Straight....

They cost 2000% of the original light-bulbs, but are only 130% efficiency and only last 300% of the original?

Why wouldn't I simply want a CASE of the originals to last me much much longer?

Sounds like my government at work to me, alright.

When did government regulation stop being a market force?

counter-examples to the old tripes

perhaps you meant tropes?

coz, fer reals, no one wants to find old tripes anywheres ~blech~

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