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New Anti-Lead Law Designed to Help the Poor Will Definitely Hurt the Poor

Posted by on January 8, 2009

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

There’s a Post-Dispatch article that’s really worth a read. It briefly describes, then goes on the illustrate the impact of, a new federal law aimed at protecting children from dangerous lead levels in clothing and other products sold to children 12 and under. And, make no mistake, lead is very dangerous.

The economics of this are worth considering. It represents a restriction on supply that will raise costs for producers, thus raising prices for consumers. Are the costs worth the benefits? Ostensibly, the people currently buying clothes for their children from risky businesses are the people most in need of protection, because they can’t afford to shop at more reputable dealers and almost certainly can’t afford to comparison shop for the least risky low-end retailer.

However, this is not a case of “society bears the cost to help the less well-off.” The increased cost will be born quite directly by the people buying the clothes. If the manufacturer or retailer must perform expensive testing to comply with federal standards, the cost will surely be passed along to the consumers. As mentioned in the article and here, this could even lead to secondhand stores throwing away large amounts of merchandise, or even closing entirely.

For the record, the biggest risk of lead poisoning for children is probably not their toys and clothes. Frankly, this all seems to me a bit reminiscent of my helmet law post. Namely, lawmakers impose a rule, gleefully ignorant of cost/benefit analysis, and secure in the knowledge that everyone will agree: The Children Must Be Protected.

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