Law and Hoarder



For months, Germans have been stocking up on conventional incandescent light bulbs as the European Union (EU) phases in a ban on their manufacture and sale. There is open revolt even at the summit of nation's cultural establishment:

Many complain that the lights are just not bright enough and that they falsify colors. The Hamburger Kunsthalle, for example, recently made a bulk order for 600 incandescent light bulbs to make sure that it can keep illuminating the works it displays in the time-honored way.

The aesthetic issue is a powerful one. For Munich-based lighting designer Ingo Maurer, the CFL bulbs are ushering in a decrease in the quality of life. "We recommend protests against the ban, civil disobedience and the timely hoarding of lighting implements," Maurer told SPIEGEL. He also adds that he believes the ban might drive more people to use more candles, which are about as bad as you can get in terms of energy efficiency.

And it's become a mass movement, too:

There are three problems with a legislative ban on anything in the absence of immediate harm. The first, as the German case shows, is that some people who might have increased their use of energy-saving bulbs, will protest limits on their choice by hoarding -- resulting in more energy spent producing bulbs that may outlive their purchasers. The second is that it removes an important incentive for the development of compact fluorescent lamps and light-emitting diodes that produce a more pleasing light, killing off the competition and reference standard. And the third is that it is an arbitrary and inconsistent way to promote energy saving; there's no limit to the wattage of new-style bulbs. The industry failed to learn from its founder, Thomas Edison, whose light bulb was designed to be not only more convenient than gas light, but more pleasant, according to Charles Bazerman's study.

Well-meaning Americans can be tone-deaf (or spectrum-blind) to culture, too. The U.S. counterpart to German incandescent aficionados are the people who have been stockpiling firearms and ammunition, like these preppies (Oregon-style), anticipating a crackdown by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. But there's a difference. The incandescent phaseout is law in Europe. It hardly matters that the Supreme Court clearly favors firearm rights and that between health care, Afghanistan, and the deficit, the Democrats won't be spending much political capital on gun control. Still, Barack Obama's remarks at a California fundraiser  haven't helped: that economically discouraged Pennsylvanians "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations" -- an oil spill on troubled waters.

Obamaphobes' panic buying is having its own revenge. reports that even one Wisconsin ammunition manufacturer is warning its own customers:

Due to hoarding of ammunition, you consumers have managed to raise the
prices of ammunition and components 50 to 500 percent.
You didn't even need the Government to impose any taxes or bans.
You did it all yourself.

Welcome to the state of New Hamster.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Shika Kaoin


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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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