Underwriters Laboratories

 Posted by on 22 December 2008 at 12:07 am  Economics, Government
Dec 222008

The Decmeber 17, 2008 Christian Science Monitor has a terrific profile of Underwriters Laboratories. This is the private organization that performs safety certifications of an enormous range of consumer products, including extension cord, washing machines, and even bulletproof glass.

Here are few excerpts from the article:

Every product they test is at the request, and the expense, of its manufacturer, who seeks out UL not because it has to — no federal law mandates safety tests for most items — but because it’s cheaper and easier than a product-injury lawsuit, Drengenberg says. In fact, most retailers won’t stock a product if it hasn’t been safety tested. But it’s all voluntary, a tidy case study of the free market at its best: bottom-line drivers of consumer good.

…”We have one weapon in the factory… The UL mark,” says [tester John] Drengenberg. So UL guards it carefully, through a rigorous documentation process. Every product tested is photographed, all of its parts cataloged, and every test performed described in detail. If it passes, the manufacturer puts it on the assembly line — but at some point during production, a UL inspector will show up, unannounced, for a spot-check, making sure the company is using all the same parts UL saw on the prototype

This is an excellent concrete example of how such private certification agencies could thrive and succeed in a free market, because they meet a rational consumer demand for trustworthy and independent product safety certification.

In a truly free market, comparable private agencies can and should replace the current alphabet-soup of costly inefficient government bureaucracies such as the FDA, OSHA, NTSB, etc.

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