Last Updated:November 29 @ 05:02 pm

Will the next mandate be smart cars and candles?

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

(File Photo)

Imagine Congress passes a law that bans the use of light bulbs entirely in favor of candlelight. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation mandate that only Smart Cars can be produced. Proponents would breathlessly trumpet the money your government would allegedly be saving you on electric bills and at the pump.

This line of thinking is not too far from what the politicians and regulators on both sides of the aisle espouse when they speak of new money-saving energy efficiency standards for automobiles, light bulbs, dishwashers, washing machines, and other appliances. It's a rationale that says consumers don't know how to make the best choices for themselves.

We don't need federal regulations to mandate energy-efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances or manufacturing processes. Families and businesses already place a high value on saving money. Consider the perennial consumer complaint of high gasoline prices when they surpass $3.50 per gallon, or the fact that chemical companies bemoan the possibility of more natural gas exports raising their input costs. Both families and businesses are naturally wired to want to save money on energy.

When the savings outweigh costs and other preferences, families and businesses will make those investments, and the reward will be reduced energy bills and more competitive prices for their products.

But families have other preferences, too. A car with more weight, safety and power. A dishwasher or laundry machine that takes 30 minutes for a cycle, not 90. A cheap light bulb to throw in closets and the attic where households infrequently turn the lights on. Restricting those choices reduces consumer freedom, or the satisfaction he receives from buying those goods or services.

Families and businesses also face budget constraints and must make tough choices. A manufacturer may be able to install a new piece of equipment that saves on the energy bill, but they may want to use that money to hire new employees. A mom and a dad may choose to pay a year's tuition for their child rather than buy a brand new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. They may have legitimate concerns that the higher upfront cost isn't worth the future savings, or have concerns that those savings will never be fully realized.

Sure, there are times when markets fail or consumers aren't acting in their own best interest. But when it comes to energy savings, that's rarely the case. Consumers and businesses generally do what's best for themselves. And even when a family isn't capturing the energy savings it should, that doesn't mean a government regulation will make it better.

One could argue that we've had decades' worth of efficiency standards, and we still have a wide variety of choice for vehicles and appliances. This is true, but that doesn't mean having the government take a paternalistic role in how we buy and sell our goods is making us better off.

Consider this. A 2011 paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that if weight, horsepower, and torque were held constant at 1980 levels, fuel efficiency would have increased 60 percent from 1980 to 2006 instead of the 15 percent increase that did occur.

The federal government could have mandated that 60 percent increase, but clearly that's not what consumers wanted. Instead, over the years, auto manufacturers met consumers' demand for heavier, more powerful vehicles.

Having the government slowly take those choices away with more and more stringent efficiency mandates is making us increasingly worse off. The government isn't correcting a market failure. It's unnecessarily dictating what should be a market choice by investors, entrepreneurs, homeowners, car-buyers and newlyweds buying their first washer and dryer together.

Consumers understand how energy costs impact their lives, whether at the pump or the plug, and make decisions accordingly. Energy efficiency per dollar of gross domestic product has improved dramatically over the past 60 years. Some might wrongly suggest that this was the result of efficiency standards. Wrong. Technological improvements and consumer preference are the cause. Energy intensity was in decline long before a national energy-efficiency policy.

Markets have driven the energy economy in the right direction. Mandates do the opposite. As government regulators take us on a slow march to a federal soda-like ban for vehicles and appliances, we need to ask why the government is taking these choices out of our hands.


Nicolas Loris, an economist specializing in energy and environmental issues, is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow at The Heritage Foundation Readers may write to the author in care of The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: Information about Heritage's funding may be found at

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.


(c) 2013, The Heritage Foundation

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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  1. Blu OwenComment by Blu Owen
    April 6, 2013 @ 10:47 am

    We always complain about oppressive regulations that are made by the different agencies within the Executive Department but I would ask why are we allowing our government to ignore a part of our Constitution. The part that I’m referring to is Article 3, Section 2, Clause 2, which states: “In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and UNDER SUCH REGULATIONS AS THE CONGRESS SHALL MAKE.” I believe that our Founding Fathers understood that regulations would have the same effect as law and therefore should be approved by our elected representatives. This has not been the case since 1946 when Congress chose to delegate almost all of this responsibility to the Executive Department and since that time we have slowly become a ‘regulation nation’. If Congress had to actually approve our Regulations there are many that would not see the light of day.

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  2. JDZComment by JDZ
    April 6, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    The “nanny state” government is in full bloom and the “do gooders” and other special interest groups now basically pull the strings for government from the back rooms more now then ever in the history of our country. In the early days of the country, the government was influenced more by the men running industry who basically built the greatest economy and product/service capability in the history of man. Men like Edison, Ford, Rockefeller, Morgan, Hughes, etc. who created our railroads, electrical infrastructure, our financial system, our entrepreneurial spirit, our industrial base, etc. had tremendous influence on government policy. The focus was on “building” America, which created the greatest country in the world, as they built the country from the foundations of our early pioneers which has led to the powerhouse of today.

    Now, we have the government captured by anti-capitalist special interest groups and activists who are committed to correcting all of the mistakes and bad things we have done over the last two hundred years by “transforming” America into some hare brained vision of a socialist state run by environmentalists and social engineers. Most of these people were lucky to be born in the greatest country in world history, but have no idea of the sacrifices made and hard work that went into creating and protecting America since its formation.

    Almost all of their programs are ill-conceived and based on ideologically based logic with little if any real data to support their rationale. Their zealous commitment to “saving” the planet from human induced destruction at any cost to the standard of living of Americans and our hard fought way of life is a prime example of their ignorance and lack of good commonsense.

    Somehow, they think they know better for each of us then we do for ourselves. How utterly stupid and arrogant is that? Their mindset is not the American mindset of individual freedom and self reliance and responsibility.

    I keep waiting for enough “real” Americans to wake up and help stop this disastrous path we are on by voting out the politicians supporting this socialist agenda before it is too late…maybe it is already too late.

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  3. texasoltimerComment by texasoltimer
    April 6, 2013 @ 11:36 am

    The liberal left thinks they know better what is best for us than we do and unfortunately they are in power in many states as well as Washington DC. They appear to have a fear of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

    The market has always dictated what consumers prefer. If we wanted tiny electric cars, we’d purchase them and there’d be a big market for them. If we don’t want them, then there will be no one producing them. Different parts of the country have different needs. Requiring us to own tiny electric cars would be detrimental to those of us that need a bigger vehicle to haul things because we live in a rural area a distance from town. Requiring businesses follow all the massive number of rules and regulations equates to additional expenses which are passed on to us.

    What we need is for government to get out of our way and let us actually enjoy the freedom that our Founding Fathers envisioned.

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  4. Pingback: Will the next mandate be smart cars and | Home&Kitchen

  5. middlegroundComment by middleground
    April 6, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

    I love the thought that those Chinese light bulbs will save energy. The joke on Americans is that most light bulbs are used at night when there is a surplus of energy, but central planners want to save energy for all those Chevy Volts at $80,000.00 to build and $35,000.00 for customers to buy that will be plugged in at night. What a pathetic sick joke, and we will never know who these central planners and those Lobbyists representing China actually are.

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  6. gileyComment by giley
    April 6, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Get your V-8 vehicle now while they’re legal. I can well see the nanny government prohibiting classics and other V-8 powered vehicles from being driven without shome huge tax on the yearly registration. They’re making laws to tax the devil out of amunition. Drive a Smart car and get squashed like a bug in a collision.

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  7. bwtankerComment by bwtanker
    April 6, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

    since i can’t afford to buy a new vehicle i have been driving the same Ford Ranger for 16 years now.when i bought it the window sticker said 17 to 23 mpg.i usually get 22 to 23 mpg but i don’t fill up but once a month or more because i am on disability.the truck looks a lot newer than most of that year and everything works fine.If the government would worry more about cutting the deficit and making more jobs and quit giving money to every country in the world except ours i might be able to afford a more efficient truck or car.But or idiot president seem to think running the country into the ground with a lot of ideas that will fail every time and then in failure would cause the dollar to be stopped as the worlds predominant reserve currency and would make this country’s currency worthless.It’s coming sometime in the near future no matter what obumble says

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  8. memawComment by memaw
    April 6, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

    Don’t forget that candles cause pollution too.

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  9. Pingback: Latest What Washing Machine Should I Buy News | cleanerwashingmachine

  10. zephaerieComment by zephaerie
    April 7, 2013 @ 4:06 am

    First, I’m disappointed you chose to include tawdry jabs and inappropriate analogies instead of evidence and meaningful examples. For example, high efficiency washing machines have shorter washing times, whereas you suggest they take 90 minutes.

    Second, you completely ignore the counterargument, specifically, that consumers are currently beholden to the oil market, which forces us to maintain a trade deficit with the Middle East, pay billions of dollars in tax credits to oil companies which are making record profits without our hard earned money, suffer the whim of changes in gas prices and continue to buy cars that are polluting the planet.

    Finally, perhaps you have not noticed the dramatic increase in asthma and chronic bronchitis. Perhaps no one in your family has suffered these diseases, brought on by living in a crowded city, despite their best efforts to remain healthy. Perhaps you have never had to watch a child who knows no childhood because of the constant threat of respiratory distress. But even if you have not personally witnessed these tragic circumstances, surely you know that cleaner energy would help assuage them.

    You do your argument a disservice and I hope you will not insult your opponents in future columns. There is a valuable argument to be made for limited government, but I am not so foolish as to believe that companies will police themselves, considering the egregious sins they have committed in the past. One final remark: how are we the people supposed to police these companies, if not through our elected officials?

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  11. Pingback: Will the next mandate be smart cars and candles? | END TIME HEADLINES

  12. Pingback: Will the next mandate be smart cars and candles? | Andrea EndTimeNews

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