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Reign of the dim bulbs

So widespread is the outrage over the absurd federal ban of Americans’ familiar incandescent light bulbs that individual states are starting to act in defiance of the federal power grab.

Leading the way, South Carolina lawmakers now propose an “Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act.”

Because the Constitution grants the central government power to regulate only “interstate commerce” — commerce across state lines — the proposed state law would allow firms to manufacture incandescent bulbs (the kind invented by Thomas Edison more than a century ago) in South Carolina, so long as they stamp them “Made in South Carolina” and sell them only within the state.

Current federal law orders domestic producers — under the guise of energy efficiency — to stop manufacturing 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2012, with lower-wattage bulbs to be phased out by 2014, though even the original sponsor of the measure now says it was a mistake and that he would vote for repeal.

The South Carolina bill is expected to win approval in the House, though state Senate approval is uncertain.

That the states are reduced to such desperate — and largely futile and symbolic — measures as these “light bulb freedom” acts is pathetic and revolting. Activist politicians have for decades used the “commerce clause” to justify federal intervention into virtually anything. For almost 60 years, the courts have gone along — the final absurdity was reached in the infamous Wickard v. Filburn case in the early 1940s, in which the Supreme Court held an Ohio farmer could be punished for growing grain on his own land to feed his own livestock without federal “permission,” because such an act meant he might buy less feed from growers in other states, thus affecting interstate commerce.

In fact, Congress has no business telling us what type of light bulbs we may buy. If compact fluorescent light bulbs can justify their higher acquisition costs and other perceived deficiencies by helping reduce consumers’ electric bills, manufacturers and retailers are free to promote those advantages, and American consumers are surely smart enough to make their own decisions after weighing those claims.

And even should all these sensible objections fail, the simple fact is that a federal government attempting to control our light bulbs, the size of our toilet tanks, and where we can acquire our medical care and how much we can be charged for it, will be unable within the decade even to fund its post office, its Navy and its federal courts.

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