REGULATION: Protection Racket
We live in the safest society in world history, Michael Crichton observed in State of Fear, yet Americans seem to go about their day in abject terror of minuscule threats. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Washington’s approach to child safety.
At the instigation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, federal bureaucrats at the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are studying whether to require the nation’s hot-dog makers to redesign hot dogs to reduce the likelihood of choking. Choking is a serious hazard — about 15,000 children receive medical attention each year because of it. But children choke on a wide range of items, from candy and gum to balloons and small change. In 2006, only 61 choking deaths were food-related, and hot dogs accounted for only 13 of those.
Any child death is tragic. Yet it’s worth noting, as The Washington Times did not long ago, that children under age 10 eat almost 2 billion — yes, 2 billion — hot dogs a year. On a per-hot-dog basis, the odds of a child choking to death are 13 divided by 2 billion, which comes to . . . well, a microscopically small number. The odds that a person will be struck by lightning in any given year are about 4,000 times higher than the odds of a child choking to death on a hot dog. Given that context, redesigning hot dogs looks like a solution in search of a problem.
If the regulatory state has reached a point at which it is warning about the dangers of patently safe products, then the public might reasonably wonder what, exactly, is being protected — the health of young children, or the jobs of federal employees?