Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Think Of The Children! And The Landfill Operators

Confession: with the exception of socks, shoes and undergarments, almost every item of clothing I own was bought at a thrift store or secondhand shop. Therefore, my wardrobe’s considerably nicer than what my income would lead you to expect. (And a lot more extensive, too. My boyfriend claims the size of my wardrobe to be exponentially in excess of what any five women actually require. He’s a good man in many ways, but here he’s flat-out wrong.)

It’s easy for me to dress well on little money because I live in Connecticut, a state filled with prodigal rich women who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing last season’s fashions so every year they give their [not very] old clothes to Goodwill and buy new ones. And, bless their hearts, many of them wear my exact size.

If this were a suspense novel rather than a blog post, I’d segue here into a description of how buying secondhand clothes led to horrible consequences. Maybe the last owner of my favorite winter coat (black car-length fake fur with gorgeous antique buttons) was a psychopath who, before donating her coat to the Salvation Army store where I found it, drenched the fabric with a substance that turned into skin-soluble cyanide once I had it steam-cleaned. Therefore, as a direct result of my used-coat ownership, I died.

In which case this post would be ghostwritten, one way or the other. And once the government heard about my horrible death, they’d pass a law making it illegal to sell coats without first testing each one for a substance that turns into skin-soluble cyanide once it’s steam-cleaned. Since Goodwill and Salvation Army and hospital auxiliary stores can’t possibly afford to do this, it will effectively become illegal to buy or sell used coats. Future American women will never experience the thrill of paying only five bucks for their favorite winter coat (whose gorgeous antique buttons alone are worth many times that).

And a similar law is set to take effect next month, only regulating the sellers of children’s clothing rather than adult’s:
Barring a reprieve, regulations set to take effect next month could force thousands of clothing retailers and thrift stores to throw away trunkloads of children's clothing.

The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Those that haven't been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead.

"They'll all have to go to the landfill," said Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Assn. of Resale and Thrift Shops.

The new regulations take effect Feb. 10 under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was passed by Congress last year in response to widespread recalls of products that posed a threat to children, including toys made with lead or lead-based paint.
Gross overkill response to a problem: government in action. Though apologists for the law could say government’s killing two birds with one stone here: making it illegal for parents to buy used items for their kids means more business for retail establishments, and improved-by-force-of-law consumer-spending statistics.

As if raising children weren’t expensive enough already! A ban on used clothing would seriously hurt my finances and decrease my standard of living, but not as badly as it will hurt parents. Adults like me have a huge advantage over children, when it comes to keeping clothing costs in line: I’ve worn the same size for over a decade now, and won’t likely have outgrown my entire wardrobe by this time next year. But children, especially in their growing-like-a-weed phases, can outgrow outfits in a matter of months. Even when they don’t, kids give their clothes a lot more rough-and-tumble treatment than I do.

Like most regulations, the new law will hurt small businesses far more than large:
The regulations also apply to new clothing. That won't be a problem for large manufacturers and retailers, industry experts say, but it will be a headache for small operators such as Molly Orr, owner of Molly O Designs in Las Vegas.
And for good measure, the law as written grants huge amounts of discretionary power to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which “does not have the authority to change the law but can decide how to interpret it,” according to the article.

The CPSC is offering to exempt products made of natural materials, like cotton or wool, but tests would still be required for non-natural dyes and artificial yarns, i.e., pretty much all clothes made of cotton or wool.

Whether you’re buying for a child or yourself, look for clothing costs to get a lot higher next month. And remember: it’s for your own good.


Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Fixing the CPSIA is the top-polling economic entry at Change.Org.

As several commenters there pointed out, a lot of people reacted to the problem of contaminated toys, clothing, etc., by moving further away from the model of mass production and planned obsolescence, and instead embracing reuse/recycling and household and small-scale production. And these latter models are precisely what's being criminalized by CPSIA.

As Eric Husman described it at GrimReader blog, the business model of the small apparel manufacturer is to come up with a whole bunch of designs, see what sells, and then produce the designs that sell on an on-demand basis, switching from one product line to another as the orders come in. The CPSIA, by mandating costly testing for each separate product line, will in effect mandate large-batch production. At the same time, it will effectively criminalize something that's a big hobby-horse of mine: low-overhead production in the informal and household sector, using "spare cycles" of capital goods most people own anyway.

That's the same effect safety regulations, zoning, licensing, etc., have on other industries: mandating industrial size ovens in order to criminalize microbakeries, mandating pasteurization and RFID chips to criminalize microdairies, mandating medallions to criminalize a cab service anyone could otherwise start with just a car and a cell phone, etc.

It's just another example of the old Baptists & Bootlegger phenomenon, with the goo-goos once again serving as useful idiots to big business interests.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Windypundit said...

The same thing is happening go small toymakers.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Sounds like some kind of backhanded economic stimulus package.

3:11 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I must admit: for all my cynicism and misanthropy, even *I* never imagined the government would go so far as to outlaw the sale of used items and require people to buy retail.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Well, the good news is it's probably going to be unenforceable when Peak Oil and all the other terminal crises of the economy make themselves fully felt. As property tax and sales tax revenues implode, local government will be strapped to fund the schools and basic police and fire protection, without sending code enforcement officers to investigate complaints that somebody's operating a microbakery out of his home in disregard of the zoning laws and without the proper size oven.

And ditto for the federal government, which won't have the resources to send Gestapo into the Salvation Army resale store or shut down yard sales, because it has its hands full with the National Guard trucking USDA surplus commodities into the cities to avert mass starvation, or routing the most essential traffic on the railroads.

