Saturday, July 17, 2010

GUEST BLOG: Etienne Veber - Learning the CPSIA Civics Lesson...the Hard Way

Five years ago, I joined Learning Resources eager to leverage my previous experiences for the benefit of a small business that makes a positive and lasting impact on our society. Little did I know then that this decision (one of the best in my life) would totally change my view of our government.

This past week-end my wife and I visited our older son who is currently working as a summer intern for a Member of Congress. We indulged in a personal tour of the Capitol (a pretty amazing working environment if you ask me...). As we went thru the various halls of our legislative branch, we stumbled upon this quote from Louis Brandeis: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding". Of course, he was not thinking about our current CPSIA situation when he wrote these words in 1928. However, if the combination of good intentions with a lack of understanding is not a main source of many unintended consequences in our laws, I do not know what is.

Our Constitution was built to protect us against these types of situations by encouraging all sorts of meaningful dialogue between various opposing groups, and by establishing good science as the foundation to make sound and nonpartisan decisions. Then, why after so many months - with the overwhelming market evidence, the many companies "going under", so many jobs lost, so many voices shouting for reasonable adjustments, so many questions still unanswered- why has the myriad of unintended consequences of the ill-fated CPSIA still not been addressed yet?

Sadly, the answer has become all too clear.

The Democratic leadership in Congress has consistently refused to have any meaningful dialogue with the various groups involved in this issue, unless they agree with their point of view. I do not need to remind the regular readers of this blog how long it took to have a proper hearing on the CPSIA! And, what has happened since then? NOTHING, absolutely nothing. Obviously, this lack of action demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Democratic leadership in fact does not intend on making any adjustments to the law. It does not matter that the CPSIA does not make our products safer, but simply more expensive, effectively destroying an entire portion of our economy (the small/medium companies who cannot afford all these senseless compliance activities).

What really matters is that the Democratic leadership and other CPSIA-supporters look like they are protecting our children in front of a camera. After all, who can argue against more safety for children products? So, while we are at it, let's have lots of recalls to make people feel that the situation is really dire and that the terrible cost of this legislation (hundreds of thousands of lost jobs) is a necessary consequence!

However, the absurdity of some of the recent recalls and their numbers have reached such proportions that even consumers are now simply tuning out. Did you not hear growing up that one should not cry "Wolf!" too many times, or risk finding oneself without support when it is really needed? This fast evolving situation is the direct result of the political decision from leading Democrats (Waxman & Co.) to strip the CPSC from any true independence. The Commission has stopped using sound judgment and making decisions strictly based on sound science. By playing along with a populist political agenda, the CPSC leadership is responsible for creating a situation that is out-of-hand. The separation of power between the legislative and executive branches was created for a reason!

So what does this means for me? As the president of our company, I have had to eliminate jobs, terminate projects, stop investments in our future growth, and reduce the number of new products we develop each year. Why? Simply to pay for all the incremental and constantly increasing costs of complying with the CPSIA. With new revisions constantly being added to the law and some retail customers “pouring oil on fire,” we may not be done cutting our workforce and stopping investing in the future!

Our products help children engage and develop an early passion for math or science. I think we can all agree that these are the kinds of children's products we need right now.

Over the last 25 years we have built one of the most prolific innovation engines in the education market. So, the real "losers", thanks to the CPSIA and the Democratic leadership, will be our children and with them the future of our society!

Did I mention that all these incremental costly requirements will result in absolutely ZERO incremental benefits in terms of safety for our children? Surely you have seen the compelling and comprehensive set of data that Rick has documented so diligently over the last 18 months in this blog. Did I also mention that for more than 25 years our safety record has been impeccable? This situation is absolutely maddening.

I have now learned a civic lesson that I will not forget for a very long time. I want these "well intended " leaders out the door! I owe it to my co-workers, the teachers that we serve, and to the children that need our products. I can accept a misguided law, but I cannot accept continued intolerance and ignorance from our leaders.

Being on the frontline of this battle, as the president of a small business, has opened my eyes and I am better off from it. Our country needs jobs, lots of them right now, and it is the small businesses - that this wrongheaded Congressional leadership is working so hard at destroying - that can provide them.

Do not close your eyes. Speak up against this CPSIA absurdity and those responsible for its awful implementation!

Etienne Veber is President/CEO of Learning Resources, Educational Insights & Northpoint Horizons

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