Saturday, January 10, 2009

Protecting us to death

A new law, apparently aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products being sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates. Those that haven't been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of their actual lead or phthalate content. Sounds good on the surface, but obviously, the implications of such a law were not well thought out. Or were they?

A multi-billion dollar second-hand clothing and toy industry that helps millions of poor and middle class families, not to mention the environment and the people they employ, could have suffered. Just days after this new law came to the public's attention, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, otherwise known as the nation's smother mother, backtracked. They assured these shop owners that the law would not be applied to them.

Considering the current "let's spend our way out of this crisis" mentality, the real intent of such a law may actually have been to put a damper on second-hand spending in the midst of an economic downturn. It could have been quite the bailout for large retailers and manufacturers who are suffering from diminished sales.

The law is actually a very good example of how government intervention actually creates more problems than it solves. Large manufacturers and retailers say they can afford to test their products; smaller businesses cannot. Who suffers? The small businessperson and their employees and the consumer who cannot afford brand new clothes or toys and can no longer find them at second-hand shops that are afraid to sell the items. And instead of getting a second, useful life, those items would languish in landfill somewhere, leaching whatever lead they did contain into the groundwater.

There really was no need to extend this law to second-hand retailers anyhow. If a parent is concerned enough about lead, they can buy a lead test kit at a hardware store for less than $5 and test the toys themselves.

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