It's the farmers' markets, the backyard machine shops, the microbakeries and all the barter that spring up between them that will probably be the foundation of whatever economy emerges when the bankrupt U.S. government is reduced to figurehead status and workers' committees are salvaging usable machinery out of plants the corporations abandoned a la Argentina.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I dunno, Kevin -- in an alternate universe, I could use the "it's too expensive" argument to explain why government would never be stupid enough to keep the War on Drugs going as long as it has. I could point to New York's homeless population and insane housing prices as proof that the government would never keep adding to lists of long regulations that make housing more expensive than it is already.

Governments aren't like people: you and I have only a limited amount of income, and if we don't have enough money to buy all we want, we have no choice but to make changes and cuts. That's because we don't have the legal right to go to whoever pays us and say "Gimme more money or else I'll garnish your wages and confiscate your house and throw you in jail."

10:34 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

I suppose lead soldiers are out then too. We used to melt them down with soldering irons.

Solder is tin and lead, for that matter. Best to ban child amateur radio licenses.

I started at age 11 and it lead to nothing good. I still know the morse code at high speed, a sad waste of adult neurons that could be busy at something productive.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Jeff P said...

Just wanna say that if a woman picks up a piece of clothing and says "oh I forgot I own this" more that, say, ten times a year, she has too many clothes.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

a sad waste of adult neurons that could be busy at something productive.

A relative measure defines "waste of adult neurons". Of course, spending them with packet or one of the new HF digital modes might be more productive, but it's still a relative measure.

1:42 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

she has too many clothes.

Keeping a woman in a place where she feels beautiful, if that requires a certain level of clothing, overrides any measure of "too many."

Just my $0.02.

1:47 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Just wanna say that if a woman picks up a piece of clothing and says "oh I forgot I own this" more that, say, ten times a year, she has too many clothes.

I'm surprized at you - you're no kid. You should know by now that it's a woman's perogative to have as many clothes as she can manage to acquire. And you've certainly been around long enough to know better than to screw with a woman's perogative - it would be like telling one that she can't decorate the bathroom with all that fru fru stuff. It just isn't done, dude. ;-)

7:07 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I consider it a sound economic decision. If I find a beautiful winter coat, or a gorgeous sweater or a perfect skirt of pair of jeans, and it fits me perfectly, and flatters me, and costs only two or three dollars, it makes no economic sense to say "Eh, I already have a dozen coats and five dozen sweaters and more jeans than I can count, so it would be foolish for me to shell out three dollars for another garment." No, I buy it, and if I occasionally come home with so many new clothes that I lose track of them all, that means I'm in for a pleasant surprise when I dig in the back of my closet and find something really cool that I completely forgot about.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Caveman Lawyer said...

[i]and if I occasionally come home with so many new clothes that I lose track of them all, that means I'm in for a pleasant surprise when I dig in the back of my closet and find something really cool that I completely forgot about.[/i]

As long as you don't gripe when your significant other wears the same three or four outfits all the time because all the closets in the house are filled with your "surprise" outfits and he's only got two dresser drawers and a shelf.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

We keep our clothes strictly segregated.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

You must be having an effect. From a local affiliate of the Washington Post:

The fierce response from consignment shop owners prompted a clarification on Thursday afternoon from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said in a press release that consignment shop owners do not have to pay for lead testing and are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits.

"The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children's products made after Feb. 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban," the report stated.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Never mind. I read the actual press release. It's imbedded in what I just sent the CPSC head:

In your release concerning your "put the thrift shops out of business" legislation, you say:"The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties. "

This is ridiculous. They aren't to "certify", but how will they know if they don't test? So, you're not requiring them to test, just to be omniscient? It's a doublespeak backhanded way of appearing to induce sanity into the regulation, yet continuing to maintain the previous insanity. You need to make a clear, unambiguous statement that this does not apply to resellers of donated, used, and consignment merchandise, or make a clear statement that regardless of the consequences, you will shut down consignment shops, goodwill, freecycle, and any number of social help agencies. You really cannot have it both ways.

I probably should have allowed them the ability to qualify it as "knowingly sell", but the press release was too Obama-esque and he hasn't even been sworn in yet, so I admit I was agitated. I'm thinking that the CPC head is shooting for a job in the new administration, myself.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Heh. I wrote a different version of this for my Sunday column -- the angle was "The economy's in trouble, so here's the standard helpful-moneysaving-hints column: advice, advice, thrift stores, hold off on that last one."

There's always a risk in writing a column on Thursday that won't run until Sunday, but I had the right instincts in assuming this mess would NOT be solved before the run date.

I agree that lead should not be used in kid's toys and clothes, the same way I agree murder should remain illegal. But prosecuting people after the fact makes a hell of lot more sense than expecting each individual to prove his innocence every single day.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

I guess all the scarves and sweaters I knit from now on will be explicitly targeted for adult dwarves and midgets, and possibly for use as accessories for large posable dolls owned by people over age 16.

Any other use (say, giving it to your kid) is strictly "off label" (as they say in the pharmaceutical business), and the sole responsibility of the child's guardians...


8:41 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Hand-made toys will likewise become "hand-crafted collectibles", and small-run productions will probably start selling as "nostalgic mementos" ostensibly targeted at the older generation(s).

8:44 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Anne: I've sold produce as "chemical fertilizer- and pesticide-free" myself, to get around the organic certification Nazis.

10:58 AM  

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