Will you be in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, February 5? I’m delighted to announce that Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids fame, whose work I regularly link in this space, will be speaking at the Cato Institute at lunchtime. I’ll be offering comments as well as moderating, and it’s free and open to the public. Register here. The event description:
Our children are in constant danger from — to quote Lenore Skenazy’s list — “kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” Or so a small army of experts and government policymakers keep insisting. School authorities punish kids for hugging a friend, pointing a finger as a pretend gun, or starting a game of tag on the playground. Congress bans starter bikes on the chance that some 12-year-old might chew on a brass valve. Police arrest parents for leaving a sleepy kid alone in the back seat of a car for a few minutes. Yet overprotectiveness creates perils of its own. It robs kids not only of fun and sociability but of the joy of learning independence and adult skills, whether it be walking a city street by themselves or using a knife to cut their own sandwich. No one has written more provocatively about these issues than Lenore Skenazy, a journalist with the former New York Sun who now contributes frequently to the Wall Street Journal and runs the popular Free-Range Kids website where she promotes ideas like “Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” Her hilarious and entertaining talks have charmed audiences from Microsoft headquarters to the Sydney Opera House. Please join her and Cato’s Walter Olson for a discussion of helicopter parenting and its unfortunate policy cousin, helicopter governance.
And don’t forget that next Wednesday I’ll be moderating a luncheon talk at Cato by another favorite author, Virginia Postrel, with powerhouse commenters Tyler Cowen and Sam Tanenhaus. Register here.
By a 3-2 party line vote, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has voted to lower already infinitesimal thresholds of lead permitted in children’s products to 100 parts per million. The main impact will not be on surface paints or other flakable/chewable hazards to the youngest users, but on “substrate” elements such as metal alloys employed in such objects as bicycle parts, school binders, and ballpoint pens, an even wider swath of which will be hard to sell or resell without breaking the law. [Bloomberg; commissioners Nord, Northup; Woldenberg, more and yet more]
PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Walter Crane, The Baby’s Opera (1876), courtesy BabylonBaroque.
Around the country today, CPSC regulations are forcing retailers to throw out new, unused baby cribs — estimates of the number range higher than 100,000 — that the federal government itself considers safe enough to be used in day cares. I explain the latest Nanny State snafu in a new post at Cato at Liberty.
More: Quin Hillyer, CFIF; Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason. And CPSC commissioner Anne Northup corrects a misimpression in some parts of the press:
The new standards ban drop-side cribs. But the standards also prohibit the sale, new or used, of all cribs – both drop-side and fixed-side – that are not tested to the new standards by a private laboratory. Because very few cribs that were not originally manufactured to the new standards will ever be tested, the new standards essentially ban all such cribs – drop-side and fixed side. As reported in today’s press, millions of drop-side cribs have been recalled. On the other hand, tens of millions of fixed side cribs manufactured to previous standards have never been recalled, never been found to be unsafe, and now also cannot be sold new or resold used.
Reform efforts are finally afoot in the House of Representatives, at least two years after they should have started, but a three-member majority of the CPSC (two Obama appointees and a holdover) is defending the law on many though not all of its worst points. [Bloomberg, HuffPo] “This is by far the best bill we’ve seen to date,” declares the Handmade Toy Alliance. Tireless CPSIA critic Rick Woldenberg testified with other witnesses at a House Commerce hearing and contributes an op-ed to The Hill about the law’s irrationality. More coverage: Carter Wood/ShopFloor, Sean Wajert. And a memo by committee staff discussing some of the key issues is here (PDF).
And one of the reasons for the title’s closure after 35 years might be surprising, at least to non-readers of this site. [Handmade Toy Alliance]
A thrift store owner explains why. [Rick Woldenberg] More: Timothy Carney, Examiner.
The New York Times editorial page continues to dismiss criticism of the testing burdens of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 on small manufacturers and retailers as “part of a standard antiregulation litany.” But on October 30, 2009 the paper itself ran a sadly belated but otherwise decently executed article by reporter Leslie Wayne from which a fair-minded reader would conclude that the small makers’ complaints about the law are only too well-grounded (“Burden of Safety Law Imperils Small Toymakers.”)
If one were to take a charitable view, one might commend the Times editorialists for at last deigning to concede that the law might usefully be “tweaked,” at least within a very narrow latitude. They finally acknowledge that there “might be a way to exempt products from testing if they very clearly do not pose a lead-related hazard,” without acknowledging that the great majority of products swept under the law’s coverage fall into exactly such a category. But they continue to insist that even older kids be denied access to products that could not pass CPSIA’s lead testing, including whole categories of products like kids’ bicycles and ballpoint pens whose designs still cannot dispense with the (entirely harmless) use of brass and suchlike alloys. Only the repeated staying or postponed enforcement of many of the law’s requirements has spared the country a long list of similar absurdities — while the legal absurdities that the CPSC has not stayed or postponed have already wiped out makers and vendors of harmless products from coast to coast.
Even under the best of circumstances, the Times’s editorialists would find it hard to live down their cruel, ideologically blinkered track record on the CPSIA issue. But couldn’t they at least pretend to be following the coverage in their own paper? More: Handmade Toy Alliance. And Rick Woldenberg offers a critique of the the Times’s new, and anything but improved, news-side reporting.
It’s endangered by CPSIA, since organizers have no easy way to know whether a recyclable pair of kids’ jeans might have lead-containing brass in its buttons or zipper and thus be unlawful to sell (though not in fact dangerous). [Nancy Nord]
P.S.: Demise of print publication of Mothering Magazine after 35 years attributed in part to CPSIA and other CPSC regulations that devastated many advertisers [Handmade Toy Alliance]
Speaker line-up via Rick Woldenberg; opening statements by Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.); ABC News coverage; Republicans reportedly preparing legislation that would amend, but not repeal, the ill-conceived statute; a move to strip funding for the controversial product database.
A separate piece of legislation may address the law’s devastating effects on the sale of youth motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles:
“The original legislation Congress passed was meant to keep kids safe from lead content in toys,” said Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who comes from a state where smaller recreational vehicles are popular. “Ironically, the overreaching enforcement wound up putting kids at risk by forcing them to use larger more dangerous machines that are intended only for adults.”
Rehberg’s “Kids Just Want to Ride” Act, which he introduced last month, has 41 co-sponsors, including seven Democrats. A similar bill in the last Congress garnered 70 co-sponsors, including 24 Democrats.
Alas, it’s just another a temporary one: the Consumer Product Safety Commission has once again stayed implementation of CPSIA’s impractical testing rules, this time till December 31. [Commissioner Nancy Nord, more, earlier here, here, etc.]
More/related: Virginia Postrel considers why small foodmakers and farmers were able to get a better legislative deal from Big Government than makers of small children’s items [WSJ] The Handmade Toy Alliance hopes President Obama’s announced change of course on regulation will help. Rick Woldenberg notes that if you’re a small producer and the CPSC itself doesn’t get you, retailers like Costco will as they turn the screws to ensure CPSIA-compliant supply chains. And CPSC Commissioner Anne Northup points out that the federal regulatory agency is interpreting the overlap between “general” and “child-related” safety standards in a maximally burdensome way.