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April 28, 2008

The ‘LightBulb Freedom of Choice Act’: Selfishness Has Its Day


Most of us would agree, I think, that change is inevitable. Not always good, not always wise, but tomorrow will not be the same as today (which, I’m also told, makes the prospects of heartache bearable).


There are reasons, in many cases, to keep change in check. Change oftentimes works as a wave, and in its wake, change that takes place too quickly can prompt important knowledge and traditions to fall off the back end and out of human memory.


There are times when resisting that change is not good, and as example I give you the LightBulb Freedom of Choice Act of 2008. It’s a narrowly focused piece of legislation, aimed specifically at portions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that prohibit the use of old-style incandescent light bulbs in most sockets.


The original energy bill has naturally set off howls of protest among a vocal minority who go about their day in a constant state of dudgeon over choices made for them. As long as they are willing to pay, they should be allowed to make their own decisions.


That sounds reasonable, except that there is sticker price, and there is something’s real cost. This is especially true when it comes to energy usage.


It’s estimated that making this conversion will save consumers an estimated $300 billion by 2030. More importantly, it means reducing our collective greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil by reducing demand. This comes at a time when we’re searching for better, more efficient, more dependable ways to produce energy.


More importantly, it tells us that what has passed as the movement for individual rights has – if it didn’t start this way – morphed into a movement in favor of selfishness. It is expressed in a desire for freedom to buy old, inefficient light bulbs.


There is something for individual choice, but there are times to say, “That is a fight not worth having.” In this case, it is a fight being waged by people who wish to pay more for inefficiency that has costs the rest of us will ultimately get to help pay.


So far, there are a handful of sponsors and co-sponsors for the bill, but it has also generated a good deal of buzz among self-styled conservatives who oppose government dictating what kinds of light bulbs they buy. A good deal of their wind is being expressed as doubt concerning global warming, the phenomenon that helped drive the original legislation through Congress.


It would be wrong to say that most skepticism concerning global warming is driven by a selfish desire not to contribute to the common good, but that’s only because there is no firm data that suggests as such. It is notable that many of the same people who don’t wish government to help them pick light bulbs also object to paying most forms of taxation. Some of them object to laws telling you that you can’t dump toxic substances in rivers on the grounds that injured parties should compel good behavior through the courts. It is also among this constituency that you find the strongest resistance to smoking bans of any kind, including in places where they expose other people and other people’s children to the damaging effects of second-hand smoke.


They’ve constructed around these positions vast piles of rationalizations, built from both junk science and dubious interpretations of history. They attack the source of a collective cost.

At the bottom of it, it’s hard not to pull it apart and find as a chief motivator a desire to not be forced to be an agent for the common good. We have a name for that, which is selfishness, and it applies equally to you if you take more than your share of a pie or if you object too strenuously to legislation that provides you with concrete benefit while also helping everyone else.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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