“Right-to-Know or Right-to-Confuse?

Andrew Grossman of the Heritage Foundation recently released an important paper on a Senate bill to create what some might call a product blacklist of allegedly unsafe products.  Currently, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports on product recalls based on some level of validated data.  This new legislation would mandate that the CPSC develop and maintain what promises to become a sloppy, inaccurate, and confusing list of complaints about products.  Essentially, anyone could add to the list— including product competitors—products they don’t like for whatever reason in order to dub them unsafe.  Environmental activists, who love to hype phantom risks, would have a heyday with such a program.  Because the database would be government-sponsored, people would assume it contained weightier, scientifically validated information.    

This case highlights the problem with so-called right-to-know laws that claim to educate people about risks.  These laws don’t really perform that function too well.  They more often are misleading and confusing.  This proposed CPSC database, as Grossman so aptly demonstrates, would be among the most unreliable sources of information. 

I disagree with Grossman on only one point.  He suggests that a House bill to “study” the possibility of a database offers an acceptable compromise on the issue.  However, once a government agency is given money to study the possibility of increasing its own budget, we can be pretty sure what it will conclude.  In any case, this unscientific and sloppy database is clearly a waste of money, so why spend taxpayer dollars to study it?