Searching for (perfect) safety

The Financial Times today has a very perceptive article, “Too much safety in America’s playrooms,” by Patti Waldmeir. Waldmeir points to the current issue of Chinese toy recalls, and American parents’ search for perfect safety:

Americans will never admit it, but there can be such a thing as too much safety – even when it comes to toys from China. At the best of times, America’s attitude to its children borders on saccharine sentimentality (I should know: I have two of them). But after this year’s bumper crop of Chinese toy recalls, parental hysteria has hit new levels – with emotion and politics threatening to pollute rational debate on how best to solve the toy crisis.

Waldmeir notes that in the real world, searching for “perfect safety” has some trade-offs — a point often neglected by nanny state advocates:

In the best of all possible worlds, every American child would be tested to see if their toys had harmed them. But in the real cost-benefit world we all live in, perfect safety costs money. The heart says that one child harmed is one too many. But the question is: how much we are prepared to pay to make sure that not even a single child is injured?

She points to the massive number of lawsuits that have been filed against Mattel on behalf of children who had been exposed to some recalled toys, and notes that the market is punishing Mattel for its apparent lapse in not vetting its suppliers and allowing unsafe toys to be sold under its brand: People are buying other manufacturers’ toys from other developed countries.

Her column concludes:

“We need to strike a balance between protecting our kids and protecting the capacity of corporate America to employ people so they have money to pay for the toys,” says Mike Lyle, a product liability expert at law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “It’s a balancing act”.

There is no such thing as perfect safety – even in America.