Blogs > Liberty and Power > Dim Bulb of Liberty

Jan 5, 2008 5:23 pm

Dim Bulb of Liberty

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

And so now a ban on light bulbs, brought to you by the same outfit that gave you the ban on efficient toilets.

Can’t someone please give these people real jobs?

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Andrew D. Todd - 1/6/2008

I beg to correct you about the televisions: there is a chunk of radio bandwidth which people want to reclaim, for purposes such as wireless communication. The federal government has a reasonably good chance of making its money back by auctioning off the radio bandwidth, according to established practice. This is assuming the bandwidth is bought by people whom the government does not eventually feel obliged to bail out. By way of comparison, about ten or twenty years ago, the microwave relay people moved up from 2 GHz to 20 GHz, to make room for the cellphones, and they got paid compensation to buy them new equipment. This is basically the same deal.

You can obtain two $40 rebate coupons for converter boxes from the federal government, and with falling prices, this is likely to cover nearly all of the price of the converter box. The going rate for a device of comparable complexity, a television tuner which plugs into a computer's USB connection, is about $20-- and falling. In fact, I shall be mildly surprised if some kind of "dead souls" operation does not develop in coupon redemption. You know, good old Tchitchikov, running around selling imaginary converters, for a coupon and a bogus receipt, and kicking back twenty dollars.

More legitimately, it is likely to cost very little money to build a digital tuner into a DVD player. I find that the going rate for a DVD player at Wal-Mart is now only $35. Digital television uses the same basic portmanteau of techniques which DVD players use (eg. Fourier Transforms, the backbone of MPEG 2), and modern electronics are so heavily software-based, that it really isn't all that big a deal to switch the hardware around internally to receive a wide range of different signals, including digital television.

At present, the coupon cannot be used to buy a DVD player, but this may change if there is an embarrassingly low rate of coupon requests. The government will be under pressure to prove that no one is still watching analog television, and I don't doubt that there will be an exercise in what Tom Wolfe called "Mau-Mauing the flak-catchers." You know how that works-- charter a hundred greyhound buses, provision each with a movable feast, load them up with welfare recipients, and deposit five thousand or so chanting voices on the Capitol steps. You can put on quite a decent Mau-Mauing for a hundred thousand dollars. Seriously, the owners of televisions stations are not poor men-- they are in approximately the same league as sports team owners, and manufacturer-franchised automobile dealers, and I think they can be left to look after their own interests without John-Edwards-style pseudopopulism.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/5/2008

Actually the new light bulb rules, if I understand them correctly, are an example of relatively effective government action.

The purpose is reasonable and important--energy conservation. The rules don't specify a technology; they specify an efficiency standard. This leaves manufacturers free to meet the standard in their own way.

As most new bulbs will be designed to fit existing light fixtures, there will be little dislocation or forced investment in new products. Less efficient bulbs will be replaced my more efficient ones.

The complaint here would be far more justified if directed at the forced shift to digital television. That really is a change motivated solely by the desire of manufacturers to force old TVs out of the market for no good reason other than profit.