Friday, December 19, 2008

Government Intervention

The story I'm going to tell you is a little "inside baseball," but it's important for a couple of reasons:  its a small but powerful example of the power of unaccountable government; it illustrates the havoc an arrogant organization can wreak; its another instance of government telling private business what to do.  On with my tale...

DH makes parts that move water, specifically all kinds of plastic jets, filters, drains, for pools, spas, tubs and, significantly, the portable spa industry.  (That's what you probably think of as a "hot tub."  Cue wonky 70s music.)  Their parts are subject to regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to standards promulgated by industry.  (Loads of money gets spent at various testing labs proving the parts' safety.)  

A couple of years ago, James Baker's granddaughter Virginia was tragically killed in a spa accident.  Her hair became entangled in the drain of the outdoor spa that was attached to the swimming pool, and she drowned despite several men trying to pull her out.  This led to the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, which strengthened requirements for drains in all of these types of pools and spas.  The CPSC mandated this without an understanding of the different flow rates and designs of pools vs. hot tubs vs. in-ground spas.  (Incidentally, the drain of the pool where little Virginia drowned was incorrectly installed in the first place.)

The industry association APSA immediately saw the problem...applying pool requirements to a portable spa would be impossible.  There is virtually no way to comply.  Additionally, compliance doesn't actually make the portable spas safer!  Every single spa, including those sitting on showroom floors, must comply with the new standard.  That's unheard of in product safety for something that big.  Hot tub manufacturers are looking at their warehouses and seeing a bunch of unsellable merchandise.  And it can't be made sellable because there are no parts available to retrofit the spas with.  No part manufacturer can pass the tests.

So, hot tub companies have hired lobbyists (natch) and everyone is holding their breath...the requirements go into effect today.  There are no parts that satisfy the requirement.  

The CPSC is well aware of this situation...they've been told since the law came out.  Why won't they change the regulation?  They don't want to admit they've made a mistake.  The CPSC doesn't want to even give the impression of making things less safe.  Instead, they prefer to put an entire industry out of business.  The problem is that this industry is small, too small for a bailout.  No one will notice if a bunch of $50 million or $100 million companies go out of business.  As I write this I am so angry--powerful bureaucrats who have no sense of scale, fearful only of looking bad while an entire industry looks on and holds its breath.

How can we possibly believe that turning anything over to this entity is a good thing?  We want them to run mortgage houses, car companies, health insurance?  Really?  For that matter, why would we even want this mindset involved in our children's education?  

If the story changes, and it probably will quickly, I'll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, I hold my breath, too.

1 comment:

the Dude said...

You mean the same government who gives our money to AIG to have a party and give bonuses to executives who have run their business into the ground don't know how to make spas safer? What a surprise! Stories like this are ads for the Libertarian party.