- - Monday, August 25, 2014


Politics can be a grimy business. Beginning Monday, the grit and grime on the Continent will rise to new levels as the latest European Union rules take effect and all ships, cargo planes and trains will be subject to unprecedented scrutiny. Customs officials won’t be hunting for escaped Ebola patients or smuggled weapons of mass destruction. They’ll be looking for bootleg vacuum cleaners.

Certain do-good folk in the United States and Europe share an insatiable urge to redesign consumer products. Items that have worked just fine for decades are to be outlawed in favor of products that sometimes don’t work at all. Committees of academics and “experts” convince themselves that they’re smarter than the people who actually design and build conveniences.

Sometimes, the government busybodies intervene in the name of preserving the environment. The Department of Transportation, OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency not so long ago cooked up rules that outlawed inexpensive and efficient gasoline cans with spouts that make pouring easy. That classic jerry can must be discarded in favor of expensive imitation jerry cans that don’t pour well and spill fuel, doing harm to the environment the do-gooders profess to love.

The government took away incandescent light bulbs and mandated the use of inferior, curlicue substitutes filled with toxic mercury. Many consumers find that appliances of today don’t work as well as they once did. That’s because Washington has redesigned more than 50 appliances and for the worse. These include toilets, faucets, showerheads, air conditioners, clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, furnaces, lawnmowers and microwave ovens.

The meddling has only just begun. The Energy Department wants to regulate television sets, so it’s only a matter of time before today’s large flat-screens are replaced with more modest, dimmer panels in the small sizes that were common decades ago. Whether in Washington or Brussels, the commitment of the bureaucrats to turning back the calendar burns brightly, even when nothing else does.

The European Union speaks as plainly and clearly about its intentions as a character in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” The European Commission insisted Friday that “there is no ban on vacuum cleaners that suck powerfully.” Nevertheless, the absolute prohibition becomes effective Monday on the production of vacuum cleaners with a motor of more than 1,600 watts, and the limit drops to just 900 watts in three years.

That will leave common uprights such as the Hoover Hurricane with half the power and suction of today’s model. It’s a reduction on paper that the simplistic mind of the Eurocrat tallies as energy savings. In the real world, that means running the vacuum twice as long to get a carpet clean, yielding no energy savings at all. This is a “solution” similar to water-saving toilets in America that must be flushed two or three times to get it done, wasting water, not saving water.

In the 19th century, the Luddites took sledgehammers to the looms and mills in revolt against the Industrial Revolution. They damaged the machines that freed millions from the drudgery of a factory’s most repetitive tasks. The Luddites of the 21st century have a weapon far more deadly than a mallet, the rule book backed by law, to rid the world of convenience.

If Washington and Brussels continue mischief at the current pace, the world will end the century with energy-efficient push brooms and modern washcloths.

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