Louisiana’s concern that peonies and daffodils might fall into the wrong hands without strict government oversight caused Richardson to laugh out loud last year when he encountered it while co-authoring an Institute for Justice study of licensing. Other stuff caused him to scratch his head.
“The disparity in requirements from one profession to another was just amazing,” he recalls. For instance, licenses for emergency medical technicians, who literally hold life and death in their hands, require an average training of just over a month. Cosmetologists, who in a worst-case theory might really botch your bangs, must train for more than a year. And let’s not get started on interior decorators, who in four states (including Florida — our politicians may be half-wits, but our foyers are exquisite) must have licenses that require six years of training.
The contrast in the training and testing expected of EMTs compared to that of beauticians and interior designers makes it clear that licensing has nothing to do with health or safety and everything to do with restricting competition. And, as all those people who can’t afford to die up in Minnesota are discovering, the barriers are quite effective.
A 2004 state government report calculated that the Minnesota consumers were paying between $3 billion and $3.6 billion a year more for services because of diminished marketplace competition brought on by occupational licensing. “Licensing is one of those rare public policies that actually does what it’s intended to,” observes Carpenter. “It keeps people out of the profession.”