A lengthy article at Reason.org on the grassroots movement that has arisen in response to the excesses of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, highlighting the handmade toy industry and craftspeople. From Katherine Mangu-Ward, “Dangerous Toys, Strange Bedfellows“:
Cecilia Leibovitz is the kind of person who writes sentences like: “Children are individuals, each with their own unique personality, so I just couldn’t feel good about buying mass-produced toys and clothing from cookie-cutter chain stores.” Leibovitz is the 36-year-old founder of Craftsbury Kids, a Vermont-based online vendor of handmade toys. She sells the type of gear that arty, upscale, NPR-listening parents can’t get enough of: sock monkeys, baby onesies featuring a “hand-stamped and appliquéd” crow with “crocheted flowers and recycled fabric grass,” even a carved wooden “707 Air Force One plane” with “a beautiful silk screened portrait of President John F. Kennedy.” So no one was more surprised than Leibovitz last winter when she found herself on the wrong side of federal law, fighting against consumer safety groups, and building alliances with Republican congressmen to defend free markets.
This story delves into the philosophy of the activists whom Mangu-Ward calls “crafter-hipsters,” identifying as their epicenter the web-based business and forum of Etsy.com. As for the “strange bedfellows”:
Jennifer Grinnell, founder of LivingPlaying. com, posted a mini-manifesto at change.org in February, after the law went into effect. Grinnell wanted the world to know that she opposed the law, but not because she and her allies are part of any “right wing business group.” She writes of a political gathering at Toy Fair 2009: “To my left sat a vegetarian from Vermont, to my right a cloth diaper retailer from Arizona. Also at the table were people from New York, Connecticut, Minnesota and three people (me included) from Massachusetts. The sad fact about larger public discussions in the US these days is how politicized almost every subject has become. In an ‘us’ and ‘them’ environment, we seem to have lost [sight] of the fact that perhaps we, the citizens who find fault with this law, actually have a legitimate point and are not trying to advance an ideology or nefarious political agenda.”
The mistake Mangu-Ward falls into is one that we’ve seen expressed by other conservative- and libertarian-leaning commenters, that somehow the law is not big deal for larger manufacturers. She writes: “The new requirements are easy for big manufacturers to meet but are impossibly onerous for small domestic toymakers.”
No, the new requirements are NOT easy for big manufacturers. Yes, economies of scale do benefit those companies that mass produce products, but the additional testing costs, the retroactive application of the standards — eliminating inventories — and the potential liability still pose painful and difficult challenges for the companies. In its 10K filing for 2008, the Gymboree company reported taking a $6.1 million charge for the fourth quarter, due largely to having to write off inventory because of the CPSIA. That’s not easy.
Otherwise, the article does a good job of capturing the grassroots activism that has energized the criticism of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. It’s a piece that those in Congress who claim there’s no problem should read, if only as political intelligence.
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