Over the weekend, I was having coffee with a long-time friend who told me about her daughter, a young woman in her early twenties who recently had her first baby. This new mother—with no college degree and a job that pays just above minimum wage—has very limited financial resources available to support her family. So, she regularly shops at second-hand stores, consignment shops, and the local Goodwill Store. Just before the baby was born, she went out to purchase a crib. She quickly realized that she could not afford the many hundreds of dollars needed to buy a new crib, so she started to scour the second-hand market. Her search came up empty.
I had to tell my friend that her daughter could not find a second-hand crib because the CPSC basically outlawed selling them. The CPSC has put in place a new safety standard for cribs and, by the law’s terms, all cribs, regardless of when they were made or where they are sold, must meet these new standards. Because the standard is fairly new, cribs meeting the new standard have not yet cycled down to the resale market. And because of the standard, the new cribs are quite expensive, so they will probably be used for a long time before they are available to be bought second-hand. Therefore, those consumers who count on the resale market for their basic needs—such as a crib—are out of luck.
My friend told me that her daughter ended up spending $25 to buy a used play yard as a substitute for the crib she could not find. One of its sides is broken but it has been mended with a metal rod and tape. Since she cannot afford a new crib, she’s trying to make do with the play yard until her child can move into a toddler bed. Other parents who can’t afford new cribs and can’t find second-hand ones might instead have their infants sleep next to them in an adult bed, which is at least as hazardous as the risks we were trying to address in our crib regulation.
This conversation led me to wonder if we as Commissioners are doing as much as we should to consider the full consequences of our decisions. Of course, those who rely on the second-hand market should be just as protected from unsafe products as those who buy new at retail, but we declared anything but the newest cribs unsafe, when that wasn’t the case. At least some older cribs were safe even if they hadn’t had the level of testing the new rule required. Even some of the unsafe drop-side cribs could be made safe with retrofits, but we didn’t leave that option.
Most of our actions involve taking away choices, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes, that’s exactly what should happen, when the choices are ones that unreasonably harm consumers. But, as the situation my friend’s daughter faced demonstrates, we have to be careful not to take away so many that all we leave are even worse choices.