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Reeder: Let people make decisions for themselves

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – The other day, I found myself standing on a bed changing a light bulb on a ceiling fixture.

My 3-year-old Caitlin asked me, “What are you doing, Daddy?”

I replied, “Changing a light bulb.”

She then asked her favorite question, “Why?”

I wish I knew the answer to that one. You see the bulb I was replacing was one of those squiggly energy efficient types that are supposed to last at least five years.

But this one burned out in less than one year.

You could say I learned my lesson and won’t replace it with that type of bulb again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Beginning Jan. 1, the U.S. government began phasing out 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs. Last year, it did away with 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

So we are stuck with what the government says we can have – not necessarily what we want. I know, I know, I can hear the chorus of voices saying. “Scott, it’s only a light bulb.”

But it reflects a broader question in our society: Where should power rest – with the individual or with government?

Given a chance, most people make wise choices.

If florescent bulbs were superior to incandescent bulbs, folks would gravitate toward using them on their own – because they know over time they will save money with lower electric bills.

Instead, government made the choice for us. To be more precise, the decision was made in 2007 by Congress and then-President George W. Bush.

This sort of government-knows-best interference isn’t limited to light bulbs.

This year, Hawaii outlawed plastic shopping bags. And some folks would like the Land of Lincoln to follow suit. Shouldn’t a question as basic as “paper or plastic?” be left in the hands of the consumer rather than some state bureaucrat?

I shop at some stores where no bags are provided. The savings are passed on to the consumer. At other times, when I shop for groceries, I ask for paper sacks because they can be reused as canvases for my daughters’ latest coloring masterpieces. My wife usually asks for plastic bags because they make excellent repositories for wet swimsuits and other messes produced by our children.

In other words, we have found ways as consumers to reduce and reuse without any interference from government.

It’s amazing how society can benefit from individuals making wise economic decisions for themselves.

Yet, politicians continue to wade into the minutia of our daily lives and try to make decisions for us.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. His reasoning? Pop makes people fat.

Well, mayor, people can count calories for themselves and make decisions on what’s best for them. They don’t need an autocratic billionaire making those decisions for them.

We need to be free to choose.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute.

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