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EDITORIAL: Obama and the 50-buck light bulb

A bankrupt America can’t afford expensive green luxuries

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The 50-dollar light bulb is a good metaphor for the Obama administration - way too expensive for most Americans to put up with.

A new LED fixture from the Philips Corp. is the latest public-relations disaster for the Energy Department. The 60-watt equivalent bulb won the Energy Department's $10 million "L Prize" for an environmentally sensitive bulb that is "affordable for American families." The retail price is $50 each.

The new LED is more energy-efficient than standard incandescent bulbs and may last up to 10 years. Yet given that it costs 50 times the price of the typical old-style bulb, this eats up any long-term savings. The Energy Department defends the bulb's exorbitant price, claiming costs are expected to fall over time. However, the original contest guidelines projected a retail price less than half of what the bulb wound up costing, and there are already much less expensive LED bulbs available that didn't benefit from the Obama administration's seal of approval.

It's unseemly to give $10 million of the public's money to a corporation in times of austerity when presumably Philips should have been trying to develop efficient, reliable, cost-effective light bulbs anyway. It's called capitalism. The Solyndra solar-panel debacle and the other risky, losing Obama administration investments in "green technology" underscore the wasteful nature of government intervention in these emerging markets. If incentive prizes are going to be given, the contest should be limited to young, up-and-coming technology innovators for whom the award is more meaningful and who may be the source of the next big breakthrough.

The Chevy Volt is another symbol of the problems of government influence in technology. Mr. Obama has made the Volt a high-profile symbol of his vision for the future of the automotive industry, and in a commercial aired in January, General Motors sanctimoniously said the Volt was the car "America had to build." In reality, it has turned out to be the car no one wants to buy. A week ago, GM announced that Volt production would be halted for five weeks in order "to maintain the right inventory levels and continue to meet demand." Keeping the Volt charged up is an expensive proposition. A recent study by Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy showed that federal and state subsidies total as much as $250,000 per vehicle sold. Like the $50 light bulb, it is an costly luxury in the pursuit of purported ecological purity.

The Obama administration promised that if America hopped onto the green bandwagon, they would not only "save the planet" but get something for nothing - free wind and solar power, long-lasting batteries and light bulbs, reliable electric cars and unlimited-life batteries. Three years and billions of dollars later, Americans have learned what scientists and engineers knew all along: These technologies cost more, do less and aren't consumer-friendly. To families trying to scrape by in this turkey-burger economy, 50 dollars for a light bulb is no way to save the planet.

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