What Is Consent? Edison’s Light Bulb

TOPIC: What is consent? This is a topic that comes up consistently in the course I teach on classic liberal thought. A class discussion of “consent”—and what that means—reminded me of this rap video and the followup research reported by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

Back in 2006, Congress passed a “green” law to save energy by replacing the warm light of the incandescent bulb with alternative bulbs (not so friendly to the eyes or the pocketbook). Here is a rap video lamenting the passing of the incandescent light bulb. Did Americans truly “consent” to the elimination of this light bulb? Almost no one knew their lawmakers passed this law. Moreover, the expensive, ugly-lit light bulbs regulators wanted Americans to buy were on sale for years. The problem was consumers—day after day, purchase after purchase—refused to consent to pay many times over for inferior light. Isn’t that a form of “consent” more responsive to the issue at hand than the passage of a law no one knew about?

As so often happens, the marketplace has responded to consumer demand for incandescent bulbs by having scientists create a new version that is MORE efficient than the squiggly, expensive bulbs so many Americans hate:

This is a good example of how regulation often works – if consumers won’t buy something regulators want, they are forced to buy it. Then, when the supposed benefits aren’t realized, it makes little difference because, with the passage of a law or regulation, there is no choice. Get over it. You have no choice. https://fee.org/freeman/dim-bulbs/

Phase 4: It becomes clear that the consumer’s reluctance was justified. The product is in fact bad. But it doesn’t matter because the old product that worked has been outlawed.”

An excellent update:


Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the Independent book, Race & Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.
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