Monday, December 28, 2009

CPSIA - Are Toys Supposed To Be Fun Anymore?

In a wonderful Op-Ed last week, Windsor Mann lampoons the ridiculous CPSIA by announcing his intent to not give any presents this year. His plan is as simple as the subtitle of his essay: "Giving children what they need most - nothing". Mr. Mann expands: "As someone who loves to be a wonderful person for a brief period of time, I enjoy this season of temporary giving. I am obsessed with helping people, especially children, and the best way to help children is by not giving them Christmas presents."

Sadly, Mr. Mann observes that "toys are not something to play around with", noting the recent recall of toy darts because an 8-year-old almost choked on a dart that he was chewing. This is a real case. [This recall is eerily similar to a life-imitates-art spoof on The Onion entitled "Fun Toy Banned Because Of Three Stupid Dead Kids".]

Mr. Mann recounts in hilarious fashion various recent recalls illustrating the fact that we seem to have lost sight of what constitutes safety. [He even mentions the unfortunate Timberland ankle-high boots recalled for the lead-in-paint logo on their insoles.] To make his point, Mr. Mann notes the useful instructions provided by the CPSC in its "The Super Sitter" manual for babysitters. Here's some tips the government felt the need to give babysitters:

• "Keep the youngsters safe by preventing accidents."
• "Running or horseplay on [stairs] can lead to falls."
• "In the event of accidental choking, apply first aid measures to clear the child's airway."

He quips: "(In the event of intentional choking, do not apply first aid measures.)"

The fear of everything, railed at in this essay, is the philosophical underpinning of the misconceived CPSIA. There is no solution to this disease short of changing the law. In a world dominated by the fear of everything, nothing is safe and everything must be feared. Mr. Mann's strategy of not giving gifts seems to be an appropriate response in this environment.

It's a funny article, but it's not a funny problem for those of us stubborn enough to remain in the children's product market. I don't know how it comes as a surprise to anyone that misuse of products or the absence of individual responsibility may result in injuries, but that plague has descended on our industries. The issues inherent in this shift away from common sense are many:
  • Fear of liability creates a perception of COST that deters investment in products and markets. Random costs feed the fear.
  • Unjustified fear of injury by consumers translates into lower sales or higher costs in making sales. Markets shrink. Consumer needs become difficult to meet.
  • An atmosphere of fear affects regulators, who tend to recall more often and to assess more penalties (even if non-monetary) because it's politically-expedient or follows the trend. In other words, it's "safer" for regulators to err on the side of caution - but that cost is borne by somebody . . . businesspeople.
  • Rules tighten illogically, diverting attention from real issues, increasing the cost of participating in the market. All parties suffer from the consequences of complexity, including regulators.
  • Misallocation of resources (expending too much energy on unimportant things) leads eventually to true crisis, fueling the fire of the original proponents of the legislation. The obvious solution - even MORE government.

And the joke will be on you and on us, if we don't do something about it. Mr. Mann takes a lighthearted swipe at the silliness of your Congress, but it's really no laughing matter.

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