November 26, 2007
Cato's James Dorn on Toxic Toys from China
James Dorn, a China specialist at the Cato Institute, has posted an op-ed article on the lead-paint problems with Chinese imports and possible Congressional response -- Toxic Toys: Congress Risks Making Things Worse. Here's an excerpt:
The role of government is to safeguard private property rights and, thus, to protect people against fraud and violence. But an overzealous government that tries to keep all bad products off the market is likely to err by keeping too many good products off the market. It is increasingly costly for government to monitor every product. The only viable alternative is to allow private agencies to supplement government regulation to ensure the optimal amount of safety - that is, the amount that is worth what it costs.
Former FDA deputy commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted that "the FDA cannot be everywhere, every time a risk arises, especially as the supply chain for both food and drug products continues to grow more diverse and more global. Ultimately, (the) FDA needs to enable companies to be inspected by reputable private third parties that are certified by the agency."
The execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration, for taking bribes while approving deadly drugs and lead-tainted toys is a stark reminder that government oversight does not guarantee product safety. Even an advanced economy like the United States can fail to prevent hazardous products from entering the market.
Neither the government nor the market will lead to perfectly safe toys, pet food, toothpaste, seafood or drugs. Achieving 100% safety - zero risk - is not an option, and utopian solutions to socioeconomic problems have always proved to be disastrous.
The danger is that new legislation could be a veil for protectionism, as special interests try to gain advantage in the domestic market by restricting imports and also by handicapping smaller domestic firms by increasing their regulatory costs.
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