Last night Congress passed and sent to the President for signature legislation amending the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). While this Congressional action is long overdue, the question I have is will this agency implement the new law with more common sense than we used before Congress acted.
As I thought about how we will act in the future I recalled two notes that I recently received that moved me greatly. They each share themes—both letters relate how our CPSIA regulations are forcing small companies making perfectly safe products to shut their doors, and both authors are mothers.
Here is what one letter said:
…there are way too many casualties of this law—many of them women who are trying to enter the market place and compete.I am a mother of two daughters who was so thrilled to have found what I believe was my life path…this law and the chaos that has surrounded it for the past three years has left me and many others with their business-hungry hands financially tied…
And from another writer:
I am a business owner, mother and lifelong crafter and if anyone would have told me MY government would punish me because of the mistakes of multi-billion dollar toy companies I would never have believed it…I am closing my business…because of the CPSIA.
These business-owners and the many others I hear from who have been most impacted by the oppressive burdens of the CPSIA are women. While we cannot salvage the jobs we have cost and the livelihoods we have ruined, perhaps going forward with the new law, we can be more mindful of the potential damage we do.
It’s tough to put a face to lost jobs and failed businesses. And it’s easy to dismiss the concerns of a faceless entity, especially when the other image is the face of a child. But these companies are not faceless entities; they have real faces too, many of them female.
It is a simple economic reality that many small businesses are women-owned. It is a simple economic reality that the burdens of regulation fall more heavily on small businesses than they do on large corporations. Whether a 10-employee children’s clothing manufacturer or a stay-at-home mom who helps put food on the table by hand-making toys, our regulations, especially for testing, make the chances for survival virtually nil.
We’ve heard these warnings, but always in the abstract. “Some manufacturers may go out of business,” our economists tell us. It is tougher to dismiss that one line when you realize there is no “manufacturer.” There is Susan, who sews handmade dolls. There is Kathy, who makes little girls’ dresses.
The CPSC has been regulating as if it does not care what damage is done if it has the political victory of claiming (with scant evidence) to protect children. How does the majority of Commissioners make children healthier or safer by putting their mothers out of work with regulations of negligible benefit?
This agency has been voting to do whatever has the political appeal of appearing to protect consumers, regardless of how little it actually does to make anyone safer. But the letters I get show who really pays the price – small businesswomen. These aren’t the majority’s boogeymen – big, heartless corporations. These are mothers, who make toys and clothes for your children with all the love and care they have for their own. But we have been punishing them anyway and shutting down what the Small Business Administration has called a key job-creation engine.
The legislation on its way to the President clearly is a compromise and does not address all the problems in the CPSIA. However, it does give the agency the opportunity to take a fresh look at the costs and benefits of the rules we issue, especially as they relate to small business. And, importantly, it will allow us to put a face not only to those we are trying to protect but also to those we crush with overly-burdensome regulation.
It’s time to give up the coy euphemisms (such as “safety delayed is safety denied”), stop talking about the harm we are doing only in impersonal terms like “economic impact,” and give that harm its real face. It is time to think about who we are hurting when we enact stifling regulations that have little benefit. If we’re going to insist on these regulations, then we need to be willing to face the women whose companies we are shutting down and shutting out. We need to look these women in the face and tell them why a mere slogan is more important than their ability to provide for their families by making safe, enjoyable products.
The legislation the Congress just passed gives us the opportunity to regulate more carefully, intelligently, and compassionately; I hope we take it.