Check out the TV coverage we saw while in Dallas this week: http://firstname.lastname@example.org. The CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth rightly points out that the CPSIA could require libraries to test every book printed before 1985. In our office, the joke making the rounds is that this is a tacit ban of George Orwell's "1984", a rich irony don't you think? Mr. Orwell would LOVE it. More profoundly, it also tacitly bans old copies of Goodnight Moon and Cat In the Hat. I rather doubt Dr. Seuss would like this one bit.
Let's stop and think for a moment (this is what distinguishes us from Congress). Consumer products intended children under 12 years old - that includes books, right? Lending and selling are the same thing under the law, for good reason. Ergo, libraries are in. Hence, libraries have the same problems under the CPSIA as ATV dealers, thrift stores, toy companies, clothing manufacturers, and so on. My question is - why should the law apply to libraries at all? Is it sensible for our country to pass a law, chock-a-block with criminal penalties, state enforcement, whistleblowers, even asset forfeiture (you know, like you are a drug dealer, yes that makes a lot of sense), that even for one short second gives any credibility to the notion that books are or even might be poisonous?
Where did this clunker idea come from? It came from the basic notion in the CPSIA that the right way to organize our society is to take NO CHANCES. NONE - the law weights all risk equally. Think of balancing the risk that you will spill your coffee in your car on the way to work with the risk that that you will be struck by a meteor during the same trip - that's equal weighting of unlike risks. If you buy this, it makes "sense" to deem everything dangerous, and let the manufacturers fight to get the right to sell their products. And, yeah, to make things even more secure, make the manufacturers prove and re-prove this safety and document their every manufacturing and distribution step, as though they are handling nuclear waste. . . . Under this world view, it is far too costly to take a chance with any of this.
Thus, the entire law is wrong-headed as it starts with the premise that everything is dangerous unless proven otherwise. This notion does not come from the real world. Is this really your everyday experience? I know my wife feels that milk past its sell date is some kind of public health hazard (we disagree on this point) but is danger really lurking everywhere, in every crevice and behind every corner?
Let's not let opinion or taste dictate the course of this debate. I say we should let the data decide this matter. So where's the record of harm that we are trying to avoid? I know that there were many lead-in-paint recalls from 1/07-1/09 (125 to be precise) but only one documented claim of injury (not a death). Yes, there was also one death from a child in Minnesota swallowing a lead bangle from a bracelet. Does this mean that books, clothing snaps and zippers, ATVs and dirt bikes, pens, and so on are all bad unless proven otherwise? Is there ANY reason to suspect that there is ANY nexus between the use of or exposure to these items and injury? The answer is a resounding NO. Even the consumer groups are quite unable to make this connection, relying on the pablum that lead is bad for you (well-accepted and well-known), and then pointing out that there is trace amounts of lead in consumer products. They have no way to demonstrate that leapin' lead is responsible for any harm.
Even the lead-in-paint cases are questionable in their own way. Remember the Mattel recall of Sarge, the character from Pixar's Toys movie? See http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml07/07270.html. In this case, Mattel recalled 436,000 units of this product (253,000 in the U.S.). I know it's impolitic to talk about this . . . but it is my understanding that the offending paint was a highlight on the wheel hubcaps, and came from TWO CANS OF BAD PAINT. Yes, Mattel burned through heaven knows how much money recalling this item because of TWO CANS OF PAINT slipped through its safety systems, and were spread ratably over 436,000 units. Hmmm - how dangerous do you think one Sarge car would be with 1/218,000th of a can of paint on it? This event was one of the sparks that triggered the mania leading to the CPSIA - the same mania that now sweeps up libraries.
This is something more than just transformation of our society into a bubblewrap culture. It is the overlawyering of all that we do (a tip of the hat to Walter Olson), with new liability popping up everywhere. Look at the media coverage of this issue - you see again and again merchants stating that the prospect of liability is driving them out of the market or away from the children's market. Is this a good trade-off for our society? No, of course not. It might be GREAT for the trial bar, insurance companies, testing and equipment companies and other organizations primed to bottom feed on the paranoia and liabilities of this law, but for the rest of us, it's death. No one can deal with the new risks and inflexibility of the law. I also happen to think that a Mother-May-I form of law will never work, can never work. It is inconsistent with commerce in low-priced products like most children's products. If we want that for our society, kiss specialty markets like education goodbye.
Please take a moment and write Mr. Dingell this week. It's very important.