NYT columnist on lightbulb law: Lobbyists like it, so it must be fine 

Gail Collins has a light-hearted column in the New York Times gently condescending to those who don't like the federal government prohibiting them from buying the kind of light bulbs they want to buy.

She dismisses this "Hysteria over the government taking away our right to buy inefficient light bulbs" as being "just for political show." Surely nobody is actually upset about a law that has no constitutional justification, and that takes away an affordable option from consumers, and that contributed to hundreds of people in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia losing their jobs.

But columnist Collins has proof that nobody is honestly upset about the light bulb law. First, she writes, "The National Electrical Manufacturers Association says demand for the allegedly beloved old bulbs has dropped 50 percent over the last five years."

Then she quotes Senate energy committee chairman Jeff Bingaman: "I heard the statements at the committee hearing, but nobody’s walking the halls lobbying me about this."

Got that? Nobody's lobbying against the light bulb law, so it must be okay!

Except for something called "concentrated benefit and diffuse costs." Everyone in America who would rather have a traditional bulb will soon be prohibited from buying those bulbs. That's a small, but real cost for many millions of people. There's no efficient way to organize the light-bulb consumers lobby -- diffuse costs.

What about industry? Well, they all favor it. GE and Sylvania both lobbied for the light-bulb regulations, and both companies stand to profit, as they have higher margins with high-tech bulbs and greater barriers to entry -- concentrated benefits.

And who is lobbying on lighting efficiency standards? I searched recent lobbying records and found only one organization included the word "light bulb" in their filings in the past two years. What do you know, it's the very National Electrical Manufacturers Association that Collins cites in orer to pooh-pooh the idea that folks prefer incandescents. NEMA, a multimillion-dollar industry lobby, supported the 2007 regulations and pushes to expand the regulations. It's part of what we call regulatory robbery.

So on one side of this fence is the lobbying of General Electric, Sylvania, NEMA plus the legislative clout of the Senate Energy Committee. On the other side are some Republican congressmen and millions of consumers. Good thing we have Gail Collins to come and tell the New York Times' readers whom to listen to and whom to ignore.

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Timothy P. Carney

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