The Car Seat Mafia

“We were born to mothers who smoked and drank
Our cribs were covered in lead based paint
No child proof lids, no seat belts in cars
Rode bikes with no helmets and still here we are, still here we are”                      – Bucky Covington, A Different World

The last few weeks have been rather busy for me, culminating in the recent birth of my fourth son. My first three boys were born in two-year intervals, but this one came three-and-a-half years after the last. There are things I’ve forgotten about having babies, but they’re coming back to me slowly.

When you leave the hospital with a new baby, the nurses make sure that you know how to clip the baby into the car seat. One thing I didn’t realize is that car seats “expire”. I understand how milk expires, or meat, or bread; after some period of time they just aren’t fit for consumption, but a car seat? Has the functional mechanism that keeps the baby safe in the event of an accident somehow broken down? Perhaps the metal has become brittle in the intervening six years? Perhaps the highly demanding safety features of six-years-ago have become paltry by comparison to the enlightened new understanding of what it takes to keep infants safe? I don’t get it.

I suspect none of this is true. No, I suspect that the real answer is that somebody in the car seat industry successfully lobbied a state legislator to get a bill pushed through requiring that children ride in car seats manufactured less than six years ago. But why? Is the baby safer? I doubt it. The car seat manufacturer is richer, as is the politician.

How does this stuff get passed? How does a democracy continue to allow such anti-freedom nonsense to progress? There are myriad reasons, to be sure. In cases like this it usually falls to either a provision slipped into a non-publicized bill, or an emotional plea by the politician that it is all for the safety of our children. (They always add the “our” part, as if it takes a village.)

It doesn’t stop (or start) with car seats though. Remember Obamacare? (Of course you do, what am I thinking.) A bill written by insurance company lobbyists that requires all people to buy health insurance … and somehow we thought that would lead to better things for the common man? Insurance rates are spiking, doctors are dumping out of the system, the proponents of the plan are hoping to delay implementation – it’s a disaster.

OK, back to the car seat. It’s hardly a big deal for me to buy a new car seat. I suspect I may have had to buy one anyway. Having a fourth child pushed us to a larger car. When you take my mildly OCD wife and put her together with a new car you typically get some pushback on putting an eight-year-old (used, and used good, by three previous children) into the new-car-smelling interior. So we have a new car seat, and a new car.

Speaking of new cars, why don’t we just pass a law that every household in America has to buy a Chevy every seven years? It would help out the auto industry. It would “save” jobs for the American autoworker. And since the government (that’s us by the way) owns a good bit of GM stock, the law would help our bottom line as well. Besides, the new cars have the newest safety features – so this will make all of us safer. What’s not to love? (Sidebar: the government apparently still owns something like 270,000,000 shares of GM stock, which it would have to sell at around $72 a share to break even on the bailout. GM closed at $34.38 on Friday, and hasn’t seen $72 since 2000, the height of the largest stock market bubble in the history of stock market bubbles … and never will again [without hyperinflation]. At current prices we’re looking at a $10,000,000,000 loss.)

The reason we don’t do that, or the reason we don’t do it yet, is that everybody remembers that free markets lead to prosperity, and centralized, planned markets lead to poverty. That’s just the way it is. The central planners cannot efficiently allocate resources better than the individual. There are plenty of explanations for why this is true. I personally tend to ascribe it to both the superior efficiency of individual decision making (the masses react faster to resource constraints) and to the general belief that it is individual preferences that determine what makes an efficient resource allocation – we are the loss function. (This, coupled with the fact that the central planners are pulled by all manner of inefficient forces and a desire to get rich for themselves.)

Memories fade though, and the free market is hardly free. The central banks own interest rates (for now) and plan them according to some theories that have never been demonstrated to be correct. (Sound money doesn’t allow such manipulation.) The government places all manner of mandates on the auto industry and owns a significant share of GM. And now, the baby seat industry has bought a requirement that all baby seats in use be under six-years since manufacture.

OK, enough loss-of-economic-freedom screed for now. I’m off to the store to pick up diapers.

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