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  • Bulbs, Bootleggers & Baptists

    There was something of a preemptive eulogy in one of the Economist’s blogs last month. (Yeah, I know, I often get way behind on my blog reading. Chalk it up to being the workaholic president of a growing company.) But it illustrates a couple of the reasons why I am hesitant to jump on many of the various carbon footprint bandwagons.

    Lightbulb

    Photo by Ben Becker

    Firstly, there is a distinct difference between the quality of light that comes from a burning filament and the quality of light you get from other forms of generating light, and designers for our resorts may well want to use this specific form of light: simply outlawing it reduces our design options, and for no necessarily good reason. Our freedom to deliver certain kinds of customer experiences is being outlawed in the name of being “green.” But this higher level of “greenness” is by no means assured.

    Because secondly, it’s not at all obvious that incandescents have a higher environmental impact than fluorescents: energy consumption may well be lower, but costs of production and disposal of fluorescents could well offset this reduced energy consumption (especially if the method of energy generation is relatively clean). Moreover, as the Economist blogger cheekily points out in his final paragraph, the easy substitution of halogens for incandescents negates the entire (ostensible) purpose of the law.

    This issue reminds me of an old Econtalk, which is why I wrote “ostensible” above. Back in early 2007, Roberts interviewed Bruce Yandle on the theory of bootleggers and Baptists, which I found a fascinating discussion and one that is well worth listening to if one wants to be an informed member of the polity regarding purposes and methods of various forms of regulation.

    Short version of the “bootleggers and Baptists” story, lifted from Wikipedia:

    The bootleggers and the preachers both have an incentive to limit the legal consumption and distribution of alcohol, the former with the economic reason and the latter with the ethical justification that people will support, though by their very nature the two groups wouldn’t get along. The politician effectively acts as the go-between, taking the bootlegger’s campaign contributions and citing the preacher’s morals in speeches.

    To summarize one salient point from the podcast: any time a regulation mandates or outlaws a particular technology instead of specifying a performance standard, you should be very suspicious of who is behind it and who receives the primary benefits. (In the case of the fluorescent light bulb mandate, here is one completely unverified guess by me.)

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    Post by Benjamin Loomis

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    2 Responses

    1. Benjamin Loomis Ben says:

      Bruce- Thanks for the support. As a market-oriented entrepreneur working in the area of sustainable development, I enjoyed both of your Econtalk podcasts and have read a number of your writings as well. So it was a treat to hear from you. Thanks,

    2. Bruce Yandle says:

      A right-on Bootlegger/Baptist analysis. Excellent point on performance versus technology standards. The U.S. is pushing forward with more “nudge” regulation designed to help us find happiness in regulatory nirvana.

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        [post_content] => There was something of a preemptive eulogy in one of the Economist's blogs last month. (Yeah, I know, I often get way behind on my blog reading. Chalk it up to being the workaholic president of a growing company.) But it illustrates a couple of the reasons why I am hesitant to jump on many of the various carbon footprint bandwagons.
    
    [caption id="attachment_10344" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Photo by Ben Becker"]Lightbulb[/caption]
    
    Firstly, there is a distinct difference between the quality of light that comes from a burning filament and the quality of light you get from other forms of generating light, and designers for our resorts may well want to use this specific form of light: simply outlawing it reduces our design options, and for no necessarily good reason. Our freedom to deliver certain kinds of customer experiences is being outlawed in the name of being "green." But this higher level of "greenness" is by no means assured.
    
    Because secondly, it's not at all obvious that incandescents have a higher environmental impact than fluorescents: energy consumption may well be lower, but costs of production and disposal of fluorescents could well offset this reduced energy consumption (especially if the method of energy generation is relatively clean). Moreover, as the Economist blogger cheekily points out in his final paragraph, the easy substitution of halogens for incandescents negates the entire (ostensible) purpose of the law.
    
    This issue reminds me of an old Econtalk, which is why I wrote "ostensible" above. Back in early 2007, Roberts interviewed Bruce Yandle on the theory of bootleggers and Baptists, which I found a fascinating discussion and one that is well worth listening to if one wants to be an informed member of the polity regarding purposes and methods of various forms of regulation.
    
    Short version of the "bootleggers and Baptists" story, lifted from Wikipedia:
    
    The bootleggers and the preachers both have an incentive to limit the legal consumption and distribution of alcohol, the former with the economic reason and the latter with the ethical justification that people will support, though by their very nature the two groups wouldn't get along. The politician effectively acts as the go-between, taking the bootlegger's campaign contributions and citing the preacher's morals in speeches.
    
    To summarize one salient point from the podcast: any time a regulation mandates or outlaws a particular technology instead of specifying a performance standard, you should be very suspicious of who is behind it and who receives the primary benefits. (In the case of the fluorescent light bulb mandate, here is one completely unverified guess by me.)
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    [post_content] => There was something of a preemptive eulogy in one of the Economist's blogs last month. (Yeah, I know, I often get way behind on my blog reading. Chalk it up to being the workaholic president of a growing company.) But it illustrates a couple of the reasons why I am hesitant to jump on many of the various carbon footprint bandwagons.

[caption id="attachment_10344" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Photo by Ben Becker"]Lightbulb[/caption]

Firstly, there is a distinct difference between the quality of light that comes from a burning filament and the quality of light you get from other forms of generating light, and designers for our resorts may well want to use this specific form of light: simply outlawing it reduces our design options, and for no necessarily good reason. Our freedom to deliver certain kinds of customer experiences is being outlawed in the name of being "green." But this higher level of "greenness" is by no means assured.

Because secondly, it's not at all obvious that incandescents have a higher environmental impact than fluorescents: energy consumption may well be lower, but costs of production and disposal of fluorescents could well offset this reduced energy consumption (especially if the method of energy generation is relatively clean). Moreover, as the Economist blogger cheekily points out in his final paragraph, the easy substitution of halogens for incandescents negates the entire (ostensible) purpose of the law.

This issue reminds me of an old Econtalk, which is why I wrote "ostensible" above. Back in early 2007, Roberts interviewed Bruce Yandle on the theory of bootleggers and Baptists, which I found a fascinating discussion and one that is well worth listening to if one wants to be an informed member of the polity regarding purposes and methods of various forms of regulation.

Short version of the "bootleggers and Baptists" story, lifted from Wikipedia:

The bootleggers and the preachers both have an incentive to limit the legal consumption and distribution of alcohol, the former with the economic reason and the latter with the ethical justification that people will support, though by their very nature the two groups wouldn't get along. The politician effectively acts as the go-between, taking the bootlegger's campaign contributions and citing the preacher's morals in speeches.

To summarize one salient point from the podcast: any time a regulation mandates or outlaws a particular technology instead of specifying a performance standard, you should be very suspicious of who is behind it and who receives the primary benefits. (In the case of the fluorescent light bulb mandate, here is one completely unverified guess by me.)
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