Episode 6: Revenge of the Incandescent Light Bulb

It was 2007. I was in high school when my dad came home with a large bag of incandescent light bulbs. I was confused.

“Dad, what are you doing?” I asked.

“The government is mandating that light bulbs be energy efficient,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I hate those things! They’re more expensive and make the light look weird and I’m afraid to throw them out because I think there is mercury inside ’em.”

While I thought about whether all of his claims were true, and also why my dad was reenacting an episode of Doomsday Preppers, my dad took his bag into the back of the house. I didn’t give it too much more thought.

Until today.

Today we learn that researchers at MIT have discovered a way to make incandescent light bulbs much more efficient than the so called traditional energy efficient ones. By placing a crystal covering around the filament, researchers found that much of the energy that would formally be lost to the atmosphere in an old incandescent bulb is now redirected to the filament. Old incandescents were 5% energy efficient, while the old energy efficient ones are around 14% efficient.

The new incandescent version from MIT is 40% efficient.

How much sooner could this have been achieved if the free market was able to develop alternatives to the traditional incandescent bulb, rather than forced to abandon it by the government? The problem with a government mandate like the one imposed on light bulbs is that, however well-intentioned it may be, the government can never predict what solution the free market is going to come up with.

So before we outlaw fossil fuels completely, maybe we should let the free market read market signals and see what it can come up with to make those initiatives cleaner and more efficient.

After all, who would have predicted that 9 years after the mandate on light bulbs incandescents would be the leader in efficiency? Maybe it would have come in 3 or 4 years had government not intervened.