Monday, June 27, 2011

CPSIA - What's the Difference?

The current debate over the need for mandatory CPSIA testing of children's products derives from consumer advocate assertions that American consumers "want" this testing to be "assured" that products are not laden with lead.  This assertion has never been backed up with real data (other than "push poll" data) but strikes a nice chord with certain politicians seeking to have something nice to say on the stump.

Has this very notion, that mandatory testing "assures" anxious consumers, ever been tested?  More to the point, how does mandating testing achieve anything - given that the core issue preceding the CPSIA was compliance with the rules.  In other words, prior to the CPSIA, a small number of companies making children's products (some of them large multinationals like Mattel) did a poor job of following the rules. Some quite notoriously ignored the rules, too.  Despite the fact that the agency had the legal power to enforce against these companies and despite the fact that these companies were not following the rules, Congress decided what we really needed were more rules.  Apparently, when companies don't follow one set of rules, there is a big need for more rules.

More rules certainly solved the problem. . . .

And out of that effort grew the myth that mandated testing was absolutely necessary to keep America safe.  Of course, mandated testing for real hazards isn't controversial.  For instance, you will not find one peep from me about testing for lead-in-paint since 2008.  That's a real hazard, actually linked to real, actual victims.  However, the CPSIA invented a couple new standards concerning "hazards" not previously documented to have caused any actual injuries, and instituted mandated testing.  This was Congress' solution to a perceived lack of compliance by the market.

How does that work logically?  There were standards or rules previously, and they were notoriously ignored by a small number companies. That made everyone "mad" and gave people like Dick Durbin something to spout off about.  But the fact is, the rules were well-known and were nevertheless ignored.  We can certainly conclude from this experience that the existence of a rule is not assurance that the rule will actually be followed.  Compliance is independent from posted restrictions.  [Have you ever been cited for speeding?  'Nuf said.]

The new rules mandated third party testing for every product.  Why?  Purportedly to make SURE that every product complied with the standards that Congress felt were being ignored.  Since we "cannot trust" companies to obey these standards, they must test.  Apaparently, we trust these companies to test even though they previously ignored the mandated standards.  And this apparently helps the CFA sleep better at night.

But if a small number of companies were ignoring the old rules, what makes Congress think a small number of companies won't ignore the NEW rules and simply lie about their testing or cut a few corners . . . until they get caught?  Good question?  I have no answer to it. 

The Dems don't like to talk about this.  In their perfect world, while the old standards were rules that might be ignored, the replacement rules (mandated testing) will CERTAINLY be universally followed.  No reason for this conclusion has ever been provided.  The lack of rationale has not deterred the Dems from clinging to this idea like grim death . . . .

Not all of the new CPSIA rules work to protect consumers, but disclosure of the facts is not forthcoming if it might reflect badly on the agency or Congress.  For instance, you may recall that companies can petition to certify firewalled in-house labs to conduct testing on a "trust me" basis - this rule effectively only benefits big companies like Mattel.  Yet when Mattel recalled 11 million units of its toys last September, nothing was disclosed about the involvement of its firewalled labs in the recalls.   Were any of these items tested in0house and passed?  Let's not forget that Mattel is largely responsible for the CPSIA because of its bad acts.  Was the firewalled lab rule a bummer for American consumers?  This is not a question welcomed by Dems.

And if a small number of companies will skirt the NEW rules on madndated testing, what happens to the rest of us?  Well, our costs will certainly go through the roof and put us at a disadvantage to the scofflaws.  In other words, the more compliant you are, the worse you fare competitively.  Many of us would rather eat sand than knowingly break the law.  So our costs skyrocket, and the basic problem that Congress wanted to solve (presumably, making consumers safer, not making consumer advocates sleep easier in their naivete) is not advanced at all.

Is this economically-efficient? Stupid question - to this politicos, it only matters what the CPSIA sounds like on the stump.  Is anyone safer?  Well, first tell me whether a markedly lower percentage of cheaters are present in the market.

Let's get one thing straight:  there is no way to know if you are complying with lead content standards without testing.  Whether testing is mandated or not, testing will need to take place to assess compliance with mandated levels of lead in children's products.  Mandating compliance with the standard and mandating testing is the SAME THING - but the big difference is that in the former case, we can run our businesses and succeed or fail based on our ability to run those businesses well and competitively.  In the latter case, the government becomes our partner and nothing we do is beyond their scrutiny and "advice" (needed or not). After all, they have nothing better to do.  Catch criminals?  Please - watching over our shoulders is all they have time for.

We can only hope that some Dems will wake up and do the right thing for our economy and job creation.  This three-year disaster is a metaphor for everything that's wrong with our current government and political leadership.  I wish it were otherwise, but there is no sign that the Dems care what we have to say.  Until this storm breaks, we are doomed to slowly asphyxiate through mandated testing under the supervision of the government.

1 comment:

Ben S said...

Three years? Pretty sure the disasters started before that. -.-

Oh you mean THIS disaster. Sorry, was looking at other issues in a different window.