The Wages of Fighting City Hall

Remember Buckyballs? They were all the rage until a year or so ago. If you’re wondering what happened to them, read on…though if you have high blood pressure you’re guaranteed to blow an artery over this one:

On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a “corrective-action plan” within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs’ alleged safety defects. Around the same time—and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story—the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton’s retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the “severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by” Buckyballs and requesting them to “voluntarily stop selling” the product.

It was an underhanded move, as Maxfield & Oberton and its lawyers saw it. “Very, very quickly those 5,000 retailers became zero,” says Mr. Zucker.

“Underhanded” is putting it mildly, although it wasn’t long before they went straight to “vindictive”:

Nonetheless, the commission pressed ahead with its war on Buckyballs. Most infuriating was the commission’s argument that a total recall was justified because Buckyballs have “low utility to consumers” and “are not necessary to consumers.”

And exactly who the hell is authorized to make such a determination? Since when did we hand ourselves over to a Central Economic Politburo? Oh, right…around about 2008:

Maxfield & Oberton resolved to take to the public square. On July 27, just two days after the commission filed suit, the company launched a publicity campaign to rally customers and spotlight the commission’s nanny-state excesses. The campaign’s tagline? “Save Our Balls.”

Online ads pointed out how, under the commission’s reasoning, everything from coconuts (“tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?”) to stairways (“are they really worth the risk?”) to hot dogs (“delicious but deadly”) could be banned. Commission staff were challenged to debate Mr. Zucker, and consumers were invited to call Commissioner Inez Tenenbaum’s “psychic hotline” to find out how it was that “the vote to sue our company was presented to the Commissioners on July 23rd, a day before our Corrective Action Plan was to be submitted.”

Running this man’s company out of business wasn’t good enough: despite years of legal precedent to the contrary, Zucker is now being personally sued by Your Benevolent Government. It’s pretty clear this guy has been targeted.

How does this happen in a free society? Maybe because we’re not as free as we think.

At best, this is the kind of invasive nanny-state nonsense that’s been all the rage in Europe for years. At worst, it’s another sign of our descent into Banana-Republicanism. Neither option has ended well. You can’t just upend the system of laws that undergird your society without eventual catastrophe. What investor in their right mind would commit their time and money to anything in a capricious system, knowing it can suddenly turn against him for no good reason (which is more likely if he hasn’t made the right friends)? From Argentina to Zimbabwe, every country that’s gone down this path has ended up in squalor.

When entire agencies of unaccountable paper-hangers start making things personal, then before too long the citizenry is left to decide between two bad choices: obey or revolt. Given our history, my money’s on the torches and pitchforks though Uncle Sugar’s doing everything possible to tamp down those leanings.

One burning question I have that wasn’t answered in this piece: what is Mr. Zucker’s political affiliation? Because that seems to be a thing with this crowd.


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