Energy Independence (Autarky) Makes Us All Poor

If you enjoy the soft warm glow of an incandescent light bulb then you might want to head over to your local hardware store and stock up. As of January 1, the manufacture or importation of 40- and 60- watt light bulbs has been outlawed (100-watt bulbs were banned in 2012 and 75-watt in 2013).  This ban was mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 – a monstrosity of a bill passed with bipartisan and industry support and signed into law by a Republican president (so much for the “Republicans are for small government” myth). It is, like all such bills, predicated on irrational fears and willful ignorance of human nature. The very title betrays adherence to an economically self-destructive goal: market independence. Such independence not only makes us poorer (paying more for less) it actually encourages belligerent behavior. Withdrawing ourselves as a country from the global market (becoming “market isolationists”) by striving for independence or erecting trade barriers makes us more, not less, likely to go to war. Equating energy independence with security is 21st century doublespeak that permits the political class to con the country into following their lead. A country that depends on acquiring its goods through a global network of trade is unlikely to foul that network by killing its participants. But a country that is “independent” has free reign to attack its neighbors if it in fact relies on those neighbors for nothing.

If market independence enhanced one’s security then the state should hold the hermit in highest regard. The hermit produces all for himself and thus relies on no one. But such independence has a cost. It is not money that enhances our standard of living; it is other humans interacting freely with one another. Money is merely a ledger entry, simple bookkeeping to measure the balance of subjective value between such voluntary exchanges if we so choose (e.g. friendship is valuable, but we don’t track that valuable exchange in terms of money). If human interactions add value to our lives, then it follows that limiting those interactions will suppress such value. Government intervention in the market arbitrarily limits these potential interactions by limiting choice. Selecting only from the approved options is no choice at all. So, if government intervention always limits choice, it follows that this will always leaves us all with less value in our lives – even those that appear to benefit from such interventions are harmed, for they too exist in a world with fewer goods because of their legally permitted decreased output.

Now one might have imagined that this “bulb ban” was vociferously objected to by the evil bulb manufacturers (who just wanted to keep foisting cheap bulbs on America in order to preserve their profits at the expense of our “energy independence”). The exact opposite was the case. Industry had been trying for years to entice consumers into switching to the higher margin CFL bulbs with promises of bulb longevity (that never materialized in practice) to offset the exorbitantly higher cost (20-fold in some cases). Once industry realized they could get government to do what the free-market would not (compel consumers to buy their product by leaving them no other choice), they quickly formed a coalition with environmental groups and pushed for crony-capitalist legislation under the cloak of eco-friendliness.

What are the results so far? The consumer has less money, the bulb manufactures have more, and the public, having been sold on the idea of greater bulb efficiency, now leave their bulbs on longer, thus entirely negating one of the primary goals of the bill. That greater efficiency would lead to greater usage should have been easily predicted by anyone who has observed the human penchant to double up on a low calorie meal. Try as they might, Congress cannot legislate away human nature.