If you head over to reason.com, you’ll find a column by A. Barton Hinkle that deftly clarifies what the debate is really about when CPSC (or any other agency) is thinking about regulating something. The argument isn’t about whether or not regulations should exist at all or whether our modern lives need any rules. Clearly, they do.
The debate is about where to draw the line. Hinkle writes, “if a . . . rule can prevent 1 million birth defects at a cost of only one dollar, then the regulation merits adoption—and if a regulation would prevent only one birth defect at a cost of $100 trillion, then it does not. In the real world regulations fall within narrower parameters.”
That is where our focus has to be at every Commission meeting. We need to take a regulatory Hippocratic Oath: “Do more good than harm.” Sometimes, that goal will rest on the broad question, to regulate or not to regulate. Most often, however, it will depend on how we choose to regulate and how carefully we draw the lines.
As an example, look at our debate back in July on whether to lower the lead standard for children’s products down to 100 parts-per-million—that is 99.99% lead free. Common sense and the language of the law that required that debate suggested we should look at different kinds of products differently and add a degree of practicality to our decision. Lead in a doorknob and lead in a pacifier are two very different things.
Instead of recognizing that and actually digging into the real problem, we treated the entire universe of children’s products with one heavy hand. We reached for our largest regulatory hammer instead of a scalpel, and we shifted even more costs to businesses when we glibly told them that, if they wanted an exemption, they should come beg us to do the compartmentalized analysis we should have done up front. The result will be more money—and maybe more jobs and companies, too—lost to nothing but process. We could have avoided that result by using our expertise and resources to do the legwork on our own.
I hope we’ll do the hard work in the future, rather than hiding clumsy solutions behind emotional strawmen and cute catchphrases. I hope we’ll listen to the voice of reason.