Recently I bought a lamp for my office at home. It’s a pretty neat contraption, with a moveable “arm” I can turn this way or that for extra light.
While I was at the lamp store eyeing my future purchase, the owner approached me. He is an immigrant who speaks English with an accent, and a typical small businessman in every way: keenly interested in his customers, mindful of details, knowledgeable about the wacky world of lamps.
“It’s 180 watts,” he said, pointing at the object of my desire.
I nodded, smiling. He seemed unhappy about something.
“It used to be 360 watts,” he went on. “In fact, you can still screw on a 360-watt bulb, but it won’t work.”
I asked whether the bulb would burn out.
His eyes flashed. “No, it turns off,” he said, and the intensity of scorn in his voice is impossible for me to convey. “It turns itself off. Look at this –“ he pointed to a strange-looking rectangular device attached to the electric cord – “every lamp must have one of these. By law. You know what it does?” I shook my head. “You put in a 360-watt bulb, it turns the lamp off. So, lamp costs more – you get less choice.”
I was in fact astounded by the minuteness of this regulation, but decided to treat it as a joke: “Well, I guess the people who mandated this are a whole lot smarter than we are…”
He looked at me as if I were crazy. “You kidding? They want us to use less electricity. You know what happens? People buy more lamps! ”
Community life is complex to the edge of chaos. The subjective needs of a single person are beyond the power of the cleverest algorithm to describe. I walked away with my lamp, wondering how many additional attempts by highly-educated, well-meaning regulators are having the opposite effect of what was intended.