The New York Times created the hysteria over unsafe Chinese imports by running story after story about them back in 2007. The media moved on and the story faded, but the effects lingered. Large toymakers sensed an opportunity: Get a tough new consumer-protection law passed that would prohibitively raise the costs of small, independent producers.
So that’s what Hasbro (HAS) and Mattel (MAT) did, mobilizing lobbyists to get the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed, a bill that could kill small producers and resale shops. A bill vociferously opposed by the mum & pop businesses that our government always claims is the backbone of the economy. A bill opposed by the types of folks who sell their wares at outdoor markets and at sites like Etsy.com.
Basically, the CPSIA is the most Draconian consumer safety bill you could imagine, requiring so much testing for toxic elemants that even libraries are protesting, because it could require them to dispose of old books.
The good news: Although the bill has been passed, there’s been enough counter-mobilization that enforcement has been stayed pending a further examination of its effects.
But The New York Times is pissed. It helped create this hysteria, and it wants its bill, dammit. So yesterday the paper publishes a self-parodistic op-ed, defending the law:
As many parents, and ultimately manufacturers, learned the hard way, the Bush administration did not make the safety of toys and other products a priority. That led to the recall of millions of toys — some because of lead paint, others because of hazards such as small and powerful magnets that children swallowed. The Obama administration now has an opportunity to fill that regulatory gap by appointing new leadership for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Last year, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, giving new authority and resources to a shockingly understaffed agency. The law has been described, accurately, as providing the safety net that consumers assumed they already had.
Unfortunately, the commission has yet to implement important aspects of the new law. The delay has caused confusion and allowed opponents to foment needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises like libraries, resale shops and handmade toy businesses.
No facts, no arguments, just the statement that fears of the law are overblown. Oh, and the gratuitous swipe that the Bush administration “did not make the safety of toys” a priority, which is actually hilarious. Later it goes onto inveigh Obama to commit to “enlightened” leadership on behalf of “toy lovers”.
Walter Olson at Overlawyered has the best shredding of the op-ed, clearly establishing that opposition to the law isn’t just from a few confused parties:
Libraries are just imagining things if they listen to people like Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association, who spoke to the press last month about the choices facing libraries if some sort of exemption could not be found. (“Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she said, “or they ban children from the library.”) Or people like Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, who spoke to Publisher’s Weekly about the prospective effects of the law: “This is a potential calamity like nothing I’ve ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable. …It has to be stopped.” It’s true that the CPSC’s last-minute stay of enforcement did save the new-children’s-book trade from calamity — but remember, to the Times, “delay” has been one of the problems in implementing the law, not something that has (so far) spared us its worst effects.
Thrift stores are just imagining things if they listen to people like Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, who said, “The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill.” They should ignore all the reports, no matter how numerous and from how many sources, of local Goodwill operations and other thrift stores’ closing children’s departments or sweeping more than half their contents off the shelves, and of kids’ resellers and consignment shops taking massive financial hits or closing down entirely. All of these episodes are either imaginary or, if conceded as real, an instance of overreaction to the needless fears those moustache-twirling opponents have “fomented”. (Some more thrift-store coverage not previously linked: North Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota with Goodwill pic, upstate New York (“We can’t be sure of the risk unless we take everything off the shelf”), South Dakota, Colorado). They should also stop predicting that the pursuit of their charitable missions will suffer a major blow from the loss of children’s resale revenue, because that sort of thing just undermines morale.
Here’s the thing: The NYT only needs to follow the money. The law was passed with massive lobbying support from Mattel and Hasbro. Why was that? Was it because these big companies, which do all their manufacturing in Asia, suddenly were struck with a wellspring of concern about consumers? If so, why hadn’t they already adopted new safety measures on their own, in the absence of a law? Or maybe they see a big business opportunity in building up barriers to entry of the toy business.
Of course, for the NYT to acknowledge this reality might require them to rethink their entire stance on regulation.