Hidden costs

I missed this when it was passed, but it’s a great example of the seen and the unseen… also of the amazing hubris of regulatory planners. From Virginia Postrel (HT Will Wilkinson),

Under the law it is now illegal, as of yesterday, to sell or distribute any product–toy, book, clothes, electronic gadget, you name it–aimed primarily at children 12 and under without first having every accessible element in that product–fabric, appliques, ink, zippers, buttons, switches, doll hair, you name it–certified by a third-party lab (not, for instance, the zipper maker) as having less than 600 parts per million of lead. The law includes substantial criminal penalties and allows state attorneys general, as well as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to enforce its provisions.

Third-party testing and certification is the sort of thing that sounds wonderful to good-government types. It’s information! It’s “transparency”!

It’s completely nuts. To take one minor problem, existing third-party labs don’t have the capacity to suddenly start testing every component of every kid’s product. Reputable manufacturers like YKK Group, which sells most of the world’s zippers, already do their own testing. But those tests don’t qualify under the law. The CPSIA assumes a huge independent testing industry that doesn’t yet exist. (I see spin-off opportunities.) And, of course, it assumes that non-existent industry will offer testing at prices operations smaller than Mattel can afford.

It’s a federal regulation, so it has all the common sense that you’d expect from the federal government. It covers all products that are marketed to children–and every single component of that product.

For example, the regulation essentially prohibits the manufacture of ball-point pens. (Thank goodness pencils contain graphite and not lead!)

Now, I get this…. I have kids. I don’t want my kids to get lead poisoning. But… my kids don’t eat their pens, or lick their Xbox, or make sandwiches with their chemistry sets.

One concern is that the age limits themselves are unreasonable. It is ridiculous and completely unreasonable to treat bikes ridden by 8-12 year olds as though they pose the same risks [of lead poisoning] as teething rings owned by 1 year olds. … 10 year olds do not chew their bike tires, lick their brakes, or suck on their tire valves.

They don’t suck their socks.

They do not eat their books, not even books published before 1989. — Headmistress

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has–belatedly–realized that at least some of this is nonsense and is delaying implementation of the regulations for a year.

This is what happens when lawmakers don’t read legislation. (Or think about it, apparently.) Thank goodness that’s not happening now!

Kathleen Fasanella at the Fashion-Incubator blog has this great quote,

However well intentioned, it will not have the desired effect of making products safer. Insult to injury, it will dramatically reduce the range of products available to consumers. Likewise, I must admit there have been unsupported claims coming from “our” camp; specifically the repeated assertion that CPSIA will “decimate” the children’s products industry. The definition of decimate is to kill one in ten and CPSIA is a far more effective killer than that. You couldn’t even describe CPSIA as “deadly as plague” since that only killed 30%-50% of infected persons. Based on the results of the Economic Impact Survey I’ve conducted, over 70% of businesses say CPSIA represents the last nail in their coffin.

Well, at least the law is only really targeting large commerical operations and major toy-manufacturers… oh, wait. So winter clothing is removed from thrift store shelves because some zippers (zippers!) might (might!) contain a small amount of lead.

From Walter Olson,

We blogged earlier about Honda’s and Kawasaki’s having pulled out of the U.S. market and ordered a halt to sales of their youth motorbikes. A similar Jan. 26 letter from third big maker Yamaha is reprinted here, and smaller makers are rumored to have taken the same step.

Thiel’s Wheels of Ohio: “We cannot sell you replacement parts for the ones you already own. This is not our decision; it is being made for us.” DealerNews (”The Voice of PowerSports Retailers”): “The value of inventories that now cannot be sold is unknown, but it probably exceeds $100 million, by our estimate. Just take 7,500 franchised dealers, many of whom carry $25,000 worth of inventory at wholesale cost.” Activism/protest ideas there and at Dirt Rider.

Valerie Jacobsen comments on Olson’s blog,

We own a small, local used bookstore and have been selling used books on the Internet since 1995.

Last year we shipped over 4500 used books to nearly 50 countries. (Note that CPSIA not only regulates distribution and sale but export as well.)

Our bookstore is the sole means of income for our family, and we currently have over 7000 books catalogued. In our children’s department, 35% of our picture books and 65% of our chapter books were printed before 1985.

Many of our older children’s books have painted decorative titles and other cover embellishment, which decoration is an extremely small quantity and which may or may not contain over 600 ppm lead. (The limits for each accessible part or paint layer are going to 300 ppm in August and 100 ppm in 2011.)

We have read the legislation, called our representative, called our senator, contacted the CPSC (no answer), read all of the CPSC press releases, and contacted a lawyer. We still honestly have no idea what is legal to sell, but we cannot simply discard a wealth of our culture’s nineteenth and twentieth children’s literature over this.

Postrel closes with this,

Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has a bill to revise the law. But he’s a Republican, and I’m a pessimist. Nobody cares what happens to people no one has ever heard of.

Unfortunately, she’s probably right.

Small business owners will go out of business, millions of chiuldren will have fewer–and more expensive–toys, and millions of tons of perfectly good books, toys, and clothing will be destroyed and burned. What was it Reagan said?

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”