At a time when many Missourians are struggling make ends meet, the state’s occupational licensing boards are spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to kill jobs. In many cases, the boards have targeted skilled workers with a group of loyal, satisfied customers. The workers’ only offense is lacking a sheet of paper from the government that grants them permission to accept compensation in exchange for their services. This deficiency, in the eyes of the state, makes these workers dangerous criminals who must be shut down.
Decades ago, only doctors, lawyers, and accountants — about 3 percent of the workforce — were required to get a license from the state before they could lawfully practice those trades. Over time, however, clever people in other professions realized that they could insulate themselves from competition and increase their profits by creating legal barriers to their industry. Those already practicing a given profession would be exempted from licensing requirements, but newcomers would be required to take expensive classes (taught by the existing workers) and pass examinations before they would be permitted to compete. Under these licensing schemes, even a skilled, experienced worker could face hefty fines — or even jail time! — for accepting compensation from clients without first getting the state’s permission.
Studies have shown that licensing requirements make these services more expensive for consumers without improving their quality. Nevertheless, today nearly 30 percent of Americans cannot earn a living in their chosen professions without jumping through expensive regulatory hoops.
Not only is Missouri’s state government taking part in this paternalistic, protectionist pastime, it has gone on the warpath against citizens whose only offense is attempting to earn an honest living in a harmless profession.
The Missouri Real Estate Commission recently shut down a service in Kansas City at which a handful of young mothers were helping people find quality apartments. At trial, the government’s witnesses admitted that the information provided by the service was truthful, harmless, and required no specialized training. But, according to the trial court, if the legislature has decided to criminalize unlicensed discussions about real estate, honesty and harmlessness are no defense.
African hair braiding is a cultural art form passed down over centuries. These braiders do not use harsh chemicals or cutting instruments on their customers, and skilled braiders enjoy a tremendous opportunity to provide for their families even if they don’t have formal training. For years, however the Board of Cosmetology has worked to shut down braiders who have not completed 1,500 expensive hours of cosmetology training — none of which teach African braiding techniques. The Board of Cosmetology would rather see these braiders unemployed than allow them to serve their clients without first being trained for an entirely different job.
In just the latest example of the state’s outrageous efforts to put people out of work, Missouri’s Veterinary Medical Board has sued to prevent horse owners from hiring anyone but licensed veterinarians from working on their animals’ teeth. Equine dentistry is a centuries-old profession that veterinarians traditionally avoided, and equine dentists have their own educational programs that offer far more training and experience with horses’ teeth than is offered in veterinary schools. Nevertheless, the law states that equine dentists must be punished with a $1,000 fine and a year in prison for every horse they treat.
Politicians are currently paying a lot of lip service to the ideas of saving taxpayer money and creating jobs. A great place to start would be calling off this bizarre witch hunt against hardworking citizens whose only crime is to have made customers happy without first paying off the powers that be.
Dave Roland is an attorney and policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based think tank.