Kevin Drum says:
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act makes it illegal to sell toys that haven't been tested for lead content. In general, I think that's a perfectly fine idea.
He can't understand, though, why its effects seem so perverse and Draconian when its core is such a "perfectly fine idea." It is amazing to me that the law of unintended consequences is so hard even for seasoned political observers to grasp.
A sensible restriction might be that a child cannot by any reasonable use of the product ingest more than X concentration of lead. But of course that is not what the government does. The government requires that every toy undergo expensive testing and batch tracking (almost like that of an aircraft part). This is not by any means the same as simply requiring products to limit lead exposure. It is a one-size-fits-all regulation of process, rather than true safety. It imposes huge testing and tracking expenses on products that can't possibly have any lead in them.
And, like many laws of this kind, it imposes a huge penalty on small competitors and new entrants and rewards larger toy makers who both have the scale to pay for the testing and the political clout to shape the law in their favor. In fact, the big winner from the legislation has actually been Matel, the company whose recalls actually led to the law in the first place.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires third-party testing of nearly every object intended for a child's use, and was passed in response to several toy recalls in 2007 for lead and other chemicals. Six of those recalls were on toys made by Mattel, or its subsidiary Fisher Price.
Small toymakers were blindsided by the expensive requirement, which made no exception for small domestic companies working with materials that posed no threat.
So while most small toymakers had no idea this law was coming down the pike until it was too late, Mattel spent $1 million lobbying for a little provision to be included in the CPSIA permitting companies to test their own toys in "firewalled" labs that have won Consumer Product Safety Commission approval.
The million bucks was well spent, as Mattel gained approval late last week to test its own toys in the sites listed above"”just as the window for delayed enforcement closed.
Instead of winding up hurting, Mattel now has a cost advantage on mandatory testing, and a handy new government-sponsored barrier to entry for its competitors.
Update: Brad Warbiany has similar thoughts.