I’m an admirer of technology and the free market. I love how the the constant drive of necessity and invention spurs creative destruction in the marketplace. It’s happening at a more rapid pace in our society right now than perhaps any other time in human history. Cell phones and laptops that are the next big thing one month are superseded, sometimes in a matter of weeks, by the next big thing.
But while I enjoy watching this rapid evolution of technology, it casts technologies that stand the test of time in an even sharper contrast. Case in point, the incandescent light bulb. It was invented over a century ago and, with some tweaks and improvements, is still very much a relevant technology today. In fact, a recently-opened time capsule from the Edison era contained some incandescent light bulbs that, despite being over a century old, still worked:
An amazing story.
What’s irksome is that this technology is currently under attack from the government. It’s one thing to see an older technology replaced because something new and better comes along. It’s quite another to see a technology driven from the marketplace because the government decides they’d rather have Americans use something else.
It took the federal government $50 million in subsidies to create a $50 replacement for the incandescent light bulb which usually costs around $1. And still, I’m guessing most consumers would rather have an incandescent bulb.
Maybe we ought to let Americans make their own choices about light bulbs. As other technology markets prove, when something better comes along Americans will make the switch (and spend their money to do so). But when the government has to push some new technology on us, that usually means Americans aren’t choosing it on their own because it really isn’t better.