Lightbulbs and legislation: How GE got away

| Senior Forum Editor

A recent New York Times blog article highlights the stupendous ineptitude of the American government to keep corporate regulations in check. When new standards for energy usage were set for corporations to follow, General Electric embarrassed the entire legislature by sidestepping the issue altogether—they simply reduced the output of the lightbulbs. Instead of actually making the light bulbs more efficient, they simply made them dimmer, changing nothing (and in some cases actually making the issue worse). While it may be extremely easy to blame this fiasco on the malevolence of the corporation and their collective use of twisted logic to evade the spirit of the government regulations, those don’t show the entire picture. To be sure, corporations should be damned for their lack of concern toward real efficiency standards, and passing off their new bulbs as green borderlines on fraud. Yet at the root of the issue, GE is performing as a corporation should: The company is out to maximize its profits, and will do so in any way it can. The problem, while perhaps exacerbated by corporations, exists at its root as a function of the government’s complete inability to make proper regulations.

Government regulations are in theory a great idea: They allow the free market to operate within the boundaries of the governmental sphere. But as this latest embarrassment shows, regulations as currently implemented by the government are written poorly and sloppily—who can blame the corporations for using the loopholes when the government makes it so easy? If, instead of simply demanding that bulbs consume a specific amount of energy, the government established a minimum performance ratio, we wouldn’t have any actual problems—and if no congressmen saw GE’s move coming, they need to find another job (then again, don’t they all?).

Granted, the nuances and intricacies of public policy are completely lost on a college-age campus newspaper editor. Nevertheless, it seems extremely fishy that government regulations are established in such an inane and easily defeated manner. If, instead, the government provided incentives to corporations that actually had efficient light bulbs (and could prove the efficiency in some manner), then corporations would compete to increase their efficiency as much as possible, instead of looking for the cheapest loophole to skate by the standards. If governments provide a minimum standard for corporations, they cannot later complain when the corporations only do the bare minimum.

So this is old news: The government is inefficient. But that doesn’t mean that we simply give up—I give government officials more intellectual capacity than a 3-year-old no matter how close they actually come to a toddler in terms of cognitive performance. If the government can’t get light bulbs right, I fear to find out what government actually can get right.