Is Obsolete Tech an Inalienable Right?

Illustration for article titled Is Obsolete Tech an Inalienable Right?

Today's superfluous political grappling comes via Texas, where Republican rep Joe Barton's incensed by legislation mandating efficient incandescent lightbulbs. Rather, he and his backers claim, Americans should be able to screw-in whatever they damn please. Is old tech really a liberty?

Although the bulb battle isn't a strictly partisan one, the AP reports, (the original efficiency legislation was signed off on by George W. Bush), it's received backing by Republican legislators who see it as another example of Uncle Sam sticking his Big Government monster claw into your home: "We bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy," chirped Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

Except that's not really the case at all. Incandescent bulbs aren't banned—their manufacturers just have to make them 25-30% less energy-sucking. This will make them more expensive, yes, but longterm energy savings mean longterm money savings for you. And who doesn't like longterm money savings? Everyone likes longterm money savings. It'll also save the nation billions and billions in energy production.


But to Barton it's not about efficiency. It's not about technology at all. It's about Ye Olde Blood Stained Tree of Liberty: the bulb law (and the push to repeal it) "Is about more than just energy consumption. It is about personal freedom."

Well, not so fast, Joe. Beyond anything but the most stringent enshrinement of free will, casting obligatory lightbulb efficiency as an infringement on American liberties is a tough sell. The law doesn't, contrary to Michelle's arm-waving, tell you what kind of bulb to buy. You can buy an (improved) incandescent, a CFL, or an LED. You can buy them from an array of companies, at an array of stores. You can put them anywhere in your house you'd like. Or, you can forgo lightbulbs altogether! Use candles! Whatever! There's not a single line in the efficiency legislation that tells you how to live your life, what to think, or what to say. The loss of the "freedom" to buy inefficient vampire bulbs is tantamount to the freedom we're all deprived of by not being able to buy weaponized anthrax or endangered birds.

And we live, without whining, with plenty of such pseudo-curtailments. It's called—ta da!—living in a civil society. Our cars can't belch awful emissions because they're forced to run (relatively) efficiently. Our toilets are held to regulated flush flows, and, shoot, we're not allowed to fill our houses with toxic asbestos and lead paint anymore. But I'm okay with that. We have to pare down our Right to do literally anything we want at the cost of possibly hurting people or damaging things—that's something we're taught in kindergarten, and something Joe Barton should keep in mind. [via AP, Photo: AISPIX/Shutterstock]

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Ironically, CFL's are more toxic and are more costly to produce.