Monday, March 5, 2007

Bringing bad things to light

G-d save us from those so desperately eager to save us from ourselves:

TORONTO, ONTARIO Ontario is considering becoming the first province in Canada to follow Australia's lead in banning old-fashioned, energy-sucking light bulbs, Environment Minister Laurel Broten said as the province draws up a plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

Conservative Leader John Tory and environmental groups are urging the government to ban incandescent bulbs in favour of energy-efficient ones, saying it's the push people need to save electricity and a move that would eliminate much of the province's dependence on coal-fired power plants.

"There are a lot of great ideas out there and that's one of them," Broten said. "Everything is on the table." --> (more here)

A halfway decent definition of liberty is that desirable state we attain when everything is not on the table. Otherwise, we spend all of our lives fighting over those many things that are on the table, because there is no decision that one can make for oneself that some busybody won't try to interfere in. This is not to say that the government should never deny the individual freedom of choice, just that the government ought to be so greatly reluctant to do so, that it won't in the absence of a disturbingly compelling reason to act.

What that reason might be in this case is anybody's guess. Consider where Ontario is located. Considering the fact that I hear from people who think that Chicago is located somewhere near Kentucky, maybe I'd better give a map.

If you're from California, this is a map of a country called Canada.

Yes, that Minneapolis, Minnesota you're seeing well to the south of Ontario, which you can see generally lies to the north of the generally frosty American Midwest, with Hudson Bay, an inlet of the Arctic to its North. One might go out on a limb and guess the beach weather there might not be optimally warm, most of the time, and one would be right, as one can see by looking these month mean temperatures for Toronto, and then noticing how far Ontario reaches to the north of that city. One might be safe, then, in concluding that Bob and Doug MacKenzie do not live in a tropical paradise, and in fact probably have the heat on most of the time.

Guess what happens to the energy "wasted" by an incandescent light bulb? This is the issue that gets glossed over by advocates of this kind of intrusive legislation, who tend to act like the energy that an incandescent light bulb fails to turn into visible light just vanishes into nowhere. Obviously, it can't do any such thing, because one would have to circumvent basic physical conservation laws, as in the laws of Physics themselves, to accomplish this undesirable goal. Where, then, does the missing energy go?

The vast bulk of it becomes heat, which helps to keep warm the space it is heating, reducing the need for heating feul. Outside of the summer months, and mainly during the day even at that, that energy isn't going to waste at all, and the clueless consumer who so badly needs to be micromanaged for his own good turns out to be not so clueless after all. Go further south, into a place like Chicago, and you'll find that our year still isn't wall-to-wall toastiness, either, and so even down in balmy Illinois, most of the waste energy is being put to good use, even without any deliberate attempt being made.

A Northern Ontarian goes grocery shopping

We're left with a proposed law which our activist friends are trying to spread from place to place, rather unconcerned with the fact that there is no clear rationale for promoting it, and a very clear rationale for opposing it. The problem with passing a law or otherwise imposing decisions upon the individual from above, is that individuals are very different from each other and while they can and likely will factor those individual differences of their own into the purchasing decisions they make, the law isn't very good at doing that, itself.

For some people, fluorescent lighting is as good as any other, and they are free to maybe save a little money by buying the new fluourescent bulbs - if, indeed, they do save money. For others of us, though, that light can be intensely unpleasant. Some can see its flickering, others find its decidedly unnatural mix of colors unsettling, and these factors can greatly reduce the mental focus and comfort of those so affected. Certainly, I've found that they affect mine, and one can easily find others who will say the same. Pass that law where we live, and we are denied the freedom to rationally act by making a very small added expenditure of our own money during a relatively brief time of the year. Very brief, indeed, because during the day during the summer, one tends to either be working or outside, not at home either way, and so we're facing the possibility of sustaining a real loss in productivity and quality of life in order to force us to engage in what may well be nonexistent savings, based on the theory that individual people are so stupid that they can't manage to decide to save money on their own, unless they are forced to do so at gunpoint.

People acting in a free market are certainly capable of acting stupidly, which is why when their stupidity affects others on a large scale lassez faire may not prove to be a valid nonresponse on the part of government, but the assumption of this argument is something very different. The assumption is not that we may have lone individuals who may make irrational use of their disproportionate amount of personal power to work mischief on the undeserving, but that on the whole, the customer can not be trusted to make the simple decision to avoid wasting his own money, that he has to be babysat and forced to make the right decision for his own good, by people who, in reality, don't live inside his skin, don't see out his eyes, and really aren't qualified to decide for him what that right decision is. If my decision to make that purchase is something that an administrator must decide on, as he elects whether or not to allow a variance on an ordinance, and I tell him that I find myself feeling very, very sleepy under those lights, he can only guess as to whether or not I'm telling the truth, but I know, which is why one leaves things like this up to the market. How many people do you know of who don't want to save money, and how much extra energy will likely be consumed by those whimsical few? Where is the disproportionate impact of the few that requires intervention on behalf of the relatively many?

Electricity, after all, isn't free, and unlike some well-to-do person owning his own company, very few of us have money to burn. But Big Brother knows best, right? What's next, I wonder? Maybe a law mandating the proper way in which we may tie our shoelaces.