Hailed almost universally on its passage last year--it passed the Senate 89 to three and the House by 424 to one, with Ron Paul the lone dissenter--CPSIA is now shaping up as a calamity for businesses and an epic failure of regulation, threatening to wipe out tens of thousands of small makers of children's items from coast to coast, and taking a particular toll on the handcrafted and creative, the small-production-run and sideline at-home business, not to mention struggling retailers. How could this have happened?(via The Corner)
Congress passed CPSIA in a frenzy of self-congratulation following last year's overblown panic over Chinese toys with lead paint. Washington's consumer and environmentalist lobbies used the occasion to tack on some other long-sought legislative goals, including a ban on phthalates used to soften plastic.
The law's provisions were billed as stringent, something applauded by high-minded commentators as a way to force the Mattels and Fisher-Prices of the world to keep more careful watch on the supply chains of their Chinese factories.
Barbed with penalties that include felony prison time and fines of $100,000, the law goes into effect in stages; one key deadline is Feb. 10, when it becomes unlawful to ship goods for sale that have not been tested. Eventually, new kids' goods will all have to be subjected to more stringent "third-party" testing, and it will be unlawful to give away untested inventory even for free.
The first thing to note is that we're not just talking about toys here. With few exceptions, the law covers all products intended primarily for children under 12. That includes clothing, fabric and textile goods of all kinds: hats, shoes, diapers, hair bands, sports pennants, Scouting patches, local school-logo gear and so on. . .
Again with relatively few exceptions, makers of these goods can't rely only on materials known to be unproblematic (natural dyed yarn, local wood) or that come from reputable local suppliers, or even ones that are certified organic.
Instead they must put a sample item from each lot of goods through testing after complete assembly, and the testing must be applied to each component. For a given hand-knitted sweater, for example, one might have to pay not just, say, $150 for the first test, but added-on charges for each component beyond the first: a button or snap, yarn of a second color, a care label, maybe a ribbon or stitching--with each color of stitching thread having to be tested separately.
Suddenly the bill is more like $1,000--and that's just to test the one style and size. The same sweater in a larger size, or with a different button or clasp, would need a new round of tests--not just on the button or clasp, but on the whole garment. The maker of a kids' telescope (with no suspected problems) was quoted a $24,000 testing estimate, on a product with only $32,000 in annual sales.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Regulatory Overkill: An Example
In Forbes magazine, Walter Olson has a follow-on about the law passed last year responding to the alarm over lead paint in toys from China: