Dave Roland
Decades ago, only doctors, lawyers, and accountants were required to get a license from the state before they could lawfully practice their professions. Over time, however, clever people in other lines of work realized that they could use the state government insulate themselves from competition by establishing licensing requirements and other regulatory barriers. The established interests in that profession would, of course, be "grandfathered" in and so would not have to obtain the schooling or pass the examinations that would be required for those wishing to compete with them.

This strategy worked like a charm. Professional associations would horrify lawmakers with stories about the dangers citizens faced from untrained, unproven service providers, arguing that the only reasonable course of action would be for the state to forbid citizens the right to work in these professions (or, alternatively, the right to hire someone of their choosing) unless the government had first given its stamp of approval. Then, the established practitioners would "capture" the regulatory agency put in place to oversee that profession, steadily broadening its powers and making it more and more difficult for competitors to enter the market — again, all in the name of customer protection.

Eventually, unlicensed people would be legally prohibited from providing even perfectly harmless services for which they were well qualified, all because the established interests in that profession had been able to persuade the legislature that consumers could not be trusted to choose competent professionals in the absence of a prohibitory licensing regime. As David Stokes has pointed out, this sort of occupational licensing does nothing to improve customer service or satisfaction, but it sure does make these services more expensive for the consumer! Numerous lawsuits have been filed challenging the validity of these absurd licensing requirements, but courts have upheld almost every licensing scheme ever concocted, taking the position that if any rational person anywhere could have ever considered the licensing requirements to be reasonable, they must be upheld. Today, nearly 30 percent of American workers must get formal government permission before they can earn a living in their chosen profession.

Does it sound like I'm just blowing this out of proportion? Consider that a number of states require citizens to become licensed funeral directors before they are allowed to sell caskets. For years Louisiana was the only state in the nation that required citizens to obtain a license before they could lawfully arrange and sell flowers until, in the face of a federal lawsuit and a withering public relations campaign by the Institute for Justice, the state legislature finally repealed the law. All across the country, interior designers have been actively pushing for laws that would make it illegal to offer unlicensed advice about throw pillows. Courts have been upholding these patently absurd laws — and others like them — all because the regulatory agencies deemed them necessary to protect the health and safety of the public!

Not only is Missouri's state government taking part in this paternalistic, protectionist pastime, in the midst of a devastating economy the Missouri Division of Professional Registration has gone on the warpath against ordinary citizens whose only offense is attempting to earn an honest living in a harmless profession.

In a case currently pending before the Missouri Supreme Court, the Missouri Real Estate Commission is trying to shut down an apartment-locating service in Kansas City. The service employs a handful of single mothers who may not have book training, but they are experts at helping people new to the area find quality apartments. The government admits that the information provided by the service is truthful and entirely harmless, and the government's own expert witness said that the service they provide should require no specialized training. According to the Real Estate Commission, not only does state law require that these women be added to the ranks of the unemployed, they should also be considered criminals. All for providing helpful, honest, and harmless advice.

African hair braiding is a cultural art form passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. Braiders use no harsh chemicals, nor any cutting implements on their customers, and, because excellent braiders have a highly-desired skill, this profession offers a tremendous opportunity for people to provide for their families even if they don't have a college degree. For years, however, the state Board of Cosmetology has been adamant that no one should be permitted to make a living as an African hair braider until first completing 1,500 hours of formal cosmetology training and passing the obligatory tests established by the board. Out of those 1,500 hours of training, how much is likely to be spent learning African hair braiding? Zero. Most cosmetology schools don't even offer it. But, as far as the Board of Cosmetology is concerned, if braiders haven't obtained a cosmetology license, society would be better off with them being unemployed.

In just the latest example of the state's outrageous efforts to put hard-working people out of work, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Board has followed the unfortunate lead of several other states in launching a lawsuit to prevent anyone but a licensed veterinarian from working with horses' teeth. Why is this so outrageous? Because equine dentistry is a centuries-old profession that has never been the exclusive province of veterinarians, and most veterinarians don't have anything like the training or experience held by the very workers they are now trying to push out of the market. The board's action to shut out competition has absolutely nothing to do with the health and safety of horses; it has everything to do with lining the pockets of the licensed veterinarians.

In each of the above examples, the governmental actions against these workers had nothing to do with their competency or the quality of the services they provided. In fact, most of the targeted workers had a broad and satisfied group of clients who were eager to continue receiving those services. The decisive factor in erecting licensure barriers was the licensing authority's passion for blocking out competition that might force their constituents to work harder. Politicians are currently paying a lot of lip service to the idea of saving money as a means to preserve or create 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.

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