This week, France’s Energy Minister proposed banning light usage in shops and other public buildings between 1 AM and 7 AM, aiming to “save energy, cut costs, and show [energy] ‘sobriety.’” Our boss, Ken Fisher, often warns of government policy’s unintended consequences. And the new City of Darkness policy seems an example of the French government again disregarding such advice.
Now, reducing light usage will have some effect on French energy use—just not as materially as suggested by the proposal. Prior legislation already curbs or bans nighttime museum, monument and church illumination in Paris, and “only 10 percent of France’s total lighting consumption is made at night.” It seems French energy sobriety already exists—even the Energy Ministry admits the ban won’t much impact on total French energy consumption. Perhaps that’s one reason why officials oppose the ban. They’re also concerned about safety should the ban go through—lighting streets at night provides a sense of security—and tourism may decrease.
France currently holds the title for highest tourism traffic, with over 81 million visitors last year. Hence, merchants also oppose the ban, fearing fewer foreign shoppers. Perhaps more importantly, they dislike that the ban would prevent lighting their wares at night—their way of attracting potential customers on Paris’s famous nighttime tours—possibly putting them at a slight disadvantage to other European tourist hubs (London, Berlin, Vienna and more) that likely continue the practice. Add that to “existing bans on Sunday store openings and night shopping,” and it’s easy to see why merchants fear the legislation hinders success.
Perhaps that’s why opposition to the ban rallies behind economics to prevent the change. France’s unemployment rate is currently at a 14-year high. And concerns the economy could be negatively affected should the proposal become law aren’t completely unfounded. After all, the French economy has already been restrained by steep new wealth taxes and longstanding strict labor laws—maybe that’s why opposition to the ban suggests seeking alternative, energy-efficient replacements as opposed to eliminating illumination altogether.
But perhaps the darkness policy is sensible if you consider some other bizarre French proposals. Like the suggestion the heavily nuclear-energy reliant French wind down their reliance on nukes before a suitable replacement has been found. (Essentially, following Germany’s overreaction to Japan’s post-earthquake overreaction.) And those wealth taxes driving rich business owners elsewhere.
The French government swept into office earlier this year not because voters adored François Hollande, but despite his historical lack of popularity. (He was cited as one major reason his former wife lost her last electoral race.) But what he thought was a mandate for more redistributive economic policy has evaporated along with his approval ratings. The French, it seems, realize his government’s policy direction is highly confused at present—and turning out the lights is just one more example of that confusion.