The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The “Invisible Hand” Goes Toy Shopping

Crossposted from my Campaign for America’s Future blog.

This weekend was our son’s fifth birthday, and we tried something different for his birthday party this year: no toys. Instead we had a book exchange. Each kid brought a book and left with one, and our son opened the presents we bought for him once we got back home.

Books, for the moment, are still safe. The worst they can inflict is a paper cut. But in the past year I’ve become aware of a something as a parent. Where toys are concerned, the only people trying to keep our child safe are his parents.

You become aware of a lot of things as a parent, like how fast the traffic on your street is all of a sudden, or how much sugar is actually in those breakfast cereals you ate growing up. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, awareness is something parents need even more of. It is, in fact, the “A” in the ABCs of product safety:

Awareness is not only knowing there is a CPSC and what the agency does to protect consumers but also being aware of what poses the greatest risks. The leading causes of toy-related fatalities include choking and aspiration of toy parts.

The increased scrutiny of toys and the CPSC has led to B, or benefits, to consumers. CPSC has increased the agency’s inspections of toys and is taking the action needed to remove violative products from the marketplace. More companies are testing their products and reporting possible safety problems.

…C, consumers should stay informed and be aware of recalls by signing up to receive direct e-mail notification of recalls at

Oh, I’m aware of what poses the greatest risk. I became aware of it the day we mailed our son’s favorite toy back to the manufacturer because of lead paint, and even more aware of it when some of the toys families received in return were tainted as well. And I’m aware now that, according to U.S. PIRG, that there are over 15,000 potentially dangerous toys to be aware of, and even more children harmed by some of them.

According to the most recent data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toy-related injuries sent almost 73,000 children under the age of five to emergency rooms in 2005. Twenty children died from toy-related injuries that year.

I’m also aware that even as manufacturers asked for stronger safety-standard testing (after all, it’s bad business for them if their products eliminate their target market), and where I live stores resorted to sorting toys by country, the current administration and the agency that is supposed to help us protect our children basically said we’re on our own.

The Bush administration has hindered regulation on two fronts, consumer advocates say. It stalled efforts to press for greater inspections of imported children’s products, and it altered the focus of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), moving it from aggressive protection of consumers to a more manufacturer-friendly approach.

“The overall philosophy is regulations are bad and they are too large a cost for industry, and the market will take care of it,” said Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy at OMBWatch, a government watchdog group formed in 1983. “That’s been the philosophy of the Bush administration.”

That’s essentially the same message of the CPSC, even as Santa loads up his sleigh with some of those 15,000 toys. And perhaps the market will take care of it, but only after many young lives have been lost or forever scarred while waiting for “the invisible hand” to move.

Then again, as a parent, I am the invisible hand that pulls toys from the shelf, reads the labels, and puts them back on the shelf because there’s too much I can’t be aware of — from the conditions of the factory where the toys were made, to the backroom deals that could lead me to take poison wrapped in a pretty package home to my child.

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