Ah, the inevitability of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Seems whenever the government – be it state, federal or local edict issuers – tries to meddle in our lives in new and magnificently draconian ways, a ripple of grumbling spreads across the land. Like a big rock thrown into the middle of a tranquil lake, ripple of opposition to new government regulations and restrictions begins with a “kabloosh” when the rock hits the water, and soon the ripples are washing ashore.
So it was when the United States Congress decided that Thomas Edison’s dependable and lovable light bulb, the one that was mass produced by the company he created called “General Electric” and the one that lit American homes for lo these many years, should and must be replaced with something that resembles a candy cane gone on a Christmas bender.
“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy – you shall replace all of the light bulbs in your house with these newfangled puppies that you don’t like, that will cost you an arm and a leg and probably will irritate your eyes every time you flip the switch. But you’ll be helping save the planet and at the same time helping to remove the furrows from Al Gore’s wrinkled forehead. It’s a win, win, win for us all.”
Then the ripples in the light-bulb lake began to reach the shoreline, and by the thousands emails and phone calls poured into congressional district offices at home and in those far-removed halls of Congress under the Capital Dome. “We didn’t make a stink when you told us to buy a new shower head that trickles water when we all prefer to shower in a torrent that resembles a fire hose. We confess we made a few jokes among ourselves when you told us to buy those new potties that we have to flush two or three times to make sure all the ookie-stuff goes away. And hey, we took it lying down when you told us to separate our plastic bottles from our aluminum cans in the recycling bins, and we didn’t even complain too much when you created the recycling police who wander our streets in search of environmental obstructionists. But no, that wasn’t enough. No sir-ee.”
In 2007 – when you will recall there was a Republican-controlled Congress at both ends of the hallway under the D.C. Dome – the orders came forth like a British governor unrolling his scroll on the village green and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye. The Congress has herewith decided. The citizenry will be required to replace all 100-watt light bulbs by the first day of January in the Year of our Lord 2012, all 75-watt bulbs on New Years Day 2013 and the following year, all ye citizens shall replace your 60-watt bulbs under severe penalty of the law. Hear ye hear ye.”
That was one edict too many for the American peasantry. Worse yet, the late-night TV comics were having a field day. Soon, congressional staffers closed the door of their boss’ office and conspiratorially whispered, “Your job satisfaction ratings are falling faster than a Tim Tebow 2-minute drill, and next year you’re up for election again. You might want to do something about all this.”
Word-of-mouth campaigns were launched, radio talk shows were having a field day collecting new squiggly light bulbs and sending them by the truckload to congressional offices. At tea-party rallies clever signs appeared. And then, very quietly and without the usual fanfare that accompanies landmark pronouncement in Washington, last week the word came forth: “Dec. 15, a day which shall live in liberty.” The voice of the people was heard, and the Great American Light Bulb Switchover was officially put on hold.
And that’s when the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in.
Mr. and Mrs. America, you might feel like celebrating a giant voice-of-the-people victory. But what about all of those businessmen and investors across the country who thought government mandates were something you could count on – maybe even invest in.
Dozens of light-bulb manufacturers suddenly raised their voices in protest.
They were soon followed by sniveling environmentalists who always seem to have something to warn the rest of us about. In this case, they unfurled a litany of disasters that would soon be visited on our land unless Congress reversed its reversal and reinstate the order to change-out the bulbs of the land.
Said the new firms planning to profit from the switchover, “We invested in new technology, retooled our mass production assembly lines, stockpiled raw materials, created clever marketing campaigns. Our merchandising has already cost us millions to get shelf space at Lowe’s, er, Home Depot. And now, just because a few of that ill-informed rabble raised their voices in protest, you’re changing your mind? Well, we might change our mind when we don’t have as much money to donate to your re-election campaign next year. So there.”
America’s crony-capitalist-in-chief, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric (yes, the very company created by Thomas Edison to manufacture and market his beloved old bulb) groaned in public. The man who served as a White House adviser on things economic, the man whose various enterprises benefitted from lots of the economic decisions made at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, must have muttered to a secretary somewhere, “Get Harry Reid on the phone. What do you mean he’s tending his poinsettia trees in Arizona? Call Rahm at the White House. He’s in Chicago now? What about Axelrod? What’s happening in this country?” Grumble, grumble.
It’s the unrelenting Law of Unintended Consequences. The rule of cause and effect. Make one decision to solve a problem over here, and you make another problem that needs a solution over there. Abe was right, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” or something like that.
And so, as we head toward the start of the New Year and perhaps another Kardashian wedding or two, the voice of the people has been heard. The Wall Street occupiers, if they were still around, would probably hold a special moment of silence at their encampments to show solidarity with the Congress that stood up for the 99 percent.
And at tea-party rallies across America, the cheers are ringing in the night. “Keep your meddling paws out of our light fixtures and go do something important about balancing the budget. Try hard enough and you just might accomplish something.”
The environmentalists, of course, are always right. We do have a massive environmental problem in America – government has created an anti-business environment everywhere that has poisoned the atmosphere for hardworking people coast to coast.
Perhaps in 2012 all those light-bulb manufacturers that closed their doors across America and sent the jobs to Mexico and China might now reopen for business and start hiring workers again. Maybe the environmentalists could convince Congress that the old light bulbs are a “green technology” and huge subsidies will flow their way.
Maybe that’s a Law of Unintended Consequences we can all hope for in the New Year.