How The Feds Kill Capitalism: The Rise & Fall of Buckyballs Magnets

Four years ago, serial-entrepreneur Craig Zucker had a hit product on his hands: Buckyballs, desk toys comprised of supercharged mini magnets, which were flying off the shelves and into the shopping carts of fidgety-handed customers. Zucker’s company, Maxfield & Oberton, had sales of $10 million in 2009. Zucker’s troubles began last year, when the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) filed an administrative complaint that sought to ban and recall the product on the grounds that it was dangerous for children. It’s true that if swallowed, these powerful tiny balls can cause internal bleeding because they seek to find other magnets when lodged in a person’s bowels or intestinal tract. But banning the product was “statistically ridiculous,” as a report in the Huffington Post explained. There were 22 reported incidents of ingested Buckeyballs from 2009 to October 2011, or one for every 100,000 sets sold. That means the product is orders of magnitude less risky than dogs, tennis, skateboarding, and poisonous household chemicals. And the product was clearly marked, “Keep Away from All Children.” Finding himself in the cross hairs of federal regulators, Craig Zucker did the opposite of pull back. He went on a publicity rampage to save Buckyballs. Zucker’s company even created a poster encouraging supporters to give CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tennenbaum a ring on her “psychic hotline,” a reference to how the CPSC claims to have reviewed Maxfield & Oberton’s Corrective Action Plan for Buckyballs less than 24 hours after it was submitted, which the company called “plain spooky.”

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