The Washington Monthly has a piece up now, “Toy Story”, by Matthew Blake, that looks to me quite wrong-headed. Subtitled “Does the reform of a small agency herald the return of competent government oversight?”, it’s about the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and, more specifically, the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSI). The Act passed in the wake of that Barbie lead paint scandal you faintly remember, with strong bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate. Blake suggests that perhaps the Act can be a positive model for more robust consumer safety legislation and enforcement generally.
The new law offers a realistic approach to oversight, mandating third-party lab testing for all children’s products—a reasonable alternative to keeping tabs on the vast network of foreign supply chains or simply handing responsibility over to the companies themselves. Under the act’s provisions, CPSC regulators don’t need to travel around the world, just to several universities where they can ensure that testing laboratories are looking for lead in children’s toys, not getting briefcases of cash from Mattel or Wal-Mart. And if this approach to testing toys works, federal regulators will have a strong argument to expand it to other consumer goods.
The problem is that what is convenient for regulators may be prohibitively inconvenient for businesses, particularly small ones. Are all small producers – i.e. those who can’t afford to pay for a university lab to certify that this batch of 100 hand-knitted monkeys doesn’t have any lead in it – supposed to go straight out of business? Start here: the handmade toy alliance. “If this law had been applied to the food industry, every farmers market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.” And, as it turns out, the law doesn’t cover just toys.
The good news is that, as of January 30, the CPSC has granted a one year stay on putting these testing and certification measures into effect. And there doesn’t seem to be any reason to suppose the issue will have the makings of a serious partisan fight, now that the initial, bipartisan burst of ‘who will think about the children?’ tainted toy alarmism has exhausted itself. Saving small business from CPSIA is one of the top-10 vote-getting ideas at the Obama-centric, Change.org. But, interestingly, it looks like Etsy’s hero of the day might be Republican Jim DeMint, who is planning to roll out a lot of standard Republican boilerplate as anti-CPSIA legislation, while – so far as I can tell – being exactly right. (Even a stopped clock and all. Maybe he’ll even get an approving link from all those Make-mavens and squid-knitters and craphounds at BoingBoing. I can’t remember the last time a Republican got a favorable link from BoingBoing, and rightly not.)
Point is: in this day and age, with the Republicans as idea-free and policy-poor as they are, Democrats really have no excuse for letting the likes of DeMint out-sensible them about any policy whatsoever. And I sure hope it all works out for all those Make-mavens and squid-knitters and Etsy folks.