Protecting consumers

The Baltimore Sun

After decades of subscribing to the rule of "Buyer beware," policymakers in Washington and business leaders are favoring increased regulation of consumer products, and that's a good thing.

The shift was signaled last week when the House passed a bill with bipartisan support that would provide strong new protections for purchasers of children's toys. It would ban some chemical ingredients from products that may be causing dangerous health effects, require third-party testing of some children's products and bolster the Consumer Product Safety Commission's authority to inspect manufacturers' labs. Significant fraud and regulatory failures in the marketing of subprime mortgages, soaring prices in newly deregulated markets for electric power and suspected manipulation in increasingly competitive global oil markets have appropriately helped shift public views to recognition of the increased need for regulation. Food processors and marketers, fearing a public backlash from problems with contaminated products and ingredients, were among the businesses that have been urging Washington to increase regulatory oversight.

A majority of Americans want government to "do more to solve problems," according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week. A dozen years earlier, respondents opposed government action by a 2-to-1 ratio.

The pendulum is swinging with some justification. More regulation is needed in vital areas of public health and safety. We support, for instance, efforts by congressional Republicans and Democrats to win tougher safety standards and import controls on drug manufacturers. But every regulatory move should be carefully weighed, with recognition of the benefits that have flowed from the deregulation in the past in industries ranging from airlines to trucking to telecommunications. Now, a new balance should be struck.

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