Recently I was up in New York and met with two insightful and smart people I want to introduce if you do not already know them.
Phillip Howard is a lawyer, civic activist and the founder of an interesting organization, Common Good. Part of the mission of the organization is to get back to a place where citizens can take responsibility for making sensible choices: “Making choices for the common good is impossible if everyone is tied up in red tape. Reclaiming responsibility requires a basic shift—where law sets boundaries for free choice instead of dictating choices for the lowest common denominator. . .Common Good has developed practical solutions to bring reliability and balance to law in healthcare, education, and civil justice, as well as in areas such as children’s play. . .”. With respect to this last item, the concern is that if all risk is taken out of play, our children will not be prepared for the risks that life inevitably throws at them as they mature.
This brings me to the second person I want to introduce—Lenore Skenazy. Lenore is a journalist, mother, and the creator of Free Range Kids. The (tongue-in-cheek) purpose of Free Range Kids is to fight “the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” While Lenore’s writings are amusing, she does make the serious point that when the line between real and speculative risk becomes so blurred—which she contends is happening more and more—our children suffer as a result.
From my perspective as a former CPSC Commissioner, I do fear that the agency, when it is regulating, too often discounts the importance of personal responsibility on the part of consumers. The result are regulations that try to address every possible risk, real or imagined, rather than actual risks that real-world data and science have demonstrated need addressing. Imaging the worst-case scenario all the time cabins in our kids but gives government regulators a very wide swath indeed.