Saturday, September 5, 2009

CPSIA - Trading on Melodrama

From Timothy Carney of The Washington Examiner, in his September 4 opinion piece on the CPSC ill-considered and contemptible "Resale Roundup": “'Those who re-sell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,' said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. 'Resale stores should make safety their business and check for recalled products and hazards to children.'"

I am not in favor of encouraging the sale of recalled products, but I think this is over-the-top and inexcusable (even for a rookie). In one quote, Ms. Tenenbaum not only fingers an entire industry for possibly plying the public with tainted goods against the law, but also for possibly killing kids. Nice. Ms. Tenenbaum considerably overstates her case while seriously distorting the perceived meaning of a product recall and damaging an important market that her agency regulates.

Notably, I do not think it is true that recalled items necessarily endanger LIVES. Ms. Tenenbaum says "they are putting children's LIVES at risk." [Emphasis added.] That is plainly WRONG, although it could be true in certain cases. Let's take an extreme example as a test. Everyone agrees that lead-in-paint is bad. It's been illegal for decades. [We could argue about what the level of lead should be . . . .] There were more than 100 recalls for lead-in-paint in the famous 2007-8 period. But does ANYONE think that lead-in-paint actually puts children's lives in danger? If that's true, it's news to me. So what does Ms. Tenenbaum hope to accomplish with her melodrama?

I think it's likely that she wants to create gravitas behind her "Resale Roundup" and would like to portray her agency as "heroic" and "life-saving" in its efforts to "vigorously enforce" the law, regardless of the sacrifice of character involved in selling fear as a consumer protection agency. And, to no small measure, the kicker for her is some extra toadying up to the rabid Congressional leadership so desperately trying to prop up its failing CPSIA. If that's the goal, she will make some short term gains for herself - but at enormous long term cost.

I am sick and tired of legislators and regulators trying to foment hysteria as a means of furthering their agenda. It is irresponsible and unseemly. This seems to be the modus operandi of the current Democratic leadership and the new Chairman may be just falling in line, but I have no taste for it. Ms. Tenenbaum needs to set her priorities on the American consumer and the business community that sustains us all - not the latest political winds to buffet her Congressional handlers. We, the general public, need steady and visionary leadership at the CPSC. There's nothing to be gained in the seeking of public hysteria, least of all of the erosion of confidence that will follow it. Erosion of confidence in markets, in retail channels, in the integrity of the business community . . . and in the leadership and direction of the CPSC.

Ms. Tenenbaum, please break free and set your own agenda. Before it's too late.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ms. Tenebaum on this.

“Resale stores should make safety their business and check for recalled products and hazards to children.”

Unfortunately by putting us (kids resale) out of business with the CPSIA lead requirements they are eliminating one of their chief resources in pulling recalled products out of the market. Reputable (most) shops do check for recalls.

To be honest, I'm glad to see them focus on the recall aspect vs. them running around with their XRF analyzers to see if a pair of 10 year old girls jeans have rhinestones with 305 ppm.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems is that they are using data provided by Kids In Danger that says in 1999 some very high percentage of shops were found to have a recalled product.

Now, I don't know if the CPSC even had a website then with the information and for sure it wasn't commonplace for a resale shop to have a computer with internet connection. I'd bet every shop today has one.

To base today's situation on 1999 is just silly. Of course our lead poisoning results are based on 2004, which they were, by the way, at an all time low.

Kids in Danger has removed this information when this was pointed out, but goodness if you want to scare the living daylights out of parents send them there. It is amazing any children live to age 5!

Wacky Hermit said...

With all due respect, Rick, I think Tenenbaum was talking about products recalled for all sorts of reasons, not just lead paint. In fact, there have been deaths from, just to take one example, Simplicity cribs.

When I found out that CPSIA would also prohibit the sale of recalled items, my first thought was "that's not already illegal?" Honestly, I support it in principle. However, in practice I can see that this is a task of monumental proportions. People talk about the CPSC's recall database as if it were just the easiest thing to use, but in fact it's horrendously kludgy, can't be searched by keyword or indeed by more than one criterion at a time, and would be cost-prohibitive in terms of employee time for resale shops to search for anything outside of a few narrow categories (cribs, carseats) where safety is a real issue. THIS is the real problem with the recalled-goods requirement: it's one of those good ideas that really just can't be actually done.

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Wacky Hermit, I am sticking to my view that this statement was irresponsible. While you correctly observe that some recalled items have a proven ability to cause lethal injuries, it doesn't follow that the rest present anything near that same risk. A quick check of recent recalls at www.cpsc.gov reveals this fact.

Ms. Tenenbaum's comment aids and abets hysteria by suggesting that the resale of recalled items "puts children's lives at risk". Frankly, this might have been an appropriate thing to say if she was talking about a specific situation, but she wasn't. Everyone stubborn enough to remain in the children's market suffers tremendously when our regulators talk our products, markets and categories down. Confidence is a fragile thing, and these highly publicized remarks hurt a LOT. It is across the line.

That said, I also believe that it is an inappropriate and wasteful deployment of scarce government resources to engage in a search for a needle in a haystack. That only adds to the impression that we are in a crisis (which we are NOT). After all, why else would these wise regulators take all this time and place all this emphasis on recovering these items? It creates further headwinds in the face of rationality.

Let's not play into the hands of the Nannny Staters. Every problem is not for the government to solve. Not everything is better with lots of government involvement. If cribs are a "crisis", focus on cribs - but don't slam everyone and everything in the same general channel. In some cases of risk management, it is appropriate and sensible to rely on the market and people's common sense. I do not believe it is the CPSC's responsibility to find and recover recalled items. This new idea has been promoted by the same consumer groups whose manic hysteria led to this awful law. It's a bad idea, half-baked from the get-go. I am not defending recalled items but simply observing that this is a "make believe" crisis, cooked up for headlines.

My solution would be education and if the facts merited it, a focused effort to recover specific items if they are known to be HIGHLY dangerous. I would also place more responsibility on parents and caretakers to monitor their own possessions and to use common sense to avoid mishaps. This is not as farfetched as it may seem (today). That's how you administer your own life right now (and I would note that you are still alive) and it's also how the world used to work before Waxman et. al. "fixed" it. Oh, those bygone days . . . .

bchiasson said...

Ms. Tenebaum's comments are certainly linked to the CPSIA which primarily deals with lead content in children's product. What "Wacky Hermit" and the other anonymous posters are forgetting is that there is a HUGE difference between a reseller who falls in the category of a yard sale, church bazaar, individual ebayer, and charity organization versus mass liquidators who buy distressed inventory from manufacturers and distributors and resell to consumers for a profit. I would agree these "closeout" distributors should check on possible recalls for an item before they buy the bulk inventory which may be tainted. This would prevent dishonest companies from KNOWINGLY dumping illegal product onto the unsuspecting consumer through discount stores or websites. But to lump in the aforemntioned charity groups and ordinary citizens looking to clean out their attic and task them to try and navigate the CPSIA and the CPSC website (a task that has flummoxed the most skilled corporate legal counsel) and accuse them of being criminals (since they are breaking laws and killing children), is just plain irresponsible.