Bob Adler, Acting Chair of the CPSC, speaks at Public Citizen

A fascinating talk here today from Acting Chairman Adler, who displayed a wide range of expertise and institutional memory about the CPSC's history, jurisdiction, and actions. Although his outlook is generally pro-regulatory, he also pointed to the importance of protecting small businesses from overly onerous regulations; he came across as neither inflexible nor one-sided in his perspective on the costs and benefits of regulation.

Among some of Adler's particularly salient points about the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

-The CPSC is often hamstrung by the extensive procedural requirements Congress has imposed on its rulemaking, requirements that are more stringent than those imposed by the White House's anti-regulatory gatekeeper, OMB.

-Cost-benefit analyses are often skewed to overstate the costs associated with regulation because the focus of the analysis is on short-term costs. Over time, however, in Adler's experience, businesses quickly adapt to regulations and costs both to businesses and to consumers drop precipitously.

-Addressing the argument that safety regulations impose costs on society, Adler observed that the hazards regulations are designed to ameliorate or prevent are already imposing costs on society in terms of deaths and injuries (and concomitant health care and insurance costs). Adler sees safety regulations not as imposing costs but rather reallocating existing costs by requiring that the businesses that make, and the consumers that use, potentially dangerous products internalize the costs rather than imposing them solely on the consumers or on innocent bystanders or the public at large.

Two of the most interesting questions from the audience concerning the future direction of the CPSC were how the CPSC would respond to international trade agreements that might force the U.S. to adapt to less protective safety standards in force in other countries, and how the CPSC would address new technologies such as 3D printers that change the way products are manufactured.

In a political climate in which regulators are often demonized, I think we'd all benefit from hearing more from thoughtful and experienced regulators like Bob Adler.