The New York Times has two editorials today related to consumer protection. The first faults House Republicans for cutting $3 million from legislation that had been designated for a "database where consumers could report product hazards and the public could check products before buying them." The Times goes on, "there is a lot of lead out there. Since the new law has passed, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 26 recalls because of lead paint in toys."
The Times assumes that constructing such a database is something the government has to do. But surely some private company could set up such a list for less than $3 million. I bought the domain leadtoylist.com this morning after reading the Times editorial. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit group, gets plenty of traffic for its privately compiled database of sunscreens, whatever you think of the group's methodology. Consumer Reports could do a lead-toy database, or Diapers.com, or toysrus.com, or just about any retailer that wanted to try to get a competitive advantage by running in-house lead tests on toys. ("All of our toy lines have been tested before sale right here in America by our own team to make sure they are lead-free.") Or some startup could do the database with the hope of eventually selling it to a retailer. The New York Times could do such a database on its own Web site, with links to and from the paper's reviews of children's books and its listings of children's weekend activities. You can buy a pack of 8 instant lead tests ("If it's red, there's lead") online for about $20.
What's more, the government doing this database and Web site would crowd out the chance that some private entrepreneur would do it. If some private businessman started a leadtoylist.com database and made a profit on it, he'd pay taxes and create a job. If the government did it, it'd be using tax money taken from other people.
The same concept applies in relation to a second New York Times editorial of today, about surgical biopsies rather than needle biopsies. The Times writes,
the result is much higher costs. Hospitals charge more than $10,000 for a surgical biopsy, and about half that for a needle biopsy. Surgeons charge $1,500 to $2,500 for a surgical biopsy; radiologists who do the needle biopsy charge between $750 to $1,500. An excessive resort to surgery can also lead to needless injuries....
If the results of the Florida study, published in The American Journal of Surgery, are extrapolated to the entire country, more than 300,000 women a year are having unnecessary surgery, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The Times calls for a hospital-imposed ban and wants ObamaCare to solve the problem. But why not try the same database approach the Times suggests for lead toys, but privately rather than government-run, and allow patients who feel they have undergone unnecessary surgeries to list the name of the physician who performed the surgery? I also own the Web site unnecessarysurgeons.com...Again, this is something the Times or some other newspaper could do on its own Web site if it were innovative rather than stuck in a pre-internet publishing paradigm. It's not expensive to set up and it doesn't require the government to do it, but it could potentially be useful to a lot of people.