There was once a time when newspaper headlines did not immediately become law. Those golden days are seemingly a hazy memory, to judge from the swift and judgmental reaction to a recent AP story on cadmium in children's jewelry.
PLEASE NOTE - This essay is not a defense of cadmium. That's becoming a tiresome objection, frankly. Cadmium is bad, okay? Back to the story . . . .
The AP story, backed up by test reports that AP will apparently not release, prompted Senator Chuck Schumer to introduce legislation on Wednesday, two days later, to "stop it cold". After an equally lengthy deliberation and careful consideration of the flimsy facts of this case, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum of the CPSC made this astounding announcement today:
"Because of these recent developments, I have a message for parents, grandparents and caregivers: Do not allow young children to be given or to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when they are unsupervised."
Whoa! Tenenbaum is saying that consumers should boycott ALL "cheap" metal jewelry now? Is she trying to put Claire's Boutique and countless thousands of other small companies out of business entirely, all because of the unconfirmed accusations of an AP reporter about a handful of pieces of jewelry from a tiny number of sources? Within 48 hours, too? I think that's irresponsible.
Yes, it's irresponsible, but that's the way this populist government of reactive politicians wants to govern. The Obamites are apparently shocked to discover that anything ever goes wrong, and if they ever find a single fly in the ointment, they then assume they are facing a broad scale assault. Hence, the immediate action to implement bans and cessations of trade.
Stop it cold, indeed - but what exactly is being stopped? Trade. Jobs. Futures.
Even worse, frankly, is the notion that this problem must be "solved" by legislation. While Senator Schumer was simply doing the usual, pandering for votes, where is it written that this problem is best resolved by Congressional action? [Let's put aside the niggling detail that some further assessment of the nature of this "dire" threat is appropriate before we take ANY action whatsoever.] Apparently, Mr. Schumer believes it's his job to fix this problem and that in the absence of his decisive action, the rest of the government would fall on its face.
Umm, well, we used to have a federal agency for this very task, the CPSC. Okay kids, gather 'round, let me tell you about a long ago time when the CPSC had actual authority to assess risk and depending on its independent judgment, was entitled to draft and implement rules governing safety in the marketplace. Wasn't that a wonderful time, kids?! Well, not anymore. Nowadays, apparently only Congress can exercise judgment. And that judgment is best exercised without the use of any scientific advice or reliance on the agency charged with the responsibility for safety administration.
Courtesy of the CPSIA, the CPSC is now a bureaucracy designed to serve the will of the politicians - determining what is safe (and what is not) is not their primary job anymore. Congress has no use for Ph.D.s or other people that actually understand science. With folks running the show like Chuck Schumer who apparently believe that an AP story is a perfect substitute for expert advice, there is no need for the CPSC to do anything other than fuel panic for Congress to assuage. Hence Ms. Tenenbaum's shocking announcement today.
This is completely wrongheaded and will damage markets almost immediately. It's all the more amazing because we have been here before, and paid the price with two years of chaos, misery and pain. The lessons of the CPSIA apparently weren't learned, and to judge from the knee-jerk reaction to the AP story, it appears unlikely that this group of politicians (Democrats) and administrators are capable of ever mastering them.
Remember, I think cadmium is bad. But bad is no justification for legislation or rulemaking on the fly. This is not a sudden and life-threatening crisis. This metal, while undesirable, was probably in the market for years, all without poisoning large swaths of American children. The story of the little boy in Minnesota who swallowed a jewerly bangle and died (monotonously repeated by Senator Amy Klobuchar and now by Inez Tenenbaum), sad as it is, should be retired. I have no interest in seeing the children's product industry put out to pasture just because of one accident.
Someday I hope we can restore some sense of proportion and restraint in safety administration. It can be done. . . .