Toy Story

by John Holbo on February 1, 2009

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. [click to continue…]

Refuted economic doctrines

by John Quiggin on February 1, 2009

I’ve been working away on my series of ideas about economic history, theory, policy that have been refuted, or at least sharply challenged by the experience of the bubble economy and the global financial crisis. Not wanting to overwhelm CT with econowonkery, I’ve posted the most recent ones on my blog. For those who like econowonkery, here’s a current list of the posts at my site

#1 The efficient markets hypothesis: Also posted at CT

#2 The case for privatisation: Also posted at CT

#3 The Great Moderation

#4 Individual retirement accounts

#5 Trickle down