Gail Giggles at Consumer Choice in the NYT

Gail Collins has a truly inane opinion piece in the NYT today, in which she excoriates those people — Tea Partiers and libertarians —  who are opposed to the upcoming ban on incandescent light bulbs. She completely misses the argument for consumer choice, that is, some people may want to stick with the old-fashioned incandescent instead of the fluorescent bulbs for a variety of reasons — some real concerns (photosensitivity, mercury, melting plastic, fumes) and some aesthetic ones.

Instead, Collins does her usual cutesy, aren’t-I-clever dismissal of those who think consumers and not the government should be deciding what light bulbs to use in their homes. Rand Paul, who spoke eloquently against the ban, made that point about light bulbs and about low-flush toilets at a hearing on the issue, and he gets special mention from Collins.

Collins, in her own cockamamie analogy, equates the light bulb regulations with standards for scientific measures and for hospitals’ cleanliness and staffing.

“It’s a classic Tea Party herd of straw horses. Paul managed to lump the light bulb regulations with things his supporters hate (abortions/federal government telling me what to do) while ignoring the fact that the rules are much closer to things they like, such as standards that guarantee that if they go to a hospital or clinic, the place will be clean and staffed by qualified personnel.

Although the Rand Paul crowd is blaming the light bulb regulations on Obama, the rules were actually signed into law in 2007 by George W. Bush. And as Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article recently, Washington has been in the standard-setting business since 1894, “when Congress standardized the meaning of what are today common scientific measures, including the ohm, the volt, the watt and the henry, in line with international metrics.”

You have to wonder if, back in 1894, there was a general outcry against the federal government trying to tell an American citizen how big his ohm should be.”

From her comments, one can infer that Collins thinks all standards-setting is done by the federal government in its great wisdom and that she has no knowledge of private and voluntary standards-setting organizations.  Here’s how the work of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is defined:

ISO is the world largest standards developing organization. Between 1947 and the present day, ISO has published more than 18 500 International Standards, ranging from standards for activities such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering, to medical devices, to the newest information technology developments.

And here is the group in the U.S. — the private American National Standards Institute:

The Institute oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every sector: from acoustical devices to construction equipment, from dairy and livestock production to energy distribution, and many more.

And as the number and complexity of new products is burgeoning, private standards-setting has overtaken that of the government:

The U.S. government adopted a strategy of increasing reliance on private standard setting. By 1996, this policy change led to a decline in government standards to 44,000. This decline was offset by an increase in private standards from 14,000 in 1967 to 49,000 in 1996. In 1996, for the first time, the number of private standards exceeded the number of standards set by the government (Toth [1996b]).

Okay, Gail, did you notice the UL symbol on your light bulb? Your giggle-time should have been spent in a little bit of research on the topic.