Down with the CPSIA!

by Walter Olson on January 16, 2009

I’ve got a new opinion piece up at on one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen in many a year, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and the need to repeal it before it capsizes tens of thousands of small businesses:

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?

(cross-posted from Point of Law). For our earlier coverage, follow our CPSIA tag.

P.S. The piece as first posted included a Vermont publication’s quote attributed to David Arkush of Public Citizen; that organization almost immediately wrote in to point out that Arkush has disavowed the quote in question, so I substituted a different one. The conversation at Greco Woodcrafting tracing the matter is well worth a close look.


1 Todd Rogers 01.16.09 at 8:49 pm

Nicely done. Me sees a litigation lottery in the making. Small scale operations are not very attractive targets for “Big Law.” Like any predator, Big Law will enjoy a market bottleneck of “Big Toys;” only those elastic enough to absorb the shock of this law will survive. And Big Law will find easier marks and deep pockets for product liability suits.

2 SSFC 01.16.09 at 8:57 pm

Your first commenter at Forbes, the mini-Nader who poses the threat of children catching fire because of lead-tainted moccasins, is my favorite commenter of all time.

Probably an intern for CSPI or another Nader front, but what a catch!

3 Brian Phelps 01.16.09 at 8:59 pm

I can always trust Ron Paul.

4 PhilG 01.17.09 at 5:29 am

What blows my mind is how such an incredibly flawed piece of legislation could pass the senate by a margin of 89 to 3 and the house by a margin of 424 to 1. It says something about the collective wisdom of Congress.

5 Richard Nieporent 01.17.09 at 7:02 am

What blows my mind is how such an incredibly flawed piece of legislation could pass the senate by a margin of 89 to 3 and the house by a margin of 424 to 1. It says something about the collective wisdom of Congress

Why are you surprised? It’s for the Children™!

6 Cecilia Leibovitz 01.17.09 at 1:14 pm

Thank you for this well researched and intuitive article.

Cecilia Leibovitz

7 asdf fff 01.17.09 at 7:48 pm

That’s a really well-written article in Forbes, good job. Clear, interesting, persuasive.

One comment I would like to make is on the phrase “As CPSIA opponents mobilize, the phrase ‘unintended consequences’ is often heard.”

Have you ever noticed how often some law is passed, and then people argue that it’s clear text results in “unintended consequences”? Usually, people say “law X was supposed to solve problem Y,” and then they argue that law X actually harms Z, where Z is someone who is sympathetic and who does not contribute to problem Y at all.

The fallacy with this line of reasoning, in my view, is that the fact that a law’s text is different from its public justification (“problem Y”) or from the policy values of many people (“support Z”) does not mean its consequences are “unintended.” The best measure of the intention of a law, absent scrivenor’s error, is its text.

8 SmokeVanThorn 01.18.09 at 10:17 am

“Unintended consequence” is the euphemism for “something (bad) that advocates should have realized would happen but (a) were too stupid and/or too intent on their agenda to consider; and/or (b) was ignored because they were too busy feeling good about themselves while demonizing their opponents; and/or (c) really doesn’t matter as long as it is borne by others.”

9 Todd Rogers 01.18.09 at 11:29 am

Of course, this law could become obsolete with proper labels such as: “Not intended for distribution or use by persons under the age of thirteen.” “This item is made available purely for novelty use, only.” Yes, this kind of pedestrian side-stepping is clearly intended to disregard the spirit of the law. Such is the case when responding to poorly written law.

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