TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Government Destroys Buckyballs, Assaults the Mind

It felt like Christmas had come early when I got my package of Buckyballs in the mail a few days ago. Buckyballs are small, super-strong spherical magnets made of the rare earth metal neodymium. A set of 216 Buckyballs fits comfortably in the palm of your hand.

I stared amazed as I formed the balls into a long string and held one end in the air, the rest of the balls held in place by nothing but their magnetic attraction. The company that makes Buckyballs, Maxfield and Oberton, states, “The arrangement of electrons in rare-earth elements lets them develop strong magnetic fields.” No kidding! Then I fashioned the balls into a snowflake pattern. Others have built elaborate structures with multiple sets of the balls.

Buckyballs, I soon discovered, are toys for the mind. They are a thinking person’s toy. How can you play with them and not wonder about the chemical nature of rare earth metals (something about which I know hardly anything), and the nature of magnetic forces, and the sheer technological genius that goes into producing these little balls?

Obviously Buckyballs are adult toys, and Maxfield and Oberton emphatically warns users not to give them to children, eat them, inhale them, or place them near objects (such as pacemakers) that are sensitive to magnets. However, for those who use Buckyballs with common sense and due care, they are reasonably safe—just like countless other objects in or around the home from hammers to knives to sugar to prescription drugs to firearms to bicycles to automobiles.

What has been the government’s response to Buckyballs? Has it been to recognize the outstanding productive achievements of the company that makes them? To leave the company in peace to conduct its business? Of course not. The government has put Maxfield and Oberton out of business so far as Buckyballs are concerned. The sets I ordered are among the last that will be produced, ever.

Maxfield and Oberton states on its web page, “You’ve heard about our ongoing battle with the CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission]. Due to their baseless and relentless legal badgering, we’ve sadly decided to stop production of Buckyballs and Buckycubes. We still have a few thousand sets in stock, but once we sell through those, they’re gone for good.” The company relates the sad story on its web page and in a letter from CEO Craig Zucker. The government declared Buckyballs to be unsafe—which is the same thing as declaring adults to be too stupid and irresponsible to use them safely.

In its complaint, the CPSC reports that some parents have left stray Buckyballs around the house, and toddlers have eaten them. Moreover, some “tweens and teenagers” have attempted to “mimic piercings of the tongue, lip or cheek,” and then have “unintentionally inhaled and swallowed” them. In some cases this has required surgery.

In other words, because a few parents irresponsibly let their toddlers eat Buckyballs, and because a few teenagers stupidly stick them in their mouths or noses despite the warning labels, Maxfield and Oberton is forbidden to sell Buckyballs and we are forbidden to buy them—regardless of whether the company issues clear and explicit warnings with each package, regardless of whether would-be customers are willing to purchase and use the toys in accordance with their own best judgment, and regardless of whether would-be customers have children in their home or office.

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission . . . is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death,” the government organization states. However, in a rights-respecting country, the government recognizes the right of every adult to decide which risks he deems reasonable. The government’s only proper role is to protect rights, such as by overseeing private lawsuits and criminal investigations of rights-violating actions.

The unanswered question is, who will protect Americans from the risks posed to our lives, liberties, and happiness by rights-violating government regulators?

Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard.


Image: Ari Armstrong

Posted in: Regulations

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • karlostj

    Just curious – What recommendation(s) can you make for people to (verbally) assault government agencies such as the CPSC in defense of companies like Maxfield and Oberton? Is there an Objectivist Activism Playbook?

  • devil_wheels

    Sad. American children are also deprived of Kinderjoy toys which children all over the world enjoy.

  • Joe ThePimpernel

    Call them “racist.”

    It’s what they do.

  • Anonymous

    If they do this, then they should also outlaw pea gravel.

  • Chris Pollard

    This is a strategic material that is rationed by China. We need it for real use and not toys. Parents are ignorant of the very real dangers of this toy. It’s not like small heads off legos – these things destroy the stomach.

  • Anonymous

    Who is this “we,” Chris? Are you saying that you personally need to possess rare-earth metals? If so, you are perfectly free to outbid others to obtain it. Regarding parents’ alleged ignorance, one cannot possibly purchase or use this product without reading many relevant warnings about its potential hazards. Some parents remain ignorant about the hazards of swimming pools, saws, knives, chemicals, firearms, etc.—are you arguing that the government ought to ban everything about which some parent might be ignorant of the hazards?

  • Anonymous

    Just because some people abuse a right does not mean that it should be taken away from everyone. Trying to invalidate a right in this fashion goes on a lot: gun ownership and doctor assisted suicide being two examples. If this argument were applied consistently, I don’t see how we could even get out of bed in the morning.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Government,

    Buckyballs? That was just a branding mistake. They are “Magnetic Ball Bearings [For Industrial Use]“. If you ban these, it follows to ban all ball bearings. Also, don’t forget to ban marbles. I got one stuck in my nasal passageway when I was 5 years old and it damn near killed me. Actually, looking back, once, I almost suffocated due to a plastic bag…but that was only because I had an allergic reaction to milk and panicked. To be consistent, please also ban bags and milk. Especially bags of milk. Canadians like those things. Maybe you can send some of your guys from the DEA to intimidate them across the border, they did a great job already when it came to marijuana, getting Marc Emery “imported” and incarcerated…before you guys then began to legalize it yourselves. Well, in any case, please save me from myself.

    Your friend,
    Bucky (12 years old)

    PS: I once lit a match to see if I could burn some troublesome nose hairs off…I was really surprised when it didn’t turn out well. I had to take a trip to the emergency room. Behavior like this just increases the load on Obamacare, right? So for everyone to save money and be safe, please ban matches and flint too. I am sure that if you shield me from enough danger, I will have the experience and knowledge to calmly handle the unpredictable (or even minor) dangers of adulthood and not be dependent on the judgements of others for anything and everything.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    Verbal assault… I am not sure what you mean by that, but if you want to make an impact using your right to free speech, you could do numerous things: blog about it, write letters to the agency, start protests and demonstrations with others… even talk with your friends about it.
    If you meant verbal *insults*, then you could call them what Ayn Rand called them: looters, parasites and moochers.

  • Zen Magnets

    Furthermore, the joke of a Federal Agency that the CPSC is, has no real way to enforce their idiotic magnet ban. All they can do, is damage American companies. It’s not like they can have every border patrol agent decide whether a magnet is “branded” incorrectly.

    Fortunately, not all companies have given up. has picked up the fight, that Bucky dropped, and they have everything that Bucky stopped selling. It’s hard to know exactly why Bucky stopped fighting, but it could also be because of the lawsuit from the Buckminster fuller. The Buckyballs company never had permission to stick their flag on the term “Buckyballs” in the first place.

    Anyways, if you really want to push against magnet sphere prohibition. Your anger and distraught is best channeled through

  • Andrew

    We know where this is going. Soon martial law will be here unless we get nuked or that asteroid will kill us in 3 weeks when they say 3 weeks it’ll be 1 week.

  • Crazy

    What, you mean ask parents to be at all responsible? But what is the role of the CPSC but to help stop parents giving adult toys to dumb children by banning them? Otherwise they would have to ask parents to be responsible for the well being of their kids and that would be asking too much of them. Further, since there are apparently 12 dumb kids in the US, we have to ban any product they may put in their mouth. Obviously nails and screws should be illegal since Sabrina may put those in her mouth too.

  • CatherineChen

    This policy is to stifle the imagination of children.

    Parents have responsibility to supervise their children. It’s the mistake of parents if you’re dumb enough to let your kid swallow rare earth magnets.

    My son is 5 years old, and he likes to play the magntes, too. I often accompany children to play it. He likes to create kinds of models with magnets, such as disc magnet, cylinder magnets, metal ball and so on.
    Now I buy magnets from “”, and it’s very good.