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George Will Thinks the Government Is Trying to Grab His Light-Bulbs

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I'm pretty sure that the acerbic but alacritous George Will of 10 or 20 years ago would be deeply embarrassed by the nonsense he's putting out these days.

Here's his latest:

Daniel Okrent's darkly hilarious " Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" recounts how Americans abolished a widely exercised private right -- and condemned the nation's fifth-largest industry -- in order to make the nation more heavenly. Then all hell broke loose. Now that ambitious government is again hell-bent on improving Americans -- from how they use salt to what light bulbs they use -- Okrent's book is a timely tutorial on the law of unintended consequences...

After the first few years, alcohol consumption dropped only 30 percent. Soon smugglers were outrunning the Coast Guard ships in advanced speedboats, and courts inundated by violations of Prohibition began to resort to plea bargains to speed "enforcement" of laws so unenforceable that Detroit became known as the City on a Still...

The many lessons of Okrent's story include: In the fight between law and appetite, bet on appetite. And: Americans then were, and let us hope still are, magnificently ungovernable by elected nuisances.

It's an incoherent analogy -- there's no move afoot to prohibit either salt or lightbulbs. A government panel recommended that the salt content in prepared foods be regulated, but you'll be free to pour all the salt you want on your Pringles.

As for lightbulbs ...

When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb. The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012, that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed.

But as it turns out, the obituaries were premature.

Researchers across the country have been racing to breathe new life into  Thomas Edison’s light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation. Amid that footrace, one company is already marketing limited quantities of incandescent bulbs that meet the 2012 standard, and researchers are promising a wave of innovative products in the next few years.

Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation.

Oops.

I wonder if there's a better analog to the prohibition of alcohol in America today? Oh, yes! Here's Will writing about it last November:

The Justice Department recently announced that federal laws against marijuana would not be enforced for possession of marijuana that conforms to states' laws. In 2000, Colorado legalized medical marijuana.

[Some Colorado DA Will quoted] is loath to see complete legalization of marijuana at a moment when new methods of cultivation are producing plants in which the active ingredient, THC, is "seven, eight times as concentrated" as it used to be.

Furthermore, he was pleasantly surprised when a survey of nonusing young people revealed that health concerns did not explain nonuse. The main explanation was the law: "We underestimate the number of people who care that something is illegal."

But they will care less as law itself loses its dignity.