Bulbs are getting brighter after all

posted on July 14th 2011 | 0 comments

Few of us think twice about why Starbucks calls small “tall” or why the cup holds 12 ounces. It was probably some corporate Ph.D. somewhere, who figured out that 10 wouldn’t do and 14 would eat into the profit margin. The same goes for most of the ignorable little decisions that we gladly outsource to whoever is being paid to figure out these things on our behalf. More often than not these decisions are made by people whose salary depends on selling us their product. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Walmart set defaults every day that affect our daily lives. That’s no different from a Ph.D. at the Department of Energy figuring out a way to set better standards for light bulbs—except that her decision weighs benefits and costs to society at large, not any particular corporate bottom line. Still, this week Congress tried to repeal a bi-partisan 2007 standard for better light bulbs under the ruse of personal freedoms. Thankfully, the measure failed due to the usual parliamentary shenanigans. (House Republicans outvoted Democrats but failed to gain a needed two-thirds majority.) Perhaps next could be a vote to reject overly intrusive standardizations of basic measurements like length, weight, and volume. Oh, wait.

Few of us think twice about why Starbucks calls small “tall” or why the cup holds 12 ounces. It was probably some corporate Ph.D. somewhere, who figured out that 10 wouldn’t do and 14 would eat into the profit margin. The same goes for most of the ignorable little decisions that we gladly outsource to whoever is being paid to figure out these things on our behalf. More often than not these decisions are made by people whose salary depends on selling us their product. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Walmart set defaults every day that affect our daily lives. That’s no different from a Ph.D. at the Department of Energy figuring out a way to set better standards for light bulbs—except that her decision weighs benefits and costs to society at large, not any particular corporate bottom line. Still, this week Congress tried to repeal a bi-partisan 2007 standard for better light bulbs under the ruse of personal freedoms. Thankfully, the measure failed due to the usual parliamentary shenanigans. (House Republicans outvoted Democrats but failed to gain a needed two-thirds majority.) Perhaps next could be a vote to reject overly intrusive standardizations of basic measurements like length, weight, and volume. Oh, wait.

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