Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute summarizes the many deleterious affects of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in the prime editorial spot, the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages. The news peg is last Thursday’s hearing by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee, where only Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, was invited to testify.
This law has saddled businesses with billions of dollars in losses on T-shirts, bath toys and other items that were lawful to sell one day and unlawful the next. It has induced thrift and secondhand stores to trash mountains of outgrown blue jeans, bicycles and board games for fear there might be trivial, harmless—but suddenly illegal—quantities of lead in their zippers and valves or phthalates in their plastic spinners. (Phthalates are substances that add flexibility to plastic.) Even classic children’s books are at risk: Because lead was not definitively removed from printing inks until 1985, the CPSC has advised that only kids’ books printed after that date should be considered safe to resell.
Olson also follows up on the underreported angle of the law’s depredations, the product label requirements.
(The) law’s latest shock hit businesses on Aug. 14. That’s when the law’s tracking-label mandate went into effect, requiring that makers of childrens’ goods “place permanent, distinguishing marks on the product and its packaging, to the extent practicable.” The idea is to facilitate recalls and make it easier to trace safety problems. The result will be to capsize yet more small businesses.
In an opening statement at the committee hearing, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) could only bring himself to say that implementation of the CPSIA had been “uneven”:
Now that we are a year away from the recalls, and the most dramatic stories have left the front pages, some suggest that we didn’t really need to enact such a strong law. But the fact remains that the system we had in place was a failure. This law was necessary to protect kids and families across the country.
To retreat now from the proven consumer protections achieved under this law would be a huge mistake.
Is there any wonder that the public is suspicious of other major “reforms” a la health care? In the case of the CPSIA, we have members of Congress and their allies among the “consumer activists” who are so ideologically attached to the legislation that they refuse to countenance any changes to fix the law’s overrreach or to save businesses.
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