When I was in high school, I made hand-crocheted baby booties that look like shoes, and sold them to my mom's friends to give as baby gifts. When I got pregnant with my 3rd child about 5 years ago, I wanted to start a business that I could use to earn a little extra money while staying home with my children. I brought two small plastic bins of dishcloths I'd made to the farmer's market and sold them on a rickety old card table underneath a borrowed canopy. I brought back the baby booties (this time in more versatile cotton yarn) and they were an instant hit. Since I found myself spending all my time filling orders for them, I made them my only product. Within a couple of years of plowing the profits back into the business, I was able to field a table at an expo. I have two international distributors and I employed half a dozen other crocheters to help me fill their orders. I quit my unfulfilling job as a community college instructor to make more time to pursue the bootie-making business.
CPSIA hit me like a ton of bricks. Business was already down from the recession. Then, in December, I got the news that I would have to test all my products for lead. I went through the whole learning curve that everyone's going through-- first you think "I'm too small a fish, they'll throw me back" but then it occurs to you that your competitors could turn you in and that noncompliance would jeopardize all the wholesale accounts you've worked to cultivate. Then you look at those Home Depot lead test kits, but discover they don't give you accurate lead levels. I wrote to labs for test quotes, hoping (but not really believing) that the "consumer" groups were right about the testing being affordable. When I got the quotes back, I was aghast. Just to test all my components once would cost about 30-40% of my annual revenue. Since the cost of testing is more than my annual profit, I would have to pay for the privilege of staying in business. If it were a one-time cost maybe I could handle that, but as an ongoing cost, no way. So I can only stay in business as long as I'm protected by the CPSC's stay of enforcement on third-party testing. After that, I have to go out of business. I can't ask my husband to get a second job on top of the overtime he already works, just so that I can afford to keep selling baby booties.
I've been an American all my life and I've been taught that even though it works slowly, our republic's government works to bring the voice of the people into law. Having faith in that, I started writing to my representatives about CPSIA. I noticed that just about everyone in Congress had voted for this law and I was sure they had just not realized what it entailed, so I made them aware of it. And that's when I discovered just how little "We The People" figured into their calculations. When they wanted to know what consumers thought about something, they didn't ask consumers; they asked the groups they thought represented consumers. When they wanted to know what the people thought about something, they talked to other politicians or to journalists, and the politicians and journalists got their opinions from talking to other politicians, journalists, and "consumer" groups. None of them really gave a flying fig newton what the actual people thought, and they left themselves vulnerable to being influenced by scheming parties. As a result, our politicians basically let focused, ignorant groups like PIRG and Public Citizen write their own law, and rubberstamped it over not only the objections of those who testified before them, but the will of the vast majority of the U.S. populace.
Perhaps the system will, slowly, work. But I fear for the damage that will be done in the wake of CPSIA. The billions of dollars that are now being wasted on losses and testing costs for inherently lead-free products are only the tip of the iceberg. The worst and most lasting damage is being done to the people's respect for the rule of law. As a student of history, I know that for most of the world's history nations have been ruled by men and women of power who were above the law and could impose their every capricious whim on their populace. The advent of the rule of law represented remarkable progress-- for the first time, the people could prosper in the secure knowledge that their sovereign could not detain them for merely displeasing him. Laws like our own Constitution have two purposes, to prosecute (i.e. define crimes and provide for the law's enforcement) and to protect (i.e. define what one can do to demonstrate innocence). But CPSIA allows only for prosecution and not protection-- there is nothing a company can point to and say "I made a good faith effort to comply, now I call upon the protection of the law." Those who have not lived under the whim of those in power, or have not even read about it, have no idea what it's like to live without the protection of the law, but they're about to find out. Acting CPSC Chairman Moore made it very clear in his opinion rejecting the Writing Instrument Manufacturer's Association's request for an exemption for ballpoint pens that he was willing, for now, to wink at the fact that many pens are sold as children's products. But Moore has shown that he changes his mind quite readily in response to who is in power. What's to stop him, or the newly appointed CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, from changing his or her mind back? And what's to stop them from applying this "logic" to every product that the law has put under their thumbs?
This is the tyranny of laws that fail to protect as well as prosecute. When people know that there is no protection for them under the law, they are all at the whim of the enforcers. But worse, laws like CPSIA which force people to choose between compliance and their livelihood breed disrespect for the rule of law. If you're already breaking half a dozen laws by just having your breakfast, why would you balk at breaking another dozen laws selling your goods on the black market? What happens if some of those dozen broken laws are ones that genuinely offer protection to the consumer or to the citizen? Disrespect for the rule of law will corrupt us all. It is an evil that will throw us back under the rock of tyrannical rule. So there is much more at stake here than my little business selling baby booties, much more even than all the little businesses like mine put together. Once CPSIA fully kicks in and they are gone, the world will go on turning without them. But without the rule of law, there is little chance for human freedom, the foundation of our country, to flourish. CPSIA is a crack in that foundation. It needs to be fixed before it spreads